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OPTIMA Invitational

Posted: Sep 15, 2014

2014 OUSCI Preview- Bryan Johnson's 2013 Chevrolet Camaro

Bryan-Johnson-2013-Chevrolet-Camaro-USCA-Michigan-2014_133.jpgIt seems odd to start out the OUSCI preview for Bryan Johnson and his 2013 Chevrolet Camaro by mentioning past OUSCI champion, Mark Stielow, but the comparison between the two is inevitable. Both drive Camaros, both are engineers by trade, both work in the auto industry, both have "vehicle dynamics" in their resume, both have extensive experience on race tracks and both seem to be about as close to a "professional" driver as USCA and OUSCI rules allow. Could these similarities result in Bryan Johnson's Camaro bringing home the title of OPTIMA's Ultimate Street Car for 2014? Read on.

USCA rules define a “professional driver” as someone who, "has competed at a high level of racing or time trial competition, for compensation that is a significant or primary source of income." Even though Johnson spent time working for the BAR/Honda F1 team back in the early-2000s, he was not behind the wheel of any race cars. According to the Interwebs, Johnson has been a full-time employee of Honda since 1994, working in a variety of capacities over the years, but always seemed to have strong ties to high-performance driving. In fact, Bryan has achieved top-level certification as a test driver for Honda and is a Nurburgring Industry Pool Driver, which not a lot of folks can claim.

In addition to the driving duties required by his day job, Johnson has also spent a lot of time behind the wheel of race cars on the weekends. Bryan's road racing experience in SCCA and NASA goes all the way back to 1996. He also competed in the Motorola Cup/Grand Am Cup from 2000-2009, during which he won at least a championship in the C2K class in 2000 and finished third in 2001.

Bryan also somehow managed to co-pilot a Civic to a fourth-place overall finish in the 2006 One Lap of America, besting all but a handful of Corvettes and Porsches in a nearly-90 car field with his modest economy car. While it's safe to say Bryan has sufficient track experience to contend for the OUSCI title, that experience will only get him so far in what is turning out to be the most-competitive and talented OUSCI field ever.

Newer cars tend to struggle in the Lingenfelter Performance Design Engineering Challenge and Bryan's Camaro could only manage a 14th place result in the GT3K class in Michigan. That's not to say there was anything wrong with his Camaro, but that the field even in that qualifying event, was stacked with very well-built vehicles. That is likely to only get tougher when the competition moves to Las Vegas.

Johnson did post the fastest lap time in the BFGoodrich Hot Lap Challenge at the Michigan USCA event, but four other Camaros driven by Ken Thwaits, Ryan Mathews, Kyle Tucker and Danny Popp were all within one second of his best lap time. That was no fluke, as Bryan posted the third-quickest lap in that event in St. Louis, behind only Danny Popp and Brandon Ranvek. Johnson also posted the fastest time in the RideTech Autocross in Michigan, but Ronnie Soliman, Ryan Mathews, Kyle Tucker and Bret Voelkel were all within a few tenths of his time there as well.

The Wilwood Speed Stop Challenge results were as confusing as ever. While Billy Utley proved once again that traction control and anti-lock brakes aren't needed to win the GT3K class, most of the AWD competitors were light years faster than the rest of the field. Johnson, however, did finish second to Utley in GT3K. That showing, combined with a similarly-strong outing at the St. Louis USCA event, suggests Johnson will be a formidable presence in every event on the track in Las Vegas. The question is how much can he improve his Camaro's score in Style Design, if at all, between now and SEMA.

So what has Johnson been up to since getting the nod at Michigan? It's been a mix of logistical preparation for getting his car out to Las Vegas, getting himself out there and getting more dialed in behind the wheel. Johnson attended LSFest last weekend, where he was able to put his engineering background to work on the Autocross and Speed Stop events there, finishing sixth and fifth respectively and sixth overall for Grand Champion consideration. He also plans to run at the Pittsburgh USCA event early next month.

The most significant change we'll see on the Camaro between now and SEMA will be a new set of Forgeline wheels. "I had just been running the stock wheels," said Johnson. "For SEMA and the OUSCI, that wasn't going to cut it, so I called up David Schardt and ordered a set of Forgeline's awesome monoblock wheels."

Beyond that, Bryan will work on cleaning up some battle scars and continue trying to make sure everything is dialed in before the trip out West. While he would like to do more and knows what is possible with the resources with an F1 team, the wrenching on this car takes place in Bryan's one-car garage, so he'll do whatever his resources allow. He does anticipate the car will arrive in Nevada generating about 500 horsepower and weighing about 3,800 pounds.

In spite of his extensive racing background, the track at LVMS is just as much of a mystery to Johnson as everyone else at this point. "I've seen the track map and watched some video," says Bryan. "It looks very technical with a lot of tight turns and not a lot of straights. I think it's really going to favor the AWD cars and the smaller, lighter cars with a lot of mechanical grip." Johnson also feels the layout will favor drivers like Popp, Kyle Tucker and defending OUSCI champion, Brian Hobaugh, who have strong autocrossing backgrounds. However, Johnson also had plenty of time to observe both Brandon Ranvek and Ronnie Soliman at St. Louis and Michigan and feels either driver could also be near the top of the standings when the checkered flag falls.

Even though he will be an OUSCI rookie, Johnson is fairly familiar with the field and expects there will be a lot of cars within tenths, possibly even thousandths of a second of each other in the three on-track events, with the competitor who pulls of great runs in all three and scores well in Style Design coming out on top.

Bryan conservatively estimates he is a longshot to win the OUSCI "I think there are going to be at least 15-20 cars with a legitimate shot at winning the event," says Johnson. "I'm hoping to be in that mix, but I'm also realistic about my chances with such a big, heavy car. No matter how it turns out, I'm just excited to be part of it and looking forward to a fun week!"

Bryan would like to thank Detroit Speed and Engineering for their phenomenal suspension and all of their help and support, as well as Forgeline Wheels, Mast Motorsports for their "awesome" LS3 head and cam package, and JJ Furillo for his support on Bryan's JRi shocks. If you read all the talk about Las Vegas Motor Speedway and wondered why the OUSCI is running there this year, it's because the event has grown to the point that it needed a bigger venue. If you will be in the Las Vegas area during the SEMA show, you won't want to miss this fantastic event. Buy your OUSCI tickets today!

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