by Steven Rupp as republished from SuperChevy.com
Arms Race: Corvettes run hard at the 2015 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational
Dateline 11.18.15: Back in 2008, the people at Optima Batteries had an idea to show that the cars typically seen at SEMA could actually go as fast as they looked. That first year about 30 cars showed up to battle it out in the desert at the K&N sponsored Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI). Fast forward to 2015 and the current event is on a whole other level. Over the last eight years the top-finishing cars have gone from modified street cars capable of track duty to pseudo race cars that are legal for street use.
Participants have also figured out that it’s a lot easier to make a modern car, like a C5 or C6 Corvette, fast than to start off with a vintage ride. This has resulted in a lot more high-tech muscle in the mix, making life even harder for the classic iron.
Last year the event was moved from its long-time home at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Pahrump, Nevada to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The move allowed Optima Batteries to easily host the hundreds of spectators that were clamoring to watch the festivities and the location was 50 miles closer to Las Vegas where the annual SEMA show is held.
Each year the rules are tweaked a bit, but for the most part they carried over from last year’s OUSCI. The three driving events, and the Lingenfelter sponsored Design and Engineering Challenge, were scored using a points system where the top 20 finishers were awarded from 25 (first place) to 1 point (last place). This meant the cars had to perform well in all four challenges to win the overall prize.
Another way to pick up points was in the road rally. This year it was a cruise down the Las Vegas strip, in near gridlock, where drivers could garner a maximum of 25 points. Blow getting these points and there’s really no mathematical way you can do well in the overall event. After all, these are supposed to be street cars, so they should be able to drive around town, even in heavy traffic, without issue.
First up Saturday morning was the driver’s meeting held by FM3’s Jimi Day. The schedule for the day was given out and all the safety rules were gone over.
At 10 a.m. the first cars hit the track. On Saturday the cars were divided by car number (odd and even) with one group going the autocross while the other hit the Speed Stop Challenge. After lunch the two groups switched. Sunday was set aside exclusively for the road course Hot Lap Challenge.
After Danny Popp’s big win last year even more Corvettes showed up at the party with most consisting of C5s and C6s. Pop’s C5 Z06 was fielding a new Lingenfelter de-stroked LS7 which sounded particularly pissed off on the track.
The Falken Tire Hot Lap Challenge consisted of three sessions where groups of cars were sent out on the 2.4 mile track. Cars were sent out in groups and passing was allowed on the straights. The first session ran in a random order, but subsequent sessions ran with the fastest “qualifying” car going out first. With over 80 cars the Hot Lap Challenge sucked up all of Sunday.
The Detroit Speed sponsored Street Challenge Autocross was also changed up quite a bit. Two cars were run at the same time (like a drag race) on two tracks that somewhat mirrored each other. This made it more fun for the fans even though the cars were racing the clock and not each other. Competitors had to make 4 laps on both tracks and then the top time on each side, were added up. Hitting a cone, no matter how much it teased you, resulted in a two-second penalty.
Lingenfelter sponsored the Design and Engineering Challenge where cars were judged much like they would be in a car show with an emphasis on modifications that are both aesthetic and functional changes. After all, this isn’t about zip-tied and beat-up race cars, it’s about finding the “ultimate” street car and that ride should be nice looking as well. This also penalized drivers that brought new, mostly stock, cars to the race.
In the Wilwood Brakes sponsored Speed-Stop Challenge, drivers combined launch speed with handling and braking prowess to launch into a banked 180-degree turn, negotiate a quick slalom, and stop in a coned off box. Bumping a cone in the stop box earned a DNF. It’s way harder than it sounds and really favored cars with ABS systems and all-wheel-drive. For the non-ABS cars the real trick was to not flat-spot tires, which would make the road course tough since drivers run the same set of tires the whole event.
The competitor’s best time in each event was used to determine how many points they accumulate. All the cars had to be displayed somewhere at SEMA and need a certain level of safety gear. The biggest rule was that the tires had to be 200, or greater, treadwear. Every entry had to pass a technical inspection where street car items, like turn signals, wipers, back up lights and such were confirmed.
Last year several imports really put the pressure on the domestics. We may poke fun at imports, but an all-wheel-drive raced-out Evo or GTR is serious competition. This year there were even more worked over imports on hand and they threw down some strong numbers, but, like last year, a Corvette fought hard and slid into the top spot. Mimicking last year, 11 of the top 20 cars were domestics and of the 11 American cars all but two were Chevys. The way things keep escalating we can only imagine what a battle next year will be.
FOR COMPLETE RACE RESULTS VISIT optimabatteries.com
Another Lingenfelter equipped Corvette was Tyrone Walker’s 2006 Z06. He struggled to make it into the points, but he had a blast wheeling his ‘Vette over the two-day event.
006 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational 2015 Vegas Sema Ousci Corvette Rick Hoback 48 Hour Corvette 6/19
We’ve seen Chris Smith’s LS-powered 1972 Stingray at events all over the country, so it wasn’t surprising to see it at the big show. The C3 did well and placed 33rd overall. Considering the tough competition that’s a pretty good accomplishment.
Rob Krider worked his 2006 Z06 hard all weekend and every time we saw him he was all smiles. Many of the drivers knew they didn’t have a chance at the top spot, so they opted to do their best and have fun.
Finishing 36th overall was Rick Hoback and his twin turbo 1999 Fixed Roof Coupe. Hoback scored points in Hot Lap and Speed Stop events, but didn’t gather any points in the Autocross. Again, to place high drivers need points from all the various segments.
The only C7 at the event was Chris Neal’s 2014 Stingray. We were a bit surprised no C7 Z06s were around, but most likely they didn’t have time to earn a spot in the race given how new they are.
Brain Hobaugh won the 2013 OUSCI in his 1965 Corvette and this time he decided to try in his 2003 Z06. Even with the more modern muscle he finished in a very respectable 23rd place, which illustrates just how tough the competition has been getting.
Another beautiful C2 was Jane Thurmond’s 1964. One of eight women driving in this year’s race, she had a blast flinging her Stingray through the events.
James Forbis, in his 2007, did well in all the events, especially the Hot Lap Challenge where he finished 5th. This consistency landed him in 14th overall. Ok,nothing makes you feel like a professional race car driver like having your own umbrella girl. It was cold, and a bit windy, so the racers really appreciated their efforts to keep them shaded while waiting in the grid.
The other female Corvette driver was Stephanie Cemo in her 2009 ZR1. Randy Johnson showed up in his gorgeous 2002 Z06 Corvette. In fact it was one of the higher scoring modern Corvettes in the Design and Engineering Challenge.
Saturday night consisted of a 20 mile cruise through some of the more congested areas of Las Vegas. It’s a great way to make sure the cars are streetable and the tourists along the strip loved seeing the cars.
Todd Rumpke pulled off a 13th place finish in his worked over 2006 Z06. This was helped with a strong 8th place on the road course where his car is most at home. The three driving events are so different that it’s really hard to have it set up to do well in all three.
Rich Willhoff’s 2006 Z06 may not look heavily modified, but it has the right parts in the right places. That, combined with a lot of skill behind the wheel, landed Willhoff in 5th place overall.
Danny “repeat” Popp did it again by winning the points chase at the 2015 OUSCI. He won the Hot Lap Challenge by over two seconds and finished in a strong third place for the other two driving events. Combined with a decent score for the Design and Engineering category it was enough to give him the overall win. Huge congrats to Danny for keeping a Corvette on top and we imagine he’ll be working all year to make his Z06 even faster.