Jim McIlvaine
October 3, 2018

When you look at all the rules and restrictions in most forms of modern racing, you wouldn't think there would ever be a chance a competitive series could come along, which didn't involve a rule book that was thicker and more complex than the federal budget. If the proof is in the pudding, OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts, may have found the answer.

The series hosts seven events across the country, where just about anyone with a street car can come square off against the competition. The rules are minimal; 200+ tread wear tires, aero limitations beyond what came from the factory and some safety gear common at most track day events, but the rest is up to you. Bring as much horsepower as you like, open up a bottle and spray in some more, if you think it will help, get the fattest tires you can fit under your car and have at it.

That's this series in a nutshell, but take a closer look and you'll see battles you might not have thought were even possible. Bench racing about Mustangs versus Camaros will go on as long as there are one of each left on the planet, but this series actually puts them on the track and they do it in a way that allows a guy in California to compete against a guy in Florida, even if they don't go head to head at the same venue.

It's been a season full of taillights for people chasing Jonathan Blevins' GT500 in the Franklin Road Apparel GT Class. If he can hold on for one more event, he'll claim the first Ford championship in class history.

Up to 100 points are awarded in five different segments and once everyone has their points, cars are divided into six different classes. Each position is worth one point, with first place receiving 100 points, second place receiving 99 points and so on. That might mean a Mustang is trying to get points against a Viper on the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial, but so are all the Camaros and those are the cars they end up competing against in the Franklin Road Apparel GT Class for late-model muscle cars, while the Vipers run against Corvettes and Porsches in the RECARO GTS Class.

While the Franklin Road Apparel GT Class has been dominated by Camaros up until this season, several Mustangs have been battling in the top ten this year, in a class that may see more than 100 different cars compete by season's end. Jonathan Blevins' 2008 Shelby GT500 took over the top spot after the third event at NCM Motorsports Park and competitors have been chasing his taillights ever since. After six of seven events, it looks like only one car has a shot at catching him and that's Eric Sheely's 2018 ZL1 1LE Camaro. The two have only gone head to head once this season at Pike's Peak International Raceway and that meeting ended in a tie, broken by Blevins' higher score in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge.

In spite of their limited opportunities to compete against each other at the same events (Blevins lives in Oklahoma and Sheely in California), the points battle is extremely tight heading into the final event at Road America. Sheely finished first in class at Auto Club Speedway and moved to within eight points of Blevins (1,330-1,322) and both are scheduled to make the trip to Elkhart Lake. A competitor's top three performances of the year count toward their season-long total and they can earn a maximum of 500 points (100 in each of five segments) at any single event, so Sheely is looking to improve on this third-best score of 436 points to pass Blevins for the lead.

It's great to see a series where the sponsors really get behind the effort. Falken Tire's Jonathon Bradford takes it to another level when he runs his own 2001 Mustang GT in competition.

If Sheely can post a 445-point weekend at Road America (he had 449 at Auto Club Speedway), he'll pass Blevins for the lead...if Jonathan doesn't improve his third-best score of the season of 437 points. Every point over 437 that Blevins scores is another point that Sheely has to make up, so Sheely could beat Blevins 445-439 and still lose the points championship. As tight as that competition is, the battle is just a single point between a first-gen Camaro and a 2006 Mitsubishi Evo in the Holley EFI GTL Class and there are lots of opportunities for Ford drivers looking to compete in other classes.

All-wheel drive cars that weigh over 3,200 pounds also compete in the RECARO GTS Class, where Mike Gallagher's 2016 Ford Focus RS is sandwiched between two Corvettes in 10th place. He'll head up to Road America in early October and look to take down a few more Corvettes when he gets there. Ford Focus of the two-wheel variety run in the GTC Class for compact cars and have proven to be formidable there against Hyundais, Miatas and S2000s. If you can get your hands on a Focus EV, you can compete against Hyundai Ioniqs, Chevy Sparks and Teslas in the GTE Class and there's always the QA1 GTV Class for vintage iron built before 1990.

This is the more aggressive of two Focus RS that Pat Sheely has campaigned during the 2018 season. Lots of carbon fiber panels from Anderson Composites, flares and over 600 horsepower make this thing an absolute monster.

The series also has it's own TV Show, which airs every weekend on MAVTV, so you can follow along at home. The new season starts on Friday, September 28 at 8pm eastern. If we've piqued your interest, head over to www.DriveOPTIMA.com to read up on the rules and get your car ready for the 2019 season.

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

1. Eric Sheely, 2018 Chevrolet Camaro
2. Paul Molina, 2017 Mustang
3. Kurt Robinson, 2015 Chevrolet Camaro

QA1 GTV Class (Pre-1990, 3,200+ pounds)

1. Larry Woo, 1968 Chevrolet Camaro
2. John Lazorack III, 1988 Chrysler Conquest
3. Nick Relampagos, 1970 Chevrolet Camaro

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

1. Austin Barnes, 2010 Dodge Viper
2. Jake Rozelle, 2003 Chevrolet Corvette
3. Lynn Proctor, 2005 Dodge Viper

Holley EFI GTL Class (Non-compacts under 3,200 pounds)

1. Ken Thwaits, 2006 Mitsubishi Evo
2. Scot Spiewak, 2003 Chevrolet Corvette
3. Mike DuSold, 1967 Chevrolet Camaro

GTE Class (BEV electric vehicles)

1. Matthew Scott, 2017 Hyundai Ioniq

GTC Class (Two-wheel drive compacts, 107-inch wheelbase or less)

1. Josh Vedder, 2018 Hyundai Veloster
2. David Carroll, 1973 Chevrolet Vega
3. Thomas Litton, 1997 Mazda Miata

Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event Award: Nasario Birrueta, 2001 Ford Mustang

2018 OPTIMA Search for the Ultimate Street Car Schedule

Road America October 6-7
OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational November 4-5

This is Nasario Birrueta's third season running in the series, but the first season he's run in three events in his 2001 Mustang. SPECTRE Performance hands out a Spirit of the Event invitation to the SEMA Show and OUSCI at each event and Nasario was the lucky recipient at Auto Club Speedway. To say he's excited would be an understatement.
Stop Challenge is one of the segments that really makes this event different than just about everything else out there. Accelerate for about eighth-mile, brake and go into a hairpin turn, accelerate again while going through a chicane and then come to a complete stop within a 40-foot box. Hit a cone and the run doesn't count.
The GTC Class for compact cars is in it's second year and saw the biggest field yet at Auto Club Speedway. Andrew Fritts' 2012 Focus ST was the highest placing Ford in the ten-car class.
The warm California sun kept Kurt Burris company on the LucasOilRacing.tv Road Rally. Burris cruised his 2015 Mustang to a top-ten finish in the 27-car Franklin Road Apparel GT Class.
Matt Acala's 1965 Fastback was the top finishing Ford in the QA1 GTV Class, coming in 9th out of 18 entries.
Paul Molina's 2017 Mustang was dominant on the Detroit Speed Autocross and more than held it's own everywhere else against a stacked field.

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