Posted: Mar 25, 2017
DriveOPTIMA's 2017 GTV Class Preview
OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car is entering it's fourth full season and the competition has never been more exciting or more unpredictable. On the surprising side, the 2016 GTV Class (pre-1990 vehicles) champion, Jake Rozelle, opted not to defend his class championship in 2017. Instead, he has parked his '69 Camaro in favor of a C5 Corvette that will compete in the GTS Class. Normally, attention would turn to the runner-up in the class, but Mike Maier has also parking his venerable '66 Mustang in favor of a 2017 Mustang GT, which he is campaigning in the GT Class.
That doesn't exactly leave the GTV Class wide-open, but Rozelle & Maier gapped the rest of the GTV field by more than 100 points last season. Larry Woo's '68 Camaro was on a bit of an island in third place last season- well behind Rozelle & Maier, but well ahead of the Camaros of Chad Ryker & Efrain Diaz. Woo had initially planned on running Vegas, but is planning to make a serious run at the GTV Championship and his car wasn't quite finished in time for the season-opener. While running his car at less than 100% wouldn't have hurt him in terms of points or standings, it might've tipped his hand to some of his competitors and pushed back the ultimate completion date, which could've interfered with his running at future events.
Woo will instead make his debut at the NOLA Motorsports Park event, run at his home track (NCM Motorsports Park) as well as the regular season finale at Road America. He is closely monitoring points and still has the option of adding NJMP to his schedule, as space is still available. However, making the trek out to Auto Club Speedway, only to turn around and come back to Road America, then turn around again and head to Vegas for SEMA and the OUSCI is something Woo would prefer to avoid, as he is Ohio-based.
Last season, a points advantage could be gained by running at some of the events, like NJMP and PPIR, which didn't have full fields. That edge has all but evaporated in 2017, as most of the events have already sold out and if the others don't, they'll probably end up very close to a sell-out, as was the case in Las Vegas. There may be a bit of an advantage in terms of the strength & size of specific classes at a given event, but that will be hard to predict- a small GTV class could mean more D&E points could be available, but a large GTL class could mean less Road Course points could be available.
John Lazorack III's 1988 Chrysler Conquest delivered a commanding win at Las Vegas, but Lazorack is West Coast-based and known for doing way more with way less than most competitors in the series. While he would be a contender for the points championship, he only ran in one event last season and that was all he needed to qualify for the OUSCI. He may repeat that strategy in 2017, as he has already secured his invite and may not have the budget for extended travel. That brings us to the Camaros of Chad Ryker & Efrain Diaz.
Ryker's '68 and Diaz's '69 Camaros both ran at Vegas and finished on the podium, getting them off to a strong start. They both also plan to run in at least four events this season. That will likely position them near the top of the standings again, but other competitors could emerge. Mills Robinson's first gen Camaro may not fare as well in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, but Robinson has proven to be one of the fastest cars on the track and nearly qualified for the OUSCI last season. He has three events planned for 2017 and could not only make a run at a trip to the OUSCI, but the class championship.
While every Camaro we've mentioned so far is a first gen, Jim Stehlin's second gen will be running several events this season and looking to improve on his eighth-place finish in the 2016 standings. If it seems like the GTV class is nearly all about Camaros, we should point out that the sixth-place finisher, Nick Weber, was running a gorgeous Chevelle last season. Unfortunately, he sold it before the OUSCI and the new owner would not allow him to run it in Vegas. He is currently building another car, but it will be a C2. Before we finish mentioning Camaros, James Shipka plans to campaign his '67 and has made multiple appearances in the OUSCI. He is always a threat to finish on the podium and could make a significant leap up in the standings if he can run at least three events this season.
In a stark departure from all things Camaro, Kevin Tully had a rough weekend last year at COTA and still managed to finish in the top-20 in his best three events. He is planning to run his '64 Plymouth Valiant in five events this season, so even if he stumbles again, he should be able to get three very solid finishes. Kevin Dunn's '67 Pontiac Firebird is another car slated to run at least three events this season and is a combination that improved each time it last season. Scott Collins' '68 Camaro is another standout example that never finished lower than third in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge and posted some very solid finishes in 2016. If he's not contending for class wins, he'll still be grabbing some very valuable points in every event he runs.
One of the few vehicles to place ahead of Collins' Camaro in Design & Engineering last season was James Otto's '66 Chevy C10. Otto is scheduled to run at NOLA, NCM and Road America, reminding competitors at all three stops, that even though "Car" is in the title, trucks are also welcome and can more than hold their own. Between Otto, Collins, Woo, Tully and Mark Stielow running at Road America, there could be some serious cross-class implications in terms of point totals competitors might hope to accumulate at that event.
Opportunities abound in the series in 2017, between contingency programs from series sponsors PowerStop Brakes & Falken Tire, to a total of at least ten GTV cars being invited to SEMA and the OUSCI (seven event qualifiers, three non-qualifiers based on points) and the potential for even more, as ten other vehicles will earn invites based on series points totals, regardless of class. The objective portion of the Design & Engineering judging has also been modified for 2017, which will likely make GTV cars more impactful in terms of capturing valuable D&E points at events.
With just two events still having space available in their fields, we're looking forward to a super-competitive and super-fun season. Top contenders could be someone we've mentioned, a mid-season class-jumper or it could be a rookie who bursts onto the scene, like Edward Michalak or Tim Grant. If you'd like to learn more about the series, be sure to check out OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car TV show every weekend on MAVTV, starting on Friday nights at 8PM ET. If you can't wait until Friday, just hop onto the OPTIMA Network on Roku and watch past shows anytime.