Analyzing the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Competition
Of all the segments in OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering Challenge typically sparks the most conversation. It is what makes this series unique and differentiates it from a multitude of other events, where anyone can roll up with just about any type of car, whether it is street legal or not and compete strictly based on a time they run on a track. Part of the reason OPTIMA's series has a Design & Engineering segment is because we have a specific set of criteria for defining a “Street Car.”
Does the vehicle have a windshield and side windows? Does it have functional exterior lighting and a radio? And the list goes on. These elements of Design & Engineering make up at least 60% of the total Design & Engineering score and there is no subjective judging involved in these elements. It's pretty easy to determine if a car's radio works or if it still has carpeting on the floor and assign points accordingly.
In addition to helping us identify a street car, as opposed to a racecar with license plates that is technically still street-legal in at least some jurisdictions, Design & Engineering helps us recognize truly exceptional vehicles, that were it not for this series, might not ever have the opportunity to be showcased at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. After all, the SEMA Show is where this all started with OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI).
Originally, all the vehicles selected to compete came from the SEMA Show. While we still invite up to ten such vehicles each year to compete in the OUSCI, the bulk of our field now comes from our qualifying series and as part of their reward for qualifying for the OUSCI, vehicles in competition are all provided with the opportunity and are actually required to be on display at the SEMA Show, in order to compete in the OUSCI.
While there are various race cars scattered throughout the SEMA Show, OPTIMA's Ultimate Street Car Invitational is the only competitive event where all of the vehicles are placed on display at the SEMA Show. There is an application, review and approval process for entering any vehicle into the SEMA Show and were it not for the Lingenfelter Design & Engineering competition, SEMA might not allow us to display all of our vehicles at their show.
While D&E might not be a favorite segment for some competitors, most know, understand and accept why it is an integral part of the series. That doesn't mean there aren't questions about how it works and we've written several blogs here and discussed at great length on multiple podcasts, as we try to help bring some clarity to the one segment that isn't as straight-forward to understand as a timed segment, where the competitor with the fastest time gets the most points and the competitor with the slowest time gets the fewest points.
With that in mind, we thought we'd take a slightly different approach in analyzing Design & Engineering in this blog. Now that 80% of the regular season has been run, we have quite a bit of data to access and examine, including dozens of competitors, who have run multiple events. For the remainder of this blog, we are going to examine the scores of one specific competitor, who has already run in three different events, although we won't identify the competitor or the events in which they ran.
In their first event, they received 63 points in D&E. In their second event, they only received 33 points and in their third event, they received 40 points. Generally, as the season goes on and competitors get a handle on D&E, their scores tend to improve, especially if they make specific changes to their car with the intent of seeing an improved score. If that is the case, why then would this competitor see such a significant drop in points awarded from one event to the next?
One of the most-common reasons, is because one of their objective elements was absent- their radio didn't work or a headlight was burned out, etc... It is those objective, un-judged elements that have by far the largest impact on D&E scores and results throughout the series. However, that is often not the only factor involved. Typically, the size of fields and quality of competition also have an impact on a competitor's score.
That isn't just the case for D&E, but for all the timed segments as well. Really fast cars will still be really fast in a 100-car field at Circuit of the Americas, just as they would in a field with dozens fewer competitors at New Jersey Motorsports Park. We'll also see this shake out with the specific competitor we are analyzing today.
In their first event, their raw D&E score was just 14.3996 raw points out of a possible 25 points. Once all the raw scores are distributed throughout the field, they are positioned first to last on a 100-point scale. First place receives 100 points, second receives 99 points, third receives 98 points and so on... The reason this competitor only received 14.3996 points in their first event was because their vehicle was missing two objective elements. If they had both of those elements present, their raw score would've been 20.3996 points, because each objective element is worth a whopping three raw points!
First place in the field at that event received 22.3662 raw points, which translated on the 100-point scale into 100 points. 20th place in the field had a raw score of 20.1996 points, which translated into 81 points. Already we can see that if this competitor had not missed on two of the five objective elements, their raw score of 20.3996 points would've been good for at least 81 series points, if not more. In this first event the absence of two objective elements resulted in a swing of more than 20 points on the 100-point scale, which is a huge blow. However, it's also how the series stays honest to it's street car name.
Last place at this first event received 62 points, so we also see that missing more than one objective element almost guarantees a finish in Design & Engineering near the very back of the field. However, this competitor lucked out in that the size of the field at this event was relatively-small, so the series points awarded were still fairy significant. While no double-points events were held this year, we did say from the very start that there would be several events where more points might be available if the fields didn't sell out and that definitely turned out to be the case at those events and this competitor's first event was one of them.
That was not the case for their second event, which was sold-out. A full field definitely means more cars competing for points, but in the case of this event, it also meant more quality cars competing for points. Where 20th place at the first event had 20.1996 raw points, 20th place at the second event had 20.4997. In this event, the competitor made sure they received all 15 of their objective raw points, but given the larger field with a larger contingent of high-quality competitors, the car received 19.2663 raw points, which translated to 33 points on the 100-point scale. Last place at the second event only had 13.1665 raw points, clearly missing more than one objective element and received just 26 series points.
The third event for this competitor was also sold out and even though their car once again missed out on an objective element, costing them three raw points, their total raw score of 16.1997 points translated into 40 points on the 100-point scale. What happened there? 40th place had 19.6332 points, which was fewer than the other events, suggesting the quality of the field wasn't as deep. There were also five cars that finished lower than this competitor, indicating he was far from the only one to lose points on objective elements.
Now that we've looked at the impact the size and quality of a field, as well as the objective (non-judged) elements can have on a D&E score, let's run through the competitor's subjective scores from the three events-
As we look at the three sets of subjective scores from three different sets of judges, we see a very consistent pattern emerge over the course of three events. If we use .5 points as a baseline, the three sets of judges are very consistent in how they either score elements of this car above or below a midpoint of .5 points.
It seems clear in these results, that the suspension, engine modifications, air intake/exhaust and car audio are helping this competitor's score at each event. At the same time, the car consistently scores lower on paint, body/exterior, interior and the trunk/hatchback/bed area. The wheels and tires are roughly a push.
Painting a car or adding a wrap can be a very costly endeavor. However, the same might not be true for the trunk or interior, which carries the same weight as paint in scoring. It might take a custom paint job and extensive body modifications to bring those scores up to the same level that the engine modifications receive, but that's the point of Design & Engineering- rewarding areas of a car that go above and beyond the norm.
The flipside of that equation is that many of the cars that tend to score consistently well in paint and body categories tend not to be the same cars that are at the top of the leaderboard of timed events. There are certainly exceptions that score very well in D&E and are very fast on the track, but there are also exceptions that score very low in D&E and are also very slow on the track.
As we try to put it all into perspective, we want to remind competitors that we really like all of their cars, regardless of how they score in D&E or finish on the track. The fact that they can even make it through a weekend in OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car says a lot about the quality of their builds, as some car show regulars struggle to avoid overheating in moderate traffic when leaving local shows.
One area we didn't touch on in the subjective portion of the judging was the bonus points, which can vary in some ways from event to event. In this one category of subjective judging, the judges have an opportunity to assign bonus points at their discretion and their logic for doing so can vary greatly from one judge to the next and from one event to the next. One judge may look at overall fit & finish. Another may make a judgement call on whether a car comes down more on the side of street car that can run on a racetrack versus racecar that can be driven on a street. That criteria and subsequent scoring is entirely in the hands of the judges at each event.
As we look at the bonus points this competitor received at the three events, we scores of .7333, .0333 and .1 points, which seem to vary greatly and suggest inconsistencies in the judging process. However, when we look at these scores once again in the context of the range of all the bonus scores given at each event, we see a much more consistent pattern develop. At the first event, the bonus points awarded by the judges ranged from .4666 to .7666 points. In the second event, the range of bonus points awarded went from 0 to .3666 points. At the third event, the range of bonus points awarded was anywhere from 0 to .3 points.
In this context, the competitor received points somewhere in the middle each time, even though the judges at the first event awarded more raw points to everyone in that field, than the judges at the second or third events. The end result is that the total raw scores at the first event might be slightly higher than the other two, but that won't impact season-long points, because first, tenth and 15th place at all three events received the same series points for their position. The variance in bonus points awarded may also shed some light on how liberal or conservative judges were in awarding points in other areas overall.
It could make competitors question why their raw score might be significantly higher at one event, than another. If the context of the bonus segment is understood relative to each event and the subjective scores are compared without the influence of potential points missing from objective elements, a more consistent pattern may emerge. In the case of this competitor, on nine subjective elements, they received scores of 4.663, 4.233 and 4.0997 points. The first score is still higher than the second and third, but if that first event had a smaller, less competitive field, then a slightly higher score there makes more sense.
Two qualifying events remain in OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car and the regular season finale at Auto Club Speedway is already sold-out. If the large field there is also stacked with very competitive entries, points in D&E and everywhere else will be hard to come by. NOLA Motorsports Park is not sold out yet, but getting closer every day. If it doesn't sell out and if the entries there aren't as competitive, it could provide the points boost a few folks are seeking to grab an invite for Las Vegas. Don't miss a minute of the action this season. Watch OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts, every Friday night at 8PM Eastern on MAVTV.