Posted: Jan 09, 2018
Ken Thwaits' 2006 Mitsubishi Evo
If you want to win the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational, you'll need to beat Ken Thwaits' 2006 Mitsubishi Evo
Ken Thwaits' journey to winning the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) title started in 2014, which was the first year of the Search for the Ultimate Street Car qualifying series. Thwaits won the 2014 GT3K Class Championship in the series, but a 15th place finish at the 2014 OUSCI was further back than he wanted to be. Ken did notice four Mitsubishi Evos finished ahead of his Camaro, including runner-up, Brandon Ranvek's 2006 Evo. A series of events was set in motion that resulted in Ken arriving at the 2015 qualifying event at Pike's Peak International Raceway in his own Mitsubishi Evo, sourced from the same RS Motors crew that prepped several of the Evos that finished ahead of his Camaro, including Ranvek's runner-up ride.
Ken's new (to him) Evo finished in the runner-up spot behind Alexndra Zust's Lotus Elise in the Holley EFI GTL Class, but a return appearance later in the season netted him an invite to the OUSCI with a fourth-place finish. Who finished ahead of him? Defending OUSCI champ, Danny Popp's Corvette and two Evos piloted by Ranvek and Andy Smedegard. This was clearly the company Ken wanted to be in heading into the 2015 OUSCI. Four Evos finished in the top-10 at the 2015 OUSCI, but Ken's Evo was seventh, with Brandon Ranvek's Evo cannibalizing Andy Smedegard's shot at the title by winning the Detroit Speed Autocross, leaving Smedegard in the runner-up spot and Ranvek right behind him.
Four Evos returned to the 2016 OUSCI, including Ken's, but Ranvek and Smedegard weren't there. This seemed like the year Ken would finally capture the OUSCI title. The car had been repainted and heavily-customized inside and out and held an eight-point lead and the tie-breaker (Lingenfelter Design & Engineering score) after the first day of competition. However, the engine went south at the beginning of the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial, leaving Ken scrambling and scavenging spare parts from one of the other Evos in the field. Danny Popp's Corvette didn't need to win the road course outright, but it needed to finish at least nine positions ahead of Ken's Evo. Popp's Vette did managed to take the win on the road course and with some help from Todd Rumpke's Corvette and a few others, Ken's Evo ended up in 17th place on the big track and eight points behind Popp's C5 in the overall standings.
In spite of all the success Thwaits achieved in the OUSCI and the series over the years, not only had the OUSCI title escaped him, but even regular season class wins in the Holley EFI GTL Class proved elusive coming into the 2017 grand finale. Ken altered his strategy slightly for the 2017 OUSCI, dialing back the power on his Evo, searching for more durability over the course of the weekend. He'd need every bit of both power and reliability with the 2017 field proving to be extremely competitive and deep.
Brandon Ranvek returned to compete in 2017, but this time it was Ken's Evo that topped the Detroit Speed Autocross and the PowerStop SpeedStop Challenge. With a third-place finish in the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge, Thwaits' Evo left very little room for anyone else to take the title if his car held up on the Falken Tire Road Course Time Trial. Six cars scored 90 or more points in all three of the timed segments, so there were several cars well within striking distance as competitors took to the big track. Thwaits ended up finishing 11th overall, which was good enough for 90 points, bringing his total at the event to 488 points. Austin Barnes' ACR Viper won set the fastest time on the big track, but fell just short of Thwaits at 485 points. Mike DuSold's Camaro and Brandon Ranvek's Evo also finished within ten points of Thwaits, making for the tightest, most-competitive finish in OUSCI history.
With the 2018 season now underway, Ken finds himself in unfamiliar territory. The target is now on his back, as hundreds of cars are chasing the Ultimate Street Car title, but he's responded well. Ken's win at the season-opener was his first class win in the series and set the tone early, but it won't be an easy road back to the top of the podium in November. Follow the journey by attending one or more of the upcoming qualifying events and don't miss the TV series, which airs every Friday night at 8PM ET on MAVTV.