OUSCI Competitor Chris Frick's 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth
Each year, OPTIMA selects dozens of cars and trucks to compete in the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational. The vast majority of those vehicles are chosen before SEMA begins. However, OPTIMA does select ten vehicles from the SEMA show each year, inviting them to compete in the OUSCI.
The owners of these vehicles are typically at a distinct disadvantage right out of the box, because most had no idea they would be tracking their car as soon as the SEMA show ended. While getting this 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth on the track was certainly in the works for Chris Frick and the crew at HG Motorsports, they had no idea the opportunity to do so would come so quickly. When the announcements were made on Thursday, the crew at HG Motorsports sprung into action and called their shop in San Diego for some much-needed supplies.
First off, the Abarth didn't have tires with a treadwear rating of at least 200, which was also the case for their fellow competitor and good friend, Joey Seely. With that in mind, a shop truck was loaded up with the appropriate rubber and pointed in the direction of Las Vegas. It was also decided that bigger Brembo brakes would also be a good addition as well.
When we talked with Chris after his his selection, we explained to him about the value of the Detroit Speed/JRI Shocks Road Rally, especially considering the fact that Frick wasn't able to work on the 500 prior to the close of SEMA and needed to get brakes, wheels and tires on his car and get it to the track in Pahrump in roughly 15 hours. Points in the other segments of the OUSCI are only awarded to the top-20 finishers, so the points earned in the road rally portion are the only points many of the competitors earn. This year, that was the case for 14 cars in the field.
That also meant that the difference between earning those ten points and anything less than that was the difference between finishing tied for 34th place and finishing no better than 48th. While participating in the OUSCI is more important to most folks than where they end up in the standings, everyone wants to make the most of their situation. Knowing the risks, Frick split from the group after the stop at Shelby, scoring just three points on the rally and met Seely at Subaru Las Vegas, where they swapped tires and prepped their cars for the following day. By the time the cars were buttoned back up and in Pahrump, it was already nearly 1AM.
Frick wasn't alone in not completing the rally, in fact seven vehicles in this year's event failed to collect the maximum of ten points available during that portion of the event. However, only Seely and David Brandt were able to finish ahead of the 14 cars who completed the rally and finished in 34th place. While the gamble paid off for Seely, Frick came up .834 seconds outside of scoring position in the RideTech autocross.
Moving over to the BF Goodrich Hot Lap Challenge, the lightweight Abarth stood an outside chance of scoring points, if a skilled driver could wheel the 2,500-pound car around the track and maximize the 143 boosted horsepower running to the wheels and the big Brembo brakes that were added just a few hours earlier. After all, John Buttermore was less than five seconds outside of scoring position in a nearly bone-stock Chevy Sonic and the Fiat likely had more power on tap, better tires and much better brakes.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be, as an intercooler pipe blew off on the warm-up lap. After navigating a maze of plumbing for over an hour, the 500 was back on track, but suffered the same fate again. Upon further inspection in the pits, Frick's crew realized the real source of the issues was a blown seal on the turbo and with that, their day on the track was over.
Chris did have a great time at the event and said the atmosphere reminded him of a Grand Am race. He also hopes to return in 2013 with a car that is fully dialed-in and ready to lay some hurt on the musclecars in the field. If you'd like to follow Frick's build-up on the Fiat 500 owners forum.