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Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series Las Vegas

The Search Is On: Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series enters its fourth season

Jim McIlvaine Mar 29, 2017
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Now in its fourth season, Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car series has become synonymous with the best street cars in the country. We’re not talking about one-dimensional 9-second street cars that are technically street-legal, but visually stunning cars that can be enjoyed on the street and flogged on tracks of all shapes and sizes.

As the series has evolved and grown, we have watched a shift in power take place each offseason and the move into the 2017 season was no exception. Jake Rozelle, who won the 2016 GTV class championship for cars built before 1990, has parked his 1969 Camaro in favor of a 2003 Corvette, which also happens to be the weapon of choice for Danny Popp, the winner of the last three Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitationals (OUSCI). That move has shifted Rozelle from the GTV class into the ultra-competitive Recaro GTS class for two-seat coupes and all-wheel-drive cars that weigh at least 3,200 pounds, and he’s not alone.

As Popp, 2016 GTL champion Rich Willhoff, runner-up Mike DuSold and third-place Ken Thwaits emerge as the heavy-hitters in the Holley EFI GTL class, many have eyed up the Recaro GTS class as an “easier” option. That would be a mistake. Karl Dunn, who finished fourth in GTL points last season, ran his Corvette in GTS in Vegas. Robert DeuPree is hedging his bets by running his Corvette in GTL and his Viper in GTS. Dannie Pinard is another GTS/Corvette convert, who has previously dabbled in GTV and GT.

The result? Vegas was packed with very competitive cars in the 17-car Recaro GTS class, while the Holley EFI GTL class saw just 10 cars finish out the weekend. The lighter weight of the Holley EFI GTL cars suggests that might still be the best class for grabbing points, even if it is top-heavy with talent and hard-to-grab-class wins. Even though only one invitation to the 2017 SEMA Show and OUSCI is handed out per class at each event, there are at least three more invites handed out in each class at the end of the season, based on a competitor’s best three events, as well as 10 more invites—based on points—regardless of class.

Rozelle wasn’t the only high-profile competitor to move out of GTV, as Mike Maier parked his 1966 Mustang, which finished a close second to Rozelle’s Camaro, in favor of a late-model Mustang. However, the GTV class is still stacked with fast cars and drivers who are looking to fill that void at the top. John Lazorack III’s LS-powered 1988 Chrysler Conquest TSi took home top honors in Vegas, but isn’t currently registered for any other events. The first-gen Camaros of Larry Woo, Chad Ryker, and Efrain Diaz that finished third through fifth in GTV points last season are all eyeing up that top spot and will be battling it out all year long.

Rich Willhoff’s 2006 Z06 came out guns ablazin’ in the Holley EFI GTL class, posting a 493-point performance that topped his best performance of 2016 and came within a point of Mike DuSold’s all-time series record. The Z06s of Robert DeuPree and Scot Spiewak also turned in strong performances, finishing third and fourth respectively, with very healthy point totals.

The Franklin Road Apparel GT class will see the return of two-time defending champion, Bryan Johnson’s 2013 Camaro later this year, but class runner-up Ken Thwaits has elected (for now) to park his Camaro in favor of a combination of his 2006 Mitsubishi Evo and his recently acquired C5 Corvette. With Maier entering the picture, the road to a class championship here won’t be easy and will be littered with very competitive ponycars.

There are two new classes for 2017, the GTC class for naturally aspirated four-cylinder (or two-rotor rotary) compact and sport compacts with wheelbases not exceeding 107 inches and GTE for all-electric vehicles, like the Bolt EV. However, with just seven events on the schedule, demand for entries is very high and only two events still have limited space for competitors: New Jersey Motorsports Park and Auto Club Speedway. Series sponsors PowerStop Brakes and Falken Tire are also offering some very healthy contingency programs for competitors who run well with their products. If you’re on the fence about getting involved, take a deeper look at the series at www.driveoptima.com or watch their TV show any Friday night on MAVTV starting at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Las Vegas Results:
GTV Class (pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. John Lazorack III, 1988 Chrysler Conquest TSi
2. Efrain Diaz, 1969 Camaro
3. Chad Ryker, 1968 Camaro

Recaro GTS Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters and AWD vehicles)
1. Glen Barnhouse, 2012 Corvette
2. Jake Rozelle, 2003 Corvette
3. Lynn Proctor, 2005 Dodge Viper

Holley EFI GTL Class (any non-compacts under 3,200 pounds, including forced-induction vehicles)
1. Rich Willhoff, 2006 Corvette
2. Ken Thwaits, 2006 Mitsubishi Evo
3. Robert DeuPree, 2009 Corvette

GTC Class (naturally aspirated two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Kevin Schultz, 2008 Honda S2000
2. Sammy Valafar, 2016 Mazda Miata
3. Bob Boileau, 2014 Mazda MX-5

GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, four-seater coupes, trucks, etc.)
1. Mike Maier, 2017 Ford Mustang
2. Cliff Elliott, 2016 Ford Mustang
3. Jordan Priestley, 2016 Camaro

Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: Craig Johnson, 1964 Ford Falcon

2017 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule
Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 17-19
New Orleans Motorsports Park April 21-23
National Corvette Museum June 2-4
Pikes Peak International Raceway July 7-9
New Jersey Motorsports Park August 25-27
Auto Club Speedway September 1-3
Road America October 6-8
Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational November 4-5

1969 Chevrolet Camaro Optima Las Vegas 2017 2/38

Efrain Diaz’s 1969 Camaro finished Fifth in the GTV points chase last season, but with the departure of both Jake Rozelle’s class-winning Camaro and Mike Maier’s runner-up Mustang, Diaz is now eyeing a run at the championship and finished second at Las Vegas with 427 points, his highest total yet.

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Optima Las Vegas 2017 3/38

Defending GTL class champion, Rich Willhoff, picked up where he left off last year- gapping the field. In addition to winning the Holley EFI GTL class at Vegas, Rich outran the next-closest competitor on the Falken Tire Road Course by more than 2.5 seconds!

1968 Chevrolet Camaro Las Vegas 4/38

Chad Ryker’s 1968 Camaro is another Top Five GTV car from 2016 that is looking to make a run at the 2017 class championship. He knows he’ll need a solid string of 400-point finishes to get past Larry Woo and the rest of the field, and started out with a 418 in Vegas en route to a podium finish.

2012 Chevrolet Corvette Optima Las Vegas 5/38

Glen Barnhouse’s 2012 Corvette tied Jake Rozelle’s 2003 Corvette in the Recaro GTS class with 475 points. However, Barnhouse’s Vette was the overall winner in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, which gave him the tiebreaker over Rozelle for the class win and an invitation for a return trip to Vegas for the finals.

2003 Chevrolet Corvette Optima Las Vegas 6/38

Jake Rozelle may be a rookie in the Recaro GTS class, but he’s very familiar to the series. Rozelle won the GTV class championship last season in his 1969 Camaro, but has moved to a C5 for 2017. He may have lost the tiebreaker to Glen Barnhouse’s Vette, but he already sits atop the standings after one event and doesn’t intend to lose ground.

2003 Chevrolet Corvette Optima Las Vegas 7/38

Brian Hobaugh’s C5 finished a close second in the 2016 points chase and even though he finished Fourth in the Recaro GTS class in Las Vegas, his 472 points eclipses any of his best performances of 2016 and could be setting him up for a championship run this season.

2009 Chevrolet Corvette Driveoptima Las Vegas 2017 8/38

In any other class, 479 points would’ve been enough for a win. In the ultra-competitive Holley EFI GTL class, that total was only good enough for Third place for Robert DeuPree’s 2009 Vette. That’s still his best point total in two years and will keep him near the top of the standings again in 2017.

1994 Chevrolet C1500 Driveoptima Las Vegas 2017 9/38

When you run a series, which actively promotes that it’s looking for the “Ultimate” street car, the competition involved in that search can become a high-dollar affair. That doesn’t preclude someone from coming out and having a lot of fun on a budget. Frank Farace’s 1994 C1500 keeps him among the leaders in smiles per dollar, regardless of where he finishes at an event.

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt Ss Driveoptima Las Vegas 2017 10/38

While the series is full of Corvettes and Camaros, they also welcome first-timers in vehicles that might surprise you. That could be an MMA fighter driving a Porsche or a guy like Tyler Oborn, who brought his 2009 Cobalt SS down from Salt Lake City to run in the event.

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