AutoMatters & More: 2019 OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational
The annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas is billed as “the world’s premier automotive trade show.” It represents the $44.6 billion automotive aftermarket, overflowing the gigantic Las Vegas Convention Center into its walkways, roads and parking lots with customized and new model, on- and off-road vehicles, that showcase the vast number of specialized parts that are on display at the SEMA Show.
The SEMA Show also attracts motorsports events, one of the most noteworthy of which is the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI), presented by Advance Auto Parts. In recent years it has been held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The cars that compete in that two-day, post-SEMA Show weekend event, are first displayed at the SEMA Show itself, after which they are driven to the track where the competitions will be held.
The cars and trucks that compete in OUSCI are highly modified, serving as ultimate high-performance examples of what can be done to enhance vehicles with aftermarket parts, such as those on display at the SEMA Show.
The OUSCI is by invitation only. Qualifying events are held across the U.S. throughout the year, from which competitors’ three top events are counted. Additionally, some drivers’ vehicles are selected during the SEMA Show itself, at which time “Golden Tickets” are awarded, good for entry into the OUSCI.
The 2019 OUSCI challenged the competitors with several different events: the QA1 Autocross, Lucas Oil Road Rally, Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial, PowerStop Brakes Speed Stop Challenge and Lingenfelter Performance Design and Engineering Competition. The results were tallied, and at the end of the weekend the champions were awarded their trophies.
The on-track competitions were thrilling for spectators to watch. The tires sometimes billowed smoke and howled in protest as the competitors skillfully negotiated the pylon-lined courses at the very edge of losing control – and sometimes beyond!
In the QA1 Autocross, the objective was to get around the course as quickly as possible, preferably without hitting any pylons. Striking the cones earned the drivers time penalties.
In the PowerStop Brakes Speed Stop Challenge, the objective was to complete each of the short, mirrored courses as quickly as possible, but with an added twist: coming to a complete stop at the end of the course within a designated area delineated by pylons, without taking out any of them. Some cars dramatically slewed sideways but stayed within the course limits, some safely touched the cones ever so gently and others knocked them over.
OUSCI events are run rain or shine. The competition cars must be safe to be driven on public roads. They are, after all, supposed to be street cars.
Preparing vehicles to win in competition in the OUSCI can get very expensive. As with any automotive modifications, there are two components: parts and labor. One way to reduce the cost of the modifications is to do at least some of your own labor. Some items need to be replaced more often than others, especially tires and brake pads.
Speaking of tires, all tires are not created equal. Sticky rubber can be a huge advantage over more durable, harder rubber compounds that are optimized for long life and high mileage – at the expense of ultimate cornering and braking performance. To somewhat mitigate tire costs to the competitors and encourage the use of tires that are more suitable for street use, the OUSCI has established a minimum treadwear rating of 200.
As in other forms of motorsports, having the ultimate in high performance parts will provide an advantage, and that can get very expensive. Making do with older tires and brake pads, perhaps a tired engine and other worn parts will detract from performance, but driver skill and experience can help to compensate for that. A highly skilled, experienced driver in a less than fully optimized car might defeat a lesser driver using the best equipment.
For the second year in a row, the 2019 Ultimate Street Car Invitational champion – despite some changes to the rules – was Mike DuSold, driving a highly modified 1967 Chevrolet Camaro. He said this: “Just wait ‘till y’all see what we got next year!”
The cars at the top of the score charts also included Dodge’s Viper, Subaru’s STI, Nissan’s GTR, Tesla’s Model 3 and a 1969 Mercury Cyclone.
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Copyright © 2020 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #640r1