Jim McIlvaine
September 26, 2016

OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts, rolled into New Orleans in mid-September and even though other parts of the country were starting to cool off, Mother Nature's thermostat is still pegged on high in the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Temperatures only touched the high-80s when it rained and the rest of the time, it just felt like you were surrounded by pots of boiling gumbo, without the appetizing aroma.

This stop was the ninth of ten qualifying events for the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) and the final such event east of the Pacific time zone. With invitations to that coveted event, as well as display space at the SEMA Show and national points championships at stake, competitors from both coasts trekked thousands of miles to settle things on the track.

Mike Maier's '66 Mustang made the long haul out from California to compete in the GTV class. For the second time in three match-ups, Maier's Mustang topped GTV points leader, Jake Rozelle's '69 Camaro and won the class. Maier's latest victory also catapulted him into second place in the season points chase behind Rozelle.

Each of five segments is worth 100 points and the first day of competition included the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, Detroit Speed Autocross, PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge and the Lucas Oil Road Rally. Incredibly, three of the four classes had ties for the lead heading into the final day of competition. Mike Maier's 1966 Mustang and Jake Rozelle's 1969 Camaro have battled neck and neck all season long, but when the two hit the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial, it was Maier's Mustang that was able to pull away, taking the class win, his second such victory of the season. Maier's victory also moved him into second place in the season-long points chase, although only math is keeping Rozelle from locking up the season title at this point.

In the GTS class, the competition started close and stayed that way, when series rookie Chad Langley's Corvette edged Steve Kepler's Nissan GT-R by a single position and held on for a final score of 472 points, against Kepler's 471. Kepler's finish secured his season championship in the GTS class with one event to go, but there was still plenty to be decided elsewhere. Fifteen vehicles will receive invitations to the OUSCI based on their regular season point totals and the fifth-place finish of Todd Earsley's 2016 Focus RS catapulted him into seventh-place on that list, giving him some much-needed breathing room with one event remaining.

Corvettes and all-wheel drive imports seem to dominate the GTS class, but Todd Earsley's 2016 Focus RS has been coming on strong. Earsley recently added 275-series rubber all the way around and his fifth-place finish at NOLA has now moved him into the top-ten in GTS points.

GTL was the other class that saw a tie for the lead after the first day and Mike DuSold's Camaro ended up gapping Scott Budisalich's Subaru by just four spots to capture the win. More importantly for DuSold, the 485 points he earned allowed him to pass GTL class leader, Rich Willhoff by a single point in the season-long points chase. Willhoff will return to action at the final qualifier at Auto Club Speedway in early-October and will need to score at least 480 points to recapture the lead and claim the season points championship.

In the GT class, Bryan Johnson's Camaro ran away with the win and also moved into the top spot in the season-long points chase. However, the podium was rounded out by a pair of Mustangs that tied with 440 points apiece. The tie-breaker goes to the higher score in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, which meant Jay Payson's 2015 Mustang was the runner-up and Cliff Elliott's 2016 Mustang finished third. Elliott's third-place finish did help him move past Jordan Priestley's Camaro in the season-long points chase and into the fourth position overall. Mustangs in the GT class have more than held their own against the Bow Tie competition, capturing three of top seven spots so far.

The final qualifying event of the season at Auto Club Speedway has been sold out for competitors for several weeks now, but fans of the series don't need to miss any of the action. If you can't make it to Fontana, California on October 8th and 9th to witness the regular season finale in person, you can catch that event and all the others on TV. OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car airs every weekend on MAVTV, starting at 8PM Eastern and Pacific on Friday night and re-airs throughout the weekend. To learn more about this series and how you can get in on hot, sometimes wet and always exciting street car action in 2017, check out www.DriveOPTIMA.com

Jay Payson's 2015 Mustang has had an epic and ongoing battle all season long with Cliff Elliott's 2016 Mustang. The two tied for second place in GT at NOLA with the tie-breaker going to Payson and his lead over Elliott for third place holds steady at just three points!

GTV Class (Pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)

1. Mike Maier, 1966 Mustang
2. Jake Rozelle, 1969 Camaro
3. Paul Wilke, 1970 Buick GS

GTS Class (Post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters & AWD vehicles)

1. Chad Langley, 2015 Corvette
2. Steve Kepler, 2013 Nissan GT-R
3. Brian Hobaugh, 2003 Corvette

GT Class (Post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc...)

1. Bryan Johnson, 2013 Camaro
2. Jay Payson, 2015 Mustang
3. Cliff Elliott, 2016 Mustang

GTL Class (Anything under 3,200 pounds)

1. Scott Budisalich, 2004 Subaru STi
2. Karl Dunn, 2002 Corvette
3. Robert DeuPree, 2009 Corvette

Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Awards

David Thomas, 2016 Corvette

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