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Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Australia 2019

By Iain Kelly | Photos: Joesph Hui, 23 Nov 2019 Events

Harrop’s LS7-powered Monaro wins Australia’s first Optima Search For The Ultimate Street Car event

Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Australia 2019

THE pro touring juggernaut that is the Optima Search For The Ultimate Street Car (OSUSC) hit Australia for the first time on 16 and 17 November at Calder Park.

Originally started in the USA back in 2008 to support the aftermarket industry, the OSUSC grew out of the annual Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) event. Through 12 years of competition, the series has become the top event for pro touring cars the world over. 

While events like Drag Challenge and Drag Week feature the quickest road-registered straight-line machinery, the OSUSC aims to find the best all ’round street car in terms of performance, fit and finish, engineering and comfort. This has pushed the development of pro tourers from sticky-tyre-shod streeters into aero-equipped, lightweight race machinery that can slay the best European and Japanese cars in every facet of driving performance. 

“We run seven events around the USA to qualify for the Invitational in Las Vegas; then we run the Invitational immediately after SEMA,” said Optima’s Jim McIlvaine. “We normally have 75-85 cars at the OSUSC events, and run at tracks like Road Atlanta and Daytona Speedway.” 

For the first Aussie competition, the class structure was simplified to be Classic (pre-1990), Modern (post-1990) and Fast Four (all-paw three- or four-cylinder and rotary). All cars had to have production tags, fully enclosed wheels and wear street-legal, non-competition tyres with a tread-wear rating of 200 or higher (meaning no semi-slicks).

The Aussie OSUSC had four segments: motorkhana, drags, circuit sprinting, and speed-stop, forgoing the 160km road rally leg done in America. Each segment was worth 100 points, with a bonus five points up for grabs if entrants entered the show ’n’ shine judging. 

As per the OUSCI, the disciplines were split over Saturday and Sunday, with entrants first taking on the motokhana, which utilised the end of Calder circuit’s front straight and a section of the back course, before moving to the speed-stop event, which combined elements of motorkhana and go-to-whoa.

Saturday evening saw the entrants run on the Calder quarter-mile, before returning on Sunday for the road course using Calder’s short circuit layout. To qualify as a finisher, entrants had to make at least three motorkhana runs, two speed-stop runs, and one pass up the drag strip and around the road course. Any witch’s hats knocked over incurred a two-second penalty. 

For the first year, Optima wasn’t expecting huge numbers, and although 14 cars fronted up to Calder on the first day, the variety on offer was awesome. The event’s entry cost of $150 for two days of track action was a dead-set bargain, and the small group of entrants meant there was bulk track time on offer.

Late-model machinery entered included a 2014 Mini Cooper S GP Edition, a Nissan 350Z convertible, a VE SS Commodore, a 2001 Subaru WRX, Street Machine's own Kim Simonsen in an Nissan R33 GTS-T, Harrop’s track-spec CV8 Monaro, a supercharged 2017 Mustang GT and an R35 Nissan GT-R. 

Having spectated at three OUSCI events in the USA. I was keen to see which old-school Aussie pro tourers turned up, and I wasn’t disappointed with Tony Cott’s super-clean LS1 ’69 Camaro, James Mackie’s blown LS1-powered XY Falcon drift car and Jason Briffa’s 351ci XT Falcon wagon.

With the OSUSC running the day after we wrapped Street Machine Drag Challenge at Calder, both Jason Waye from Tuff Mounts and Grant Grech decided to back up their drag racing exploits with some hard-cornering and braking action. Both Jason’s ’81 Sigma and Grant’s LX Torana hatch run LS engines, though Grant’s car is arguably more suited to Optima’s challenges with its six-speed manual ’box. 

One of the best parts of the day was the camaraderie between entrants, as they hopped in each other’s cars for coaching or just to enjoy some happy laps. The vibe was awesome and laidback, with casual conversations taking place in the queue as everyone checked out each other’s cars.

But at the end of the day a winner had to be crowned, and the combination of professional hot-shoe Nathan Pretty behind the wheel and a thundering Sam’s Performance-built LS7 under the bonnet meant the Harrop CV8 Monaro nailed a near-perfect 403-point score out of a possible 405 to win outright. After the trophies were handed out, Jimi Day from Optima USA announced that both Nathan and second-place outright winner Chaise Delia (Mustang) would be given VIP trips to the 2020 SEMA Show and OUSCI competition. 

“We are really excited to come to Australia, and we’re committed to coming back to Australia in February 2021,” said Jimi. “We’re committed to growing the event and building a community here.”

We’ll definitely be back, and are already planning to bring more cars along! 

1. Tony Cott’s sweet ’69 Camaro rocks a cammed 5.7-litre LS1, with a Tremec T56 six-speed manual and 12-bolt Positraction rear-end. He’s added QA1 coil-overs, Heidts drop spindles and control arms to wind more negative camber into the front end, and regularly circuit-sprints the Z/28 tribute around tracks in Victoria. 

 2. Chaise Delia surprised many with his Harrop 2300-supercharged 2017 Mustang GT. Despite only pushing 9psi through the Coyote, the 400rwkW brute was hot on the heels of the Harrop Monaro as Chaise had a ball hammering on his car. “I absolutely flogged the crap out of it,” Chaise said. “This is the first event I’ve done and I’ve just come to beat on the car.”

3. Powered by a Sam’s Performance-built dry-sumped 427ci LS7, Harrop’s VZ Monaro is a seriously cool piece of work, designed to show what the company is capable of building in-house. With a Harrop 12-bolt IRS rear-end, 18x10 and 18x11 Forgeline GA3R wheels, a stripped interior painted Lamborghini Orange, Harrop Ultimate big-brake kit, and a custom carbonfibre bodykit, the 700hp NA monster was too tough for the old-school muscle to overcome.

 

4. The man who possibly had the most fun at the event was Jason Briffa, who spent most of Saturday clouded in tyre smoke from his 351 Windsor-powered XT wagon. With only basic suspension upgrades, a Tremec TR6060 and XY GT nine-inch, the transmission specialist threw the longroof around like a man possessed. “I only just got it back on the road,” he laughed. “James Mackie gave me a call at 6:30pm last night to come down, and it’s been a blast!”

 

5. James Mackie’s XYNOT ’72 Falcon drift car nearly burned the internet to the ground last time it popped up on Street Machine thanks to its LS1 powerplant. James had the slammed four-door sidewinding all over Calder, thanks in part to the Harrop 2300 supercharger sitting on top of the 5.7-litre GM small-block. He took out the Vintage class against some stiff competition from the Tuff Mounts Sigma.

 6. Jason Waye hung around in Melbourne for a couple of extra days after Drag Challenge to run their Tuff Mounts ’81 GH Sigma in the Optima challenge. The LS1 under the bonnet runs a VCM 710 cam, but is otherwise pretty mild, as the Sigma had to pass SA’s strict roadworthiness and engineering inspections. Jason managed to finish third in the Vintage class.

 7. Grant Grech was another Drag Challenge entrant who came back for a run at Optima, giving his LS2-powered LX Torana hatchback a right seeing to over the two days. “I built it to take to all kinds of events,” Grant said. “This was close to home and the entry fee was a bargain, so I thought: ‘Why not?’”

8. With a tough, 600hp EFI small-block Chev, Tremec TKO manual and coilover-equipped suspension, Brenton Walsh’s ’69 C10 Chevy pick-up has the goods to carve corners, but the truck is beautifully finished with its custom interior and soon-to-be-installed air conditioning. “I built it inspired by pro touring trucks from America, so as soon as I heard about this event I had to come along, although I unfortunately broke my foot a few weeks back, so my dad had to drive for me,” Brenton said. “It is only its second event after debuting at MotorEx this year.”

VINTAGE CLASS

1st James Mackie – 1972 Ford XY Falcon

2nd Tony Cott – 1969 Chevrolet Camaro

3rd Jason Waye – 1981 Mitsubishi Sigma

 

MODERN CLASS

1st Nathan Pretty – 2002 Holden CV8 Monaro

2nd Chaise Delia – 2017 Ford Mustang GT

3rd Rory Horrobin – 2009 Nissan GT-R

 

FAST FOUR CLASS

1st Craig Williams – 2014 Mini Cooper GP

2nd Andrew McSwain – 2001 Subaru WRX

 

OSUSC AUSTRALIA OVERALL WINNER

Nathan Pretty – 2002 Holden CV8 Monaro