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Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car at Pikes Peak

Street Car Competition at the Peak: Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series runs Pikes Peak International Raceway

Jim McIlvaine Jul 13, 2018
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Pikes Peak International Raceway (PPIR) was one of several ovals that came online in the late 1990s. It was a time when NASCAR was at its zenith with Winston Cup, Busch Grand National, and Craftsman Truck Series races scattered all over the country, while CART and the IRL were running competing open wheel series. All that racing meant there wasn’t a 500-square-mile patch of this country that someone wasn’t eyeing up for a new racetrack they hoped would lure in one or more of those big touring series. PPIR managed to snag a few IRL races and some Busch and Truck races before the bottom fell out. And while other tracks have permanently closed their doors, PPIR has carved out a niche attracting grassroots series like Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts to their mile-high facility.

In addition to the one-mile oval, PPIR can also be configured as a “roval,” which combines portions of the oval with an infield road course. Throw in massive expanses of paved tarmac and a geographically centralized location and it makes Fountain, Colorado, an ideal and popular destination for these street car competitors. This is the fourth season the Optima competitors have converged on PPIR, and as the series crossed the midway point of the regular season, the action heated up both on the track and in the parking lot used for the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge.

Chevys swept the podium in the QA1 GTV class for pre-1990 cars and trucks. They also held prominent finishing positions across most of the other five classes, including the GTE class for electric vehicles, where Vernon Jolley captured an invitation to the 2018 SEMA Show and Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) in a Chevy Spark.

Since invitations to the OUSCI are handed out to the top finisher in each class—who has not already received an invitation at a previous event—and Nick Relampagos’ QA1 GTV class-winning ’70 Camaro already punched its ticket, as well as runner-up Chad Ryker’s ’68 Camaro, the invite went to Michael Erickson’s ’67 Chevelle. The same thing happened in the Recaro GTS class, where Jeremy Swenson’s ’11 Corvette ZR1 grabbed an invite from the runner-up spot. In the Holley EFI GTL class, where the top four finishers all had captured invitations earlier in the season, fifth-place finisher Logan Palmer’s ’11 Vette got the invite to Vegas.

Holley EFI GTL class winner Mike Dusold posted a strong win in his ’67 Camaro, but he still trails class leader and reigning OUSCI champion Ken Thwaits’ Mitsubishi Evo by 90 points in the season-long points chase, due to his struggles at the season opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The class championship and likely the overall series title is well within his reach, though, and Mike knows he needs to post a score of 484 or better at his next event to pass Thwaits’ current total. His past two events have yielded totals of 495 and 496 points respectively, so the door is open, but others are looking to enter into the fray as well.

Four-time OUSCI champion Danny Popp posted a 494-point finish in his first event this season at NCM Motorsports Park, which puts him squarely in the mix, even though he didn’t run at PPIR. With three events remaining, literally anyone else capable of running with these top contenders has math in their corner.

One person who the math is getting tougher for is three-time Franklin Road Apparel GT class champion Bryan Johnson and his ’13 Camaro. Johnson was scheduled to run earlier in the season, but still hasn’t made an appearance. While he plans to run at the next event at Barber Motorsports Park and the regular season finale at Road America, he’ll also need to make the event at Auto Club Speedway if he hopes to accumulate enough points to stay on the GT throne (point totals come from the best three finishes). The Camaros of Eric Sheely and Jason Chinn are making runs at the GT class title, but they’re surrounded by Mustangs. Chad Langley’s ZL1 could also make a run at the top spot, but with an OUSCI invite sewn up at NOLA Motorsports Park, he may not make another appearance during the regular season.

The series now takes a turn back East, as it makes its first-ever visit to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, on August 4th and 5th. Spectator admission is free, so if you’re in the area be sure to check it out. If that’s too long of a haul for you, watch the TV series every weekend on MAVTV, starting Friday nights at 8 p.m. Eastern.

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Several Chevelles run in the series, but they are typically of the two-door variety. An extra set of entry points didn’t hamper Michael Erickson at all, as his Third-place finish earned him a spot at the OUSCI.

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Mike Dusold’s ’67 Camaro continues its rampage through the Holley EFI GTL class, grabbing another win at PPIR over Ken Thwaits’ Evo. Dusold has his sights now squarely set on the achieving the first-ever trifecta: a regular-season class championship, the overall series championship, and the OUSCI title.

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How tough is the Holley EFI GTL class? The top four finishers already have invitations to the SEMA show and OUSCI. That meant Fifth-place finisher Logan Palmer’s ’11 Corvette made the big show.

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Jeremy Swenson’s runner-up finish in the Recaro GTS class in his ’11 ZR1 locks up his third-straight appearance at the OUSCI

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While the series doesn’t hand out any special awards for vehicles that were driven (not trailered) to and from the event, we wanted to make sure folks knew cars like Bryce Hungerford’s ’08 Corvette do see plenty of street miles. In Bryce’s case, the drive down from Lethbridge Alberta, Canada, to Fountain, Colorado, is more than 1,000 miles.

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What do you do when your Mustang stops working? Get a Chevy! That’s what Vernon Jolley did, and he has now earned the first-ever invitation to the OUSCI for an EV Chevy!

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How close was the competition in the Franklin Road Apparel GT class? Eric Sheely’s ’18 ZL1 1LE tied Jonathan Blevins’ Mustang. Unfortunately for Eric, the tiebreaker was the Lingenfelter Performance Design & Engineering score, which gave the class win to Blevins.

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The top-finishing first-timer at every event in this series wins their entry fee back courtesy of Total Cost Involved. At PPIR, Austin Robison’s ’69 Camaro ran for free!

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In a field stacked with incredibly built and detailed cars, it was Glen Barnhouse’s ’12 Corvette that once again took home the top overall spot in the Lingenfelter Performance Design & Engineering Challenge.

Pikes Peak Results

QA1 GTV Class (pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. Nick Relampagos, 1970 Camaro
2. Chad Ryker, 1968 Camaro
3. Michael Erickson, 1967 Chevelle

Recaro GTS Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters and AWD vehicles)
1. Austin Barnes, 2010 Dodge Viper
2. Jeremy Swenson, 2011 Corvette
3. Jordan Priestley, 2017 Corvette

Holley EFI GTL Class (non-compacts under 3,200 pounds)
1. Mike Dusold, 1967 Camaro
2. Ken Thwaits, 2006 Mitsubishi Evo
3. Rich Willhoff, 2006 Corvette

GTE Class (BEV electric vehicles)
1. Matthew Scott, 2017 Hyundai Ioniq
2. Vernon Jolley, 2015 Spark

GTC Class (two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Thomas Litton, 1997 Mazda Miata
2. Angela Barnhouse, 2005 Honda S2000
3. Josh Vedder, 2018 Hyundai Veloster

Franklin Road Apparel GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, four-seater coupes, trucks, etc.)
1. Jonathan Blevins, 2008 Ford Mustang
2. Eric Sheely, 2018 Camaro
3. Cliff Elliott, 2016 Ford Mustang

Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: Michael Cuthbertson, 1968 Camaro

Remaining 2018 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule

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

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