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OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car in New Jersey
The points chase tightens up as the series heads down the home stretch
OPTIMA’s 2017 Search for the Ultimate Street Car made its Easternmost stop of the season in late-August, as the series visited New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey. That marked the fifth of seven qualifying events before the SEMA Show and OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) and it was an important juncture for many competitors in the series.
The next events are at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California and Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, so if someone on the East Coast was looking to pick up points or perhaps punch their ticket to the big show, this was the place to do it. Mike Gallagher’s 2016 Focus RS was one such competitor, looking to make some serious moves in Jersey and the event worked in his favor.
A competitor’s best three finishes count toward their season-long point totals, regardless of how many events they run. Gallagher’s RS had 1,181 points coming into New Jersey and he knew last year’s cut-off for Las Vegas was 1,200 points. He also knew Jeremy Swenson’s Corvette had already qualified in the RECARO GTS Class, so even if he won again, if Mike finished second, the Vegas invite would fall to him.
Danny King’s Porsche Turbo S spoiled those plans with a runner-up finish, but Gallagher still finished on the podium and his 464-point performance (his best of the season) propelled him well north of 1,200 points. Gallagher now sits in fourth place in GTS points, but is second among non-qualifiers behind Brandon Williams’ Nissan GT-R. The top three non-qualifiers from each class receive invitations at the end of the season, so Gallagher is in good shape on that front and even if he gets bumped back further, his 1,277 point total so far puts him in good standing to earn one of ten invites based on point totals regardless of class.
GTS Point-leader Swenson may be out of reach for Gallagher’s RS this season, but second through fourth place are separated by just 22 points and all three competitors will square off one last time at Road America, so there is still a lot to be decided during the regular season.
A little further back in the GTS Standings, we find Todd Earsley’s 2016 RS in fifth place. That finish was Todd’s best of the season and moved him into 15th place in RECARO GTS points ahead of Todd Earsley in his 2003 Mitsubishi Evo. When Earsley’s RS was sidelined earlier in the season with head gasket issues, he moved back into his Mitsubishi Evo for two events and as we saw last season, the RS was a definite step-up. In two events with each car this season, Earsley’s RS accumulated 757 poiints, while his Evo only managed 666 points. The question is whether Earsley will be able to pull in enough points at the final event at Road America, to qualify for another trip to Vegas?
In the Franklin Road Apparel GT Class, Cliff Elliott had hoped to reel in point leader Bryan Johnson and add some space between his 2016 Mustang GT and third-place Jonathan Blevins’ 2008 Mustang, but it wasn’t meant to be. Elliott was barely outside Port Aransas, Texas, when his tow vehicle (not a Ford) had engine issues. Elliott wasn’t able to make the trek to New Jersey and to make matters even worse, Hurricane Harvey rolled in, preventing him from even returning home.
The good news is Elliott’s car was unscathed and even his boat seems to have weathered the storm, so we expect to see him at the regular season finale at Road America. The next stop at Auto Club Speedway is sold out, with 26 cars currently registered in the Franklin Road Apparel GT Class. Fourteen of them are Mustangs and no one entered in that class has qualified for the OUSCI. That really sets the stage for an ultra competitive event. If you can’t see the action unfold in California, you can watch the series every weekend on MAVTV, starting Friday nights at 8PM Eastern on MAVTV. The 2017 season will premiere on September 29th.
GTV Class (Pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)
1. Larry Woo, 1968 Chevrolet Camaro
2. James Shipka, 1967 Chevrolet Camaro
3. Nicholas Weber, 1967 Chevrolet Corvette
RECARO GTS Class (Post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, two-seaters & awd vehicles)
1. Jeremy Swenson, 2011 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Danny King, 2011 Porsche Turbo S
3. Mike Gallagher, 2016 Focus RS
Holley EFI GTL Class (Any non-compacts under 3,200 pounds, including forced induction vehicles)
1. Feras Qartoumy, 2008 Chevrolet Corvette
2. Chris Faircloth, 2007 Chevrolet Corvette
3. Jim Stehlin, 2001 Chevrolet Corvette
GTC Class (Naturally-aspirated two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)
1. Jeff Hahn, 1999 Honda Civic
2. Erik Vandermey, 2007 Mazda MX-5
3. Rick Hoback, 1993 Mazda RX-7
Franklin Road Apparel GT Class (Post-1989, 3,200+ pounds, 2wd sedans, 4-seater coupes, trucks, etc...)
1. Bryan Johnson, 2013 Chevrolet Camaro
2. Chad Langley, 2017 Chevrolet Camaro
3. Brian Preston, 2014 Chevrolet Camaro
*SPECTRE Performance Spirit of the Event Award
Ken Edwards, 1966 Mustang
2017 OPTIMA Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule
Las Vegas Motor Speedway: March 18-19
New Orleans Motorsports Park: April 22-23
National Corvette Museum: June 3-4
Pike's Peak International Raceway: July 8-9
New Jersey Motorsports Park: August 26-27
Auto Club Speedway: September 2-3
Road America: October 7-8
OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational: November 4-5