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In the Know: What it Takes to Compete in OPTIMA's 2016 Search for the Ultimate Street Car Series!
What you need to know to get in on the action
OPTIMA Batteries' 2016 Search for the Ultimate Street Car is about to begin and we'll help get you up to speed on what you need to know, to be a part of one of the coolest street car events around. The best place to start is by explaining that this series was born out of an event that started after the 2008 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. It was at that show, several dozen SEMA display vehicles were invited to run on a race track immediately following SEMA, to prove that they weren't just “SEMA-ready,” but could also be driven on the street and enjoyed on the track. That event became known as the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) and it has exploded in popularity ever since, subsequently spawning a full-blown qualifying series; OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts. So how can a series with no prize money on the line get so popular to the point that 75-car fields are selling out months in advance?
The top contenders in the series are all invited to display their vehicles at the SEMA Show, which is an amazing opportunity by itself. Add in extensive media exposure, including national TV coverage for each qualifying event and the series becomes very attractive to sponsors looking to showcase their products on competing vehicles. However, if you ask the folks who run in the series, many will just tell you they enjoy running their cars at incredible tracks, with a great group of folks who make for a really fun weekend.
The focus of this series starts with safety; so all vehicles are inspected prior to hitting the track. Make sure your tires have a tread wear rating of at least 200 and are in good condition. You'll also need a SNELL-approved SA2010 or newer helmet, as well as either a Hans-style neck restraint or SFI-certified neck collar and at least factory or better three-point safety belts. From there, the level of car & driver prep will determine which run groups you can run in and full rules can be found here.
Hired guns and professional racers are not allowed in this series and the emphasis after safety is on fun more than competition. Complimentary driving instructors are provided at every event and participants are encouraged to use them as often as they'd like. That makes for a very welcoming experience for newcomers to the series and first-timers at the track.
Five Events In One
OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car runs through five different segments at each event, which helps identify the best all-around competitors. Each segment is scored on a 100-point scale with a perfect possible score being 500 points at a given event. The Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge evaluates the build quality and modifications performed on vehicles competing in the event. The Road Rally proves all vehicles are tagged, titled and insured street cars, capable of being driven safely on public roads.
On the track, vehicles compete in three different disciplines. The Wilwood Disc Brakes Speed Stop Challenge can vary in layout from event to event, but basically tests acceleration and braking capability. At some tracks, like Charlotte Motor Speedway, competitors run approximately 1/8th-mile on the drag strip, attempting to stop in a 40-foot box without going through it. At other venues, there may be a single turn or chicane also included in the course.
Detroit Speed sponsors the autocross competition, which is exactly what it sounds like and once competitors run through those first four events, they head to the big track for the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial. This event is timed, but not wheel to wheel racing and competitors are split into at least three run groups, based on car prep and driver experience.
Where do I fit in?
There is a class for every car, but not so many, that things become confusing for where cars will fit into the mix. Any car that weighs in at less than 3,200 pounds will run in the GTL class for lightweight cars. Any vehicle that weighs at least 3,200 pounds and was built prior to 1990 runs in the GTV class for vintage vehicles. The GT class is for 1990 and newer vehicles that weigh at least 3,200 pounds and are two-wheel drive sedans, four-seat coupes, trucks or SUVs. This would include most late-model Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers, etc. The GTS class is for 1990 and newer two-seat cars or all-wheel drive vehicles that exceed 3,200 pounds, like C7 Corvettes and Nissan GT-Rs.
SEMA and OUSCI invitations are awarded in each class at every qualifying event and at the end of the season, based on series point totals. K&N Filters also awards an invitation (and a really cool helmet) at each event to Spirit of the Event invitees, which gives everyone a shot at getting to Las Vegas, even if they're not the fastest car on the track.
The events typically take place over two days, but folks who don't feel like their car or driving skills are ready for the road course can participate for a single day in the other segments. The series makes a great effort to spread events out geographically and six of the nine events sold out in 2015. There are ten events on the schedule for 2016 including several “bucket-list” tracks:
|Thunderhill (CA)||February 27-28|
|Las Vegas Motor Speedway (NV)||April 16-17|
|New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJ)||May 21-22|
|NCM Motorsports Park (KY)||June 11-12|
|Pike's Peak International Raceway (CO)||July 9-10|
|Charlotte Motor Speedway (NC)||July 30-31|
|Circuit of the Americas (TX)||August 6-7|
|Road America (WI)||August 27-28|
|NOLA Motorsports Park (LA)||September 17-18|
|Auto Club Speedway (CA)||October 8-9|
Two events, (Circuit of the Americas and NCM Motorsports Park) already have limited availability for 2016, so it's best to make plans early. Get more information and sign up online at www.driveoptima.com.