Muscle Mustangs & Fast FordsEvents
OPTIMA: Fords at Pikes Peak battle their way toward Las Vegas
Fire on the Mountain!
A trip to Pikes Peak International Raceway always seems to turn into a memorable adventure, and the return of OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts, was no exception. One of the raceway’s neighbors is Fort Carson, which occupies 137,000 acres in three counties. Last year a Blackhawk helicopter landed in the infield of the raceway during the event. This year competitors could hear loud explosions throughout the weekend and witnessed the beginning of a major wildfire, as cloud of smoke and ash moved over the track on Sunday afternoon.
Exciting as that may all be, it was just an interesting footnote compared to what happened on the track, where 52 of the top street cars in the country and one stretch limousine battled for valuable series points and invitations to the 2016 SEMA Show and the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI). As is typically the case in these events, Blue Oval entries converged on the GT class for late-model muscle cars, where they squared off against GM's latest and greatest, as well as the GTV class, where vintage iron duke it out.
With the wildfire kicking up on Sunday, the literal dust never settled during the weekend, but by Sunday evening two more Fords had joined the growing list of 26 competitors headed to Las Vegas for the 2016 SEMA Show and the OUSCI. Series regulars Cliff Elliott and Aaron Sockwell both made the haul up from Texas, seeking valuable series points as well as the opportunity to punch their ticket to Vegas with a class win.
Jordan Priestley's Camaro ended up taking its first class win of the season, but because he had already qualified for the OUSCI at a previous event, the battle for the invite shifted to the runner-up position. It was there that Elliott and Sockwell squared off for an early invite to Sin City. Elliott's 2016 Mustang GT had a very impressive showing in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, where it placed in the top 10 overall at the event and was first by a significant margin in the GT class.
That finish left Sockwell with 10 positions to make up in three timed events. On the Detroit Speed Autocross, he finished four spots ahead of Elliott. However, Elliott bested him by one position on the PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge. That left Sockwell with a deficit of seven positions needed to get the Vegas invite on Sunday. While Sockwell was able to finish ahead of Elliott on the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial, the gap was only two spots, leaving Elliott with a narrow four-point victory on a 500-point scale.
The silver lining for Sockwell is that his 445-point performance was 36 points better than his outing at NCM Motorsports Park and moves him comfortably into the top 10 in GT points. Sockwell will be back in action later this season at Circuit of the Americas and NOLA Motorsports Park, and if he is able to replicate his performance at either track, he is likely either to secure an invite to the OUSCI at the event or earn his way in on points at the end of the season.
Matt Alcala also made a significant move in the standings, running his third event of the season in his 2006 Mustang. Alcala's Seventh Place finish moved him into Fourth Place overall in GT points. The top nonqualifier in each class will receive an invitation to the OUSCI at the end of the season, and right now Alcala is in that driver's seat, 124 points ahead of Craig Hardee's Camaro. Even though Camaros dominate the entry list at these events, at the midway point of the season, Mustangs occupy five of top 10 positions in the GT class points.
On the vintage side, John McKissack's 1966 Fairlane motored its way to a podium finish in the GTV class for cars built before 1990. When McKissack first started running in the series, his Fairlane was built more as a track day car that was still technically street-legal. After taking his Design & Engineering lumps for missing windows and other basic street car features, McKissack made the changes to bring the car back to more legit street car status and saw a top 25 finish in D&E as a result.
The work paid off in other ways, as McKissack's efforts were rewarded with the Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event invitation to SEMA and the OUSCI. He now sits comfortably in the top 10 in GTV points, with a Vegas invite in his back pocket. The Eighth Place finish of Gregg Biddlingmeier's 1988 Mustang at Pikes Peak International Raceway (PPIR) also moved him up significantly in the standings. Biddlingmeier plans to run at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway and will need his best effort of the year to qualify for Las Vegas.
Five events remain, and most are sold-out to competitors or close to it. Charlotte Motor Speedway is the next stop on OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car on July 30-31 and is one of those sold-out events, but the iconic NASCAR venue is one of the very best facilities in the series for spectators taking in the action. If you're thinking about participating in one of these events this year or in the future, head over to driveoptima.com to learn more about the series and how you can get involved.
GTV Class (Pre-1990, 3,200+ lb)
1. Jake Rozelle, 1969 Chevrolet Camaro
2. James Shipka, 1967 Chevrolet Camaro
3. John McKissack, 1966 Fairlane
GTS Class (Post-1989, 3,200+ lb, 2-seaters & AWD vehicles)
1. Glen Barnhouse, 2012 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Lynn Proctor, 2005 Dodge Viper
3. 3. Brian Hobaugh, 2003 Chevrolet Corvette
GT Class (Post-1989, 3,200+ lb, 2WD sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc.)
1. Jordan Priestley, 2016 Chevrolet Camaro
2. Cliff Elliott, 2016 Mustang
3. Aaron Sockwell, 2015 Mustang
GTL Class (anything under 3,200 lb)
1. Rich Willhoff, 2006 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Ken Thwaits, 2007 Mitsubishi Evo
3. David Carroll, 1975 Datsun 280Z
Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award
John McKissack, 1966 Ford Fairlane