OPTIMA’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car at VIR

0 OPTIMA’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car at VIR

With two events in two weeks, the series comes down to the wire
By Jim McIlvaine

OPTIMA’s 2022 Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts seems like it started last year, but it hasn’t been even seven months yet. The series joined forces with SVRA’s Speedtour, resulting in a nearly three-month hiatus between events, which probably accentuates that feeling. The series is active again now and in a big way, with two events on back to back weekends, more than 2,000 miles apart. Then everyone gets roughly a week to catch their breath, before they have to load up and head to Las Vegas for the SEMA Show and the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI), which will largely take place at the show this year.

The question now is, who will make the cut? The defending champ, Jake Rozelle and class winners at each of qualifying events already know they’ve punched their tickets, but the big question mark lies within the rest of the field. They won’t know who will get invited for sure until the tires cool in Utah, but we have some predictions to make anyway.

We’ll start with the Speedtech Performance Lucky 7 Outlaw Class, which plays by a slightly different set of rules than the rest of the series. The driver of the vehicle does not need to be the owner or be employed by the builder of record and this is where pro drivers have to run, regardless of what they pull up in. These cars also get a break on some of the aero rules and are not required to participate in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge. That means they cannot contend for the OUSCI title, but they will be battling in Vegas for a class cup. As the name suggests, up to seven competitors from the regular season will earn an invitation, based on their point total from their best two events.

If the Corvettes of Duke Langley and Colt Nixon run next weekend at Utah, we predict they’ll make the field, along with the Corvette of current points leader, John Lawrence and the Corvette-powered ’69 Datsun driven by Anthony Palladino and the ’69 Mercedes-Benz SEL driven by Josh Stahl. There may also be some surprise entries in this class that have not yet been announced, just to keep things interesting.

Predicting the rest of the field that makes it to Las Vegas will require a bit more educated guessing. After all, there’s still one more event to run and class qualifiers coming out of that event. Once those names are announced, each class will receive an additional three entries going to the top-three vehicles in the standings that have not yet qualified. After that, an additional ten vehicles will be invited, regardless of class affiliation, based on their point totals in their best two events during the six-event qualifying season.

With that laid out, let’s starting looking at the classes competing for the OUSCI title, starting with the Classic Car Liquidators GTV class. Brian Hobaugh is scheduled to run his second gen Camaro at Utah, but he’s already earned an invitation earlier this season in his C5 Corvette. That means if he were to win in Utah, he’d get to choose which car he brings to Las Vegas, but the class invitation would fall to the next-highest finisher, which for the purposes of these predictions, we will forecast as Charles Huffines’ ’72 Nova. That could then result in the three class invitations going to Tom Farrington’s ’66 Chevelle, Kyle Phillips’ ’56 Bel Air and Rick Ray’s ’71 Camaro.

In the No-Limit Engineering GTT Class, we would project Scott Maeyaert’s ’72 C10 to earn the Vegas invitation in Utah. That could then lead to class invitations for Josh Wojciechowski’s ’69 F100, Hondo Miller’s ’70 Blazer and Connor Hoovler’s ’72 F100.

The Holley EFI GTL Class is where the OUSCI champions are typically found and that tough reputation seems to have scared a lot of competitors into the highly-competitive GTS Class. As a result, it’s actually been easier in the past few years to earn an invitation to Las Vegas through the smaller GTL Class, than the much larger GTS Class. That is playing out again this season, as we forecast Angela Barnhouse’s ’05 S2000 to pick up the invitation in Utah. That would then award class invitations to Bryce Hungerford’s ’08 Corvette, Cary Hegna’s ’01 Corvette and maybe even Austin Keys’ ’02 WRX, which previously-ran in the GTS class, but has now dropped weight and will start from scratch in the GTL Class in Utah.

That leads us into the brutally-competitive GTS Class, which we forecast to capture half of the ten at-large entries. Jordan Priestley’s Model 3 is a strong contender to earn the invitation in Utah. If that happens, we could see the Corvettes fielded by both Andy and Bret Voelkel earning class invitations, along with Thomas Marquez’s STi.

The Geaux Moto GTC Class for compact cars could be a tough one to call in Utah. Sammy Valafar’s Miata hasn’t run all season long, but he’s proven he is capable of coming out and winning an OUSCI entry at a single qualifying event. If that happens, we could see the GTC Class invitations going to James Garfield’s Civic Type R, Saroja Day’s MX-5 and Brian Tyson’s GR86. However, that one really depends on how the scores play out in Utah. Five of the six competitors will be looking for an invitation and if the second-place car scores above a 390, they’ll likely make the field.

The final class we’ll look at is GT, where the late-model musclecars live. In that class, we could see Mike Maier’s ’17 Mustang grabbing the invitation in Utah. That could then give class invitations to James Thomas’ Shelby GT350, Anthony Grace’s ’17 Camaro and Jesse Shaffer’s ’15 Chevrolet SS. From there, we turn our attention to the final ten at-large invitations to the OUSCI. In our projections, we’ll note the driver, their class and projected point total to help give all competitors an idea of what the cut line might look like. Here are the first five in:

Jon Bickford ’20 Model 3 GTS 874
Tim Grant ’08 Corvette  GTS 850
Josh Cummings ’17 Corvette  GTS 818
Craig Staley ’16 Corvette  GTS 800
Dave Dash ’18 Camaro GT 781

That list is obviously heavy on the GTS cars, which could see as many as 48 total entries this season. Dave Dash’s ’18 Camaro is the lone GT car in the first group, but we’ll see plenty more in the last five projected to make the field:

Sylvan Smith ’07 Corvette  GTS 780
Colt Johnson ’11 Mustang GT 777
Jake Jackson ’18 Camaro GT 772
Bret Madsen ’68 Camaro GTV 772
Aimel Baron ’14 Camaro GT 770

Things get very murky as we look at those last five in and first five out, as the projected point totals are very tight and there’s no telling what could happen with several of these entries in Utah, but here are our projections for the first five out:

Frankie Trutanic ’86 Regal  GTV 768
Steve Rivett ’68 Camaro GTV 763
Ricky Lammi ’77 280Z GTV 762
Robert Britton ’65 Mustang GTV 750
Christine Crutcher ’19 Corvette  GTS 749

One final factor we need to mention is the Summit Racing Spirit of the Event invitation that will be handed out in Utah. If the recipient is anyone already mentioned, their invitation would likely move everyone behind them up one spot on the list.

If none of this makes any sense to you, trust us when we tell you it makes sense to the competitors in the series. You can get up to speed or follow along, by catching all the past episodes of the TV series from all the past seasons on the OPTIMA Network on Roku or Amazon Prime TV. If you’d like to see it unfold in person, come out to Utah Motorsports Campus next weekend. If you just want to see some cool cars and trucks that competed in Virginia, check out the photos below.

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