Jim McIlvaine
May 26, 2016

Stop number three in OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts, sent competitors to New Jersey Motorsports Park for what turned out to be a very wet weekend. All vehicles are required to run street-legal tires with treadwear ratings of at least 200, so they'll run these events rain or shine. Last time the series headed this far East, snowflakes were falling at Pittsburgh International, so these drivers are ready for anything.

These events have four different classes, so a '57 Thunderbird doesn't have to compete for a win against a 2016 Porsche GT3. As a result, most of the action for Fords takes place in the GT class, where late-model (1990 and newer) pony cars square off against each other. Camaro registrations doubled those of Mustangs in New Jersey, but quantity doesn't always equal quality.

Jay Payson came up from Orlando, so he had plenty of experience driving in wet conditions. The practice paid off, as he netted a podium finish in the GT class in his rookie outing.
Rain was in the forecast all weekend and this time, the weatherman got it right. That scared off a few competitors, but Saroja Raman wasn't one to be intimidated by a little water. She posted a top-20 overall finish on the Detroit Speed Autocross, which helped propel her into a top-10 finish in the GT class.
That's what a Mustang sweep looks like on the Podium. Dave Tyo (center), Jay Payson (left) and Cliff Elliott (right) captured the three top spots in the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge.

Mustangs made a clean sweep of the podium in the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge and ended up in three of the top-four spots overall. The lone exception was Ken Thwaits' Showtime Motorsports Camaro, which has captured the GT class win in each of the first three events of the season. Folks in the know have indicated Thwaits has six figures into the car above and beyond the original purchase price, so the rest of the field usually plays catch-up after the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge.

Dave Tyo's '12 Boss 302 ended up giving Thwaits a run for his money, which actually cost Thwaits $3,000 when Tyo beat him at an event last year. Tyo gapped Thwaits by six positions in the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge, but Thwaits held the upper hand on both the Detroit Speed Autocross and the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial.

This is a street car event, so all competitors must complete the Lucas Oil Road Rally on public roads. Ryan King made the run in his '87 Mustang. If he could get the weight of his car over 3,200 pounds, he might be very competitive in the GTV class for vehicles built before 1990. However, his car didn't meet that weight break, so he was moved into the ultra-competitive GTL class, which includes new 911s and C6 Corvettes.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a series with a more diverse field of competitors. At any point, you might see a Fox-body Mustang on track with an early ‘70s Mopar and GMs latest offerings.
The wrap might be a recent addition, but you've probably seen this Mustang before. If you Google “Mustang Donuts with Doughnuts” you'll find a video of Dom Tucci doing donuts in his '06 Mustang, while eating doughnuts. That video won the OPTIMA Batteries Ultimate Film Festival last year during SEMA.

The five segments in these events are worth a possible total of 500 points and Thwaits grabbed 484. Tyo came close, but ended up falling nine points shy of victory. Since this is a qualifying event for the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI), each class winner receives an invitation to the 2016 SEMA Show and the OUSCI. Since Thwaits already earned his invite at Thunderhill, the invitation is then extended to the next-highest finisher, so Tyo ended up getting his ticket punched for Vegas.

The season-long points chase is also starting to take shape and more contenders are in the mix than we saw after the first two events. The best three finishes in any of the ten qualifying events will determine a competitor's season-long point total and while Thwaits managed to get the class win at Thunderhill, five competitors have now eclipsed that point total, including the Mustangs driven by Cliff Elliott, Dave Tyo and Jay Payson at NJMP.

There is something to be said for a driver with a well-sorted out car. Dave Tyo and his Boss 302 would fit that description by most definitions. Not the most-powerful car at the track, but Tyo peddled it to a third place overall finish in the PowerStop Speed Stop (best in class) and a fifth-place finish on the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial (second in class). That performance was good enough to earn him an invitation to the 2016 SEMA Show and OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational.
Millville, New Jersey is a long haul from the Texas gulf coast, but Cliff Elliott knew there was an opportunity to pick up some valuable points in the season-long chase for the championship. The gamble paid off, as even though Elliott equaled his fourth-place finish in the GT class from Las Vegas, Elliott fared better against the field as a whole in New Jersey and picked up 57 more points as a result.

A perfect score in three events would be 1,500 points and Thwaits currently sits at 1,398 points, so the door is very wide open. Thwaits will likely have to improve on his Thunderhill score at an upcoming event and possibly even his Las Vegas total, as Payson and Tyo both scored more in their first event at NJMP. All it takes is three great performances and those can come in the first or last three events of the year or any combination in between.

The championship chase promises to be exciting as the series now moves to NCM Motorsports Park on June 11th and 12th. That event is already sold-out for competitors, but spectators are always encouraged and welcomed. If you'd like to learn more about this series and how you can get involved, you can watch OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car every Friday night at 8PM Eastern on MAVTV or on-demand anytime at www.lucasoilracing.tv. You can sign up to run your street-legal car or truck in this series at www.DriveOPTIMA.com

This series usually doesn't get very close to the Northeast, so when Chris McNamee saw it was coming to New Jersey, he committed to making the trip down from Boston for some fun. We're pretty sure he had a great time, made some new friends and maybe ruined a pair of pants near the end of the weekend, but he's definitely read for more.
This is where we're supposed to show you a picture of Todd Earsley killing the competition in his 2016 Focus RS. Unfortunately, the car Todd ordered still hasn't come in yet, so he reverted back to Plan B, which is his Mitsubishi Evo.

GTV Class (pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. Bill Hudson, 1979 Camaro
2. Michael Sorrentino, 1971 Dodge Challenger
3. Mills Robinson, 1967 Chevrolet Camaro

GTS Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters & awd vehicles)
1. Steve Kepler, 2013 Nissan GT-R
2. Rick Hoback, 1999 Corvette
3. Paul Curley, 2003 Corvette

GT Class (post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc...)
1. Ken Thwaits, 2014 Camaro
2. Dave Tyo, 2012 Ford Mustang
3. Jay Payson, 2015 Ford Mustang

GTL Class (anything under 3,200 pounds)
1. James Forbis, 2007 Corvette
2. Jerry Fink, 1973 Lotus Europa
3. Robert Tameo, 2015 Porsche 911S

Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award
Mark Golovin

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