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2018 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car, New Orleans

Torrential rains and high winds made for a challenging visit to New Orleans

Jim McIlvaine Apr 18, 2018
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The second stop of Optima’s 2018 Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series sent competitors to the Big Easy and NOLA Motorsports Park, but Mother Nature wasn’t going to take it easy on anyone. A succession of strong storms was headed toward the track on Saturday morning so the schedule was moved up to get as much dry track time as possible on the Detroit Speed Autocross. Run groups were divided by classes and the order was drawn at random at the first event in Las Vegas. As such, the Recaro GTS class, which ran first in Vegas, ran last in New Orleans.

Every other run group was able to post at least a few passes on a dry track, but the skies opened up for the Recaro GTS class, although that wasn’t an entirely unwelcome turn of events. Cars that compete in this class include 1990 and newer two-seat coupes and all-wheel-drive vehicles that weigh at least 3,200 pounds. While this is a popular class with Corvettes, several all-wheel-drive supercars also run in that group. The wet track kept all of them out of the Top 25 overall times on the weekend, but the all-wheel-drive entries posted the top four times within the class.

Within an hour of the rain starting, lightning strikes forced the end of the track competition for the day, but the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge continued under the shelter of a garage at the track. A few hours later, most of the track and surrounding roads were under several inches of water and the Lucas Oil Road Rally was postponed until the following day. Sunday brought high winds to dry out the track and sunny skies but cooler weather, with temperatures hovering in the low 60s. That was great for helping engines make power, but made it harder for competitors to get heat into their tires and keep it there.

As big a story as the weather may have been in New Orleans, a bigger story may have been who didn’t make it to the event at all. Bryan Johnson’s fifth-gen Camaro has won the Franklin Road Apparel GT class in each of the past three seasons and he was scheduled to run the first of three events at New Orleans in pursuit of his fourth straight regular-season championship. However, life sometimes gets in the way of weekend diversions and Johnson wasn’t able to make it to NOLA. Now Johnson finds himself needing to travel from his home in Ohio to either Pikes Peak International Raceway or Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, in addition to running at Barber Motorsports Park and Road America if he wants to defend his title.

Similar drama unfolded in the Holley EFI GTL class, where Mike Dusold’s lightweight ’67 Camaro experienced a mechanical failure with a freshly rebuilt engine, while running in another track day event, just 24 hours before this event was set to begin. Dusold was expected to be a serious challenger to Rich Willhoff’s Z06 and Ken Thwaits’ Evo for the class championship. Dusold will need to perform exceptionally well in the remaining events to get back into the chase, but he’s not alone. Willhoff’s point total last season was a nearly untouchable 1,484 points over his best three events. Thwaits felt he needed to run a similarly dominant season if he hoped to win the championship, and with 986 points out of a possible 1,000 in his first two events, he’s well on his way to toppling Willhoff’s reign as regular-season champion.

The next event is set for June 2-3, 2018, at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and it should be an all-out brawl. NCM routinely draws some of the very top contenders in the series and often offers a good preview to the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational that will take place later in the year. Admission is always free for spectators, so check out the series if it comes near you. You can also catch the TV show every weekend on MAVTV, starting Friday nights at 8 p.m. Eastern. CHP


001 Optima Ultimate Street Car New Orleans 2018 2/42

The PowerStop Brakes Speed Stop Challenge is a unique segment to this series. Regardless of where a car starts and how it navigates the course, it needs to stop in a 40-foot box to record a time. Hit a cone, like Robert Weathers did here, and the run doesn’t count.

002 Optima Ultimate Street Car New Orleans 2018 3/42

Series rookie, CB Ramey’s C4 Corvette wasn’t on anyone’s radar when the season began, but after the first two events, he now leads the QA1 GTV points chase and has to be considered a contender to win the regular-season championship. While many gravitate toward C5s and C6s in the series, Ramey has found great success with what has largely been an overlooked platform. It helps that he knows how to wheel a car and that he sourced most of the running gear from a C6.

003 Optima Ultimate Street Car New Orleans 2018 4/42

After the first two events, Toby Thompson’s ’10 ZR1 leads the points chase in the Recaro GTS class, but he’s also one of just three cars to run in the first two events in that class. There are a stack of Vipers, Porsches, GT-Rs, and even more Corvettes now looking at the target on Toby’s back as the series heads to Bowling Green.

004 Optima Ultimate Street Car New Orleans 2018 5/42

Defending OUSCI champion Ken Thwaits turned in a dominating performance at NOLA in the Holley EFI GTL class, but it was a tight battle right behind him. Feras Qartoumy’s C6 (shown here) tied with Ryan Mathews’ C5, but Qartoumy received the invitation to the 2018 SEMA Show and OUSCI based on their scores in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge.

005 Optima Ultimate Street Car New Orleans 2018 6/42

By virtue of being the only car in the Franklin Road Apparel GT class to compete in the first two events, Chad Langley’s ’18 Camaro ZL1 is now in the points lead. However, with Bryan Johnson yet to make an appearance in 2018, Langley has a shot at being the first person to win the regular-season points championship in the class since Johnson began competing.

006 Optima Ultimate Street Car New Orleans 2018 7/42

Three years ago, Todd Mayer saw this series and decided to build a car to compete in it. In his first event since finishing the build, Mayer’s ’68 Camaro won the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge and finished Fifth in the QA1 GTV class. Welcome to the series, Todd!

007 Optima Ultimate Street Car New Orleans 2018 8/42

On a very wet weekend, Eric Fleming’s C7 was the only non-AWD car to finish in the Top 5 in the Recaro GTS class. How serious is the competition in this class? The Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911 that finished ahead of him are both 600+ horsepower cars, as is the Lamborghini that finished behind him.

008 Optima Ultimate Street Car New Orleans 2018 9/42

Duston Nixon won the GTV class at the NOLA event in 2017, but CB Ramey’s Vette edged him out by just two points this year. Nixon is set to run two more times, so he’ll have a good chance of qualifying for a SEMA/OUSCI invitation and may contend for the points championship.

009 Optima Ultimate Street Car New Orleans 2018 10/42

Ryan Mathews is no stranger to the series, having previously campaigned the White Monster Camaro from the Detroit Speed stables. This C5 is Mathews’ personal vehicle and came very close to winning a SEMA/OUSCI invitation in its very first outing. Mathews tied Feras Qartoumy’s C6 in the Holley EFI GTL class, but lost the tiebreaker based on his Lingenfelter Design & Engineering score.

010 Optima Ultimate Street Car New Orleans 2018 11/42

With 25 entries, the Franklin Road Apparel GT class was the largest at NOLA Motorsports Park. Keith Lamming’s ’11 Camaro finished Third, but he’ll have another shot at Vegas when he heads out to Pikes Peak International Raceway later this season.


New Orleans Results:
GTV Class (pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. CB Ramey, 1984 Corvette
2. Duston Nixon, 1979 Camaro
3. Ed Michalak, 1969 Camaro

Recaro GTS Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters & AWD vehicles)
1. Steve Kepler, 2009 Nissan GT-R
2. Michael Levitas, 2014 Porsche 911
3. Eric Fleming, 2016 Corvette

Holley EFI GTL Class (non-compacts under 3,200 pounds)
1. Ken Thwaits, 2006 Mitsubishi Evo
2. Feras Qartoumy, 2008 Corvette
3. Ryan Mathews, 2002 Corvette

GTE Class (BEV electric vehicles)
1. Karen Thomas, 2018 Tesla X P100D

GTC Class (two-wheel-drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Andy Hollis, 2000 Mazda Miata
2. Troy delaHoussaye, 2009 Mazda MX-5
3. Jason Goodick, 2004 Toyota MR2

Franklin Road Apparel GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, four-seater coupes, trucks, etc.)
1. Chad Langley, 2018 Camaro
2. Jonathan Blevins, 2008 Ford Mustang
3. Keith Lamming, 2011 Camaro

Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: Tina Thompson, 2015 Corvette

2018 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule
National Corvette Museum June 2-3
Pikes Peak International Raceway July 7-8
Barber Motorsports Park August 4-5
Auto Club Speedway September 15-16
Road America October 6-7
Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational November 3-4

Photos by Jim McIlvaine

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