Jim McIlvaine
May 5, 2016

OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts, visits 10 tracks around the country in search of the very best all-around street cars. The top contenders from each event are invited to the 2016 SEMA Show and the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI), which takes place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where this qualifying event was run April 16 and 17, 2016.

Seventy cars signed up for Las Vegas, many knowing it would offer them additional time on track at the venue that would host the season finale, if they could make it that far in the series. Fords had a particularly strong showing in the GT class, where they outnumbered Camaros by a margin of five to three. Would the numbers play to their advantage in the end results?

Andrew Nier is a series regular and always a top contender. His 2012 Mustang finished Third Place in the GT class, which is typically a pony car battle between Mustangs, Camaros, and the occasional Challenger or M3.
Chris Darquea probably had one of the most-legit street cars in the event. He drove to and from Las Vegas, putting on over 800 miles on the week, packing all his tires and tools into his Mustang.
Texan Cliff Elliott is upping his game for 2016, bringing a new 2016 GT to the series. Even before it made the first event, Elliott had installed plenty of suspension upgrades, carbon fiber parts, and a full cage for safety's sake.

In the vintage class (GTV) for cars and trucks build before 1990, the Blue Ovals were severely outnumbered in the 18-car field, but the four who ran, including Martin Pond's 1980 Mercury Zephyr wagon, showed well. Sean Fogli's 1968 F-100 notched a top-five finish in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, and Pond's Zephyr finished in the top 10 in every segment.

The GTS class is for two-seat sports cars or any all-wheel drive vehicle that weighs over 3,200 pounds. With those limited parameters, the series hasn't seen a Ford in GTS since Bruce Cambern ran his 2005 GT back in 2010. However, Todd Earsley will be bringing a Focus RS out as soon as his order comes in and others are rumored to be waiting on delivery as well.

This series isn't just about the fastest car on the track. The Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge ensures that these are legit street cars and rewards excellence in build execution. Gerald Lee's Mustang and all the other competitors were checked for things as simple as functioning lights and wipers to ensure street car credibility.
Gregg Biddlingmeier has proven this series can be run on a very modest budget. His 1988 Mustang started competing for an all-in price of less than $10,000 and he ended up getting invited to the SEMA Show last year as a result.
Joe Escobar's 1974 Pinto made the trip down to Vegas from the Bay area. Was the track time worth the trip? This was one of Escobar's six runs on the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge. He also made 11 passes on the Detroit Speed Autocross as well as 18 laps on the Falken Tire Road Course time trial over five sessions.

The GTL class is for any vehicle that weighs less than 3,200 pounds. It tends to hold the fastest cars in the series. As such, Joe Escobar will admit that his 1974 Pinto often ends up being the proverbial knife at a gunfight, but he holds his own in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge and keeps everyone honest on the track.

The GT class is where we typically find the largest contingent of Fords. It is in this class that we see the traditional muscle car battles between Mustangs and their pony car counterparts from Chrysler & GM as well as the occasional M3. Andrew Nier led the charge for the Mustang contingent and managed to score a podium finish in his 2012 GT, behind a fifth-gen and a heavily modified sixth-gen Camaro.

John Nguyen competed in his first OSUSC event in Las Vegas, but is no stranger to the track.
These events aren't just about a car show and times on the track. The Lucas Oil Road Rally proves all these vehicles are roadworthy and legal. Additionally, everyone's driver's license is sealed in an envelope. Return from the rally with an open envelope and points will be lost.

The series runs nationwide. The next stop will be at New Jersey Motorsports Park on May 21 and 22. Several of the events have either sold out or are close to it for competitors, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, NCM Motorsports Park, and Circuit of the Americas, where the GT class has nearly 30 cars entered. Spectators are always welcome to check out the action, and you can also watch the series every weekend on MAVTV starting Friday nights at 8 pm Eastern.

For more information on OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car and how you can either take in the action or be a part of it, check out driveoptima.com.

Matt Alcala is a regular and knows how to make it through a weekend with his 2006 Mustang. Alcala has competed in the series in some very pristine muscle cars, but this pony turns up from time to time as a reliable driver. Alcala can also run with the top dogs, notching a podium finish in the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge.
In addition to class winners getting invited to the 2016 SEMA Show and the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational, Spectre Performance also extends a Spirit of the Event invitation at each event. Sean Fogli's 1968 F-100 picked up that honor at the Thunderhill event, and he decided to use the Vegas qualifier as a first look at the track where the grand finale is held.

GTV Class (pre-1990, 3,200+ lb)
1. Jake Rozelle, 1969 Camaro
2. Larry Woo, 1968 Camaro
3. Chad Ryker, 1968 Camaro

GTS Class (post-1989, 3,200+ lb, 2-seaters & AWD vehicles)
1. Lynn Proctor, 2005 Dodge Viper
2. Brian Hobaugh, 2003 Corvette
3. Glen Barnhouse, 2012 Corvette

GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ lb, 2WD sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc.)
1. Ken Thwaits, 2014 Camaro
2. Jordan Priestley, 2016 Camaro
3. Andrew Nier, 2012 Mustang

GTL Class (anything under 3,200 lb)
1. Mike DuSold, 1967 Camaro
2. Rich Willhoff, 2006 Corvette
3. Duke Langley, 2002 Corvette

Also: Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: Bob Gawlik, 1968 AMC AMX

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