Posted: Jan 26, 2017
Is the C5 Corvette the "Easy Button" Ultimate Street Car?
Danny Popp has won the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational a record four times. Three of those wins have come in his 2003 Corvette, which makes it easy for folks to make a connection between the C5 Corvette and success both in the OUSCI and the qualifying series. Is that really the case or does Danny Popp just have a knack for making things look easier than they really are? Several competitors have made the move in past seasons and even more are headed that way in 2017. Will that make it easier to win qualifying events, accumulate points and beat Popp at his own game and take home the OUSCI title?
The C5 Corvette has the benefit of running in either the GTL or GTS class and many opt to run in the GTS class to avoid the likes of Danny Popp, Mike DuSold, Rich Willhoff, Ken Thwaits and other hot shoes in the GTL class (Popp is the only one who runs a C5...so far). However, only two C5 Corvettes finished in the top-10 in GTS points in 2016, Brian Hobaugh in second and Rick Hoback in fourth. However, the same was true of the GTL class, where Karl Dunn (fourth) and Scot Spiewak (ninth) were the only two C5s in the top-10.
So since it doesn't seem like the C5 is such an "easy button" for a points championship, could it be an easy button for winning the OUSCI? Once again, we find only two C5s in the top-ten, with Popp winning and Dunn taking sixth place. In fact, just four C5s placed in the top-20 overall. In the overall field of 77 finishers (many more were invited, but couldn't finish the event or missed it entirely) there were just nine C5s that completed the weekend. There were 17 C5s that ran in the GTS class during 2016 and another eight C5s in the GTL class, so about 36% made their way to the OUSCI from the regular season, although one of those entries was a K&N Spirit of the Event invitee.
What about 2017?
Now that registration is open, fields are starting to take shape for the 2017 qualifying season, giving us a better idea of what the level of competition will look like at various events. The NCM Motorsports event has already sold-out, so we decided to see how the C5s might look in that field as a barometer for what other sold-out fields will look like. First off, we should note that the GT class is the largest at the event with 30 entries, including 13 fifth gen Camaros. That stacked class includes the two-time GT regular season champion, Bryan Johnson, as well as previous GT class winners, Jordan Priestley and Aaron Sockwell. Squaring off against those three is daunting enough, so it's easy to see why a guy like Casey Woodside would leave his fifth gen Camaro behind in favor of a C5 Corvette.
The GTL class at NCM only has nine entries at this point (ten if we count Ken Thwaits' C5), but six (seven) of them are experts, which tends to be a strong indicator of the cars most-likely to win the class and gain the most points. Joining Casey Woodside in the world of C5s is GTV convert, Jim Stehlin, who previously ran in his second gen Camaro. If they hope to qualify at NCM, they'll have to beat out most of a group that consists of Ken Thwaits, Mike DuSold, James Forbis, Karl Dunn, Douglas Wind and Ryan Johnson. All of those competitors have either won their way into the OUSCI at events, won class championships, finished in the top-10 in GTL points or all of the above...and Danny Popp will be running and snatching valuable points from everyone else in the process.
The GTS class doesn't seem any easier for the four C5s entered in that class. There are 11 experts in that class of 23 entries, including Rick Hoback, Paul Curley, Jeremy Swenson and Curt Trawick (Porsche), who are all previous class winners. While the odds seem stacked against someone running a C5 and achieving any measure of success, whether that is a class win, points championship, OUSCI invite or OUSCI Championship, many veteran competitors have not made this switch lightly.
They've evaluated their past entries and compared them directly against how they think a C5 would perform. In many instances, they felt a C5 would run faster on the Detroit Speed Autocross, PowerStop Speed Stop Challenge and the Falken Road Course Time Trial. However, does that mean the C5 will perform better in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge? Even if it doesn't, will the performance in the timed events outweigh the points hit taken on D&E?
For some, it just doesn't matter. They want to come out and run in the series, get on national TV and see their picture in car magazines. The C5 is a very cheap and reliable date for that dance, regardless of whether it leads to bigger and better things later in the year in Las Vegas. In that regard, the C5 is definitely the easy button choice. But what if someone wants to stack the odds more in their favor?
In that case, they may want to look past the GT, GTS and GTL classes. The GTV for pre-1990 cars is routinely one of the largest classes at events, but that doesn't always mean it is the most-competitive. While the top GTV cars tend to do very well in D&E, it is more of a challenge to make them competitive with Detroit's (and Bavaria & Yokohama's) latest & greatest in timed events. A well-built, well-driven GTV car can end up doing quite well at events and in the series as a whole. Kyle Tucker's Camaro and Mike Maier's Mustang captured two of the top-11 scores at qualifying events last season and even though Mike DuSold runs in the GTL class, he has a GTV-era '67 Camaro that also captured two more of the highest single-event scores of the season.
As we look at the field at NCM, we see only the Camaros of Larry Woo and Mills Robinson registered as expert drivers. They both tend to run multiple events each season, so one or both may already be qualified by the time NCM rolls around, leaving that qualifying spot wide open. It can be harder to build and maintain a GTV car, so even if they seem like good candidates for easy button choices, they do have their own shortcomings.
There does appear to be a clear easy button choice though and it's not a GTV car, a C5, C6 or any other specific make or model. It is a GTC car. The GTC class is the newest class in OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car and as such it doesn't have the same popularity as the other classes. In spite of that, there will be OUSCI invitations available to GTC class cars at every qualifying event and in the season-long point totals. There are currently four cars signed up to compete in GTC this season...in all of the qualifying events.
That number will likely grow as events get closer, but at a sold-out event like NCM, the field is already locked in (unless registered drivers switch vehicles) and there are just two entries there- Erik Vandermey's Miata and Scott Budisalich's Honda S2000. One of those two cars is likely to punch their ticket to Las Vegas at NCM. Budisalich is also running at the previous event at NOLA Motorsports Park and he is currently the only GTC entry for that event. If he wins his way in there and Vandermey is the only other GTC entry at NCM Motorsports Park, he'll win his way in there.
Vandermey is also the only GTC car currently signed up to run in three events. As long as he finishes all those events and doesn't get absolutely dominated by Budisalich in two of them, he'll lock up the GTC Championship if no one else steps forward to challenge him. As economical as the C5 Corvette may be to run in the series, Fiats, Miatas, Civics and a host of other GTC-eligible platforms probably have the C5 beat in that regard by a wide margin. They may not win the OUSCI, but the odds are stacked heavily in their favor to get there, which is far more than many owners in any of the other classes can say.
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