Optima Search For the Ultimate Street Car at Road America, 2021!

What a weekend.

With the demise of the Probe’s second engine at Time Trials, we’ve been campaigning the Buick. We had an encouraging event at Atlanta Motorsports Park, with a solid 385 point performance despite the car giving us fits, basically refusing to run properly at wide open throttle.

But, we did well enough, and got enough data to correct the issue. Moving ahead to Road America left us a bit scared. Road America is a big, super high speed track. The prospect of wringing this car out full boogie along the three long straights and then dropping the anchor into the three tight corners at the end of each one of them gave us some trepidation.

The data bears that out. My fastest lap of the day on the road course saw the car spend almost exactly half of the four mile track at wide open throttle. We averaged 90mph over the entire course, and hit 145mph at the end of the front straight, 143mph approaching turn 5, and 138 going into Canada Corner. No knock. Excellent AFRs. 21psi of boost on a tank full of an E70 mix of ethanol and gasoline.

Then there’s temperatures. Longtime readers of this blog will know how much trouble we had back in 2017 through 2019 controlling temperatures on this car, especially in the transmission. Fluid temps in the transmission exceeding 497 degrees were confirmed twice by way of melted nylon bushing material inside the unit. Water temperatures were also affected by the transmission temperatures, as the transmission cooling loop was inside the radiator.

Corrective actions taken in 2019 before the car went to Saudi Arabia? An additional transmission cooler with a fan, a super-high efficiency torque converter from Pro-Torque that also sported a reinforced lockup clutch, and some very aggressive lockup programming in the ECU.

But, due to the tuning issues that prevented us from using full power at the Time Trials Nationals and the Optima event at AMP, we never could tell just how well those mitigations worked until this weekend.

The Results? At the end of a 17 minute session, here’s where the temperatures were:

ItemTemp (F)
Engine oil246.2

This is insanely good news. While temperatures were still climbing and hadn’t shown any signs of leveling off, they were well below acceptable ranges. It appears we have licked the cooling gremlins, finally.

But that’s not all we managed. Cornering speed into turn one was over 73mph, and we averaged 83mph in the carousel. This car didn’t just go, the grip available now with these QA1 shocks is astounding. The car behaves in ways it never has.

Unfortunately, the SD card in my GoPro died during the first session, so I don’t have a fun video of the lap, or of much of anything else, really. I did reach out to MAVTV to see if they would be so nice as to give me a copy from their cameras, which were on the car during that session. I don’t know if they can let me have it or not, it’s their footage and there are intellectual property issues, but if they were to be so generous as to work something out with me, I’ll share it if I can. Otherwise, you may get a peek of it on the TV show when it airs, probably in late October.

Moving on to the Peak Performance Challenge (formerly Speed Stop), I sucked. It was a terrible performance, which is disappointing. I’m still having trouble hooking off the line, and extreme nose dive under violent braking is lifting the rear tires off the ground. I have an order in with QA1 for some different front springs to tune this out, but they’re backed up just like everybody else.

Road Rally went perfectly. Ice cold A/C and tunes from the upgraded stereo were much appreciated after a hot day wearing a fire suite and helmet.

Saturday was D&E and the autocross. Both were good. Not the best, but very good. I was sitting on a solid 4th in class in autocross before the lunch break, with rain threatening, but alas, it didn’t rain much and I was unable to improve in the afternoon while several others did. I slipped to seventh.

SegmentClass PlaceOverall Place
Falken Tire Hot Lap Challenge1046
Peak Performance Challenge1553
Lingenfelter Design and Engineering1023
QA1 Autocross735
Road Rally1 (tie)1(tie)

This all added up and landed me 8th overall in GTV with 341 points. Good enough to launch me from 28th overall for the season up to 16th. With one event left, there’s still a squeaker of the chance for me to qualify for Vegas on points.

Except now I don’t have to qualify on points.

The FM3 and Optima Crew threw me a curveball. Now, I am not one that is easily surprised. I typically see things coming, or once they happen, see why they happened and any bewilderment or startling subsides quickly. But right now I’m still a bit shocked. This one blind sided me.

I was awarded the Summit Racing Equipment Spirit of the Event Award, which comes with a spot in the Invitational. The organization took into account my work with the Probe last year and over the winter, the podium finish at NOLA, and the switch to the Buick for the remainder of season after it became apparent it wasn’t going to be possible to repair the Probe in time for any more events this year.

I was very surprised. Extremely flattered. Having so much effort over such a period recognized in such a ways is amazing. So, for the third time in as many tries, we’re going to the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational!

In addition to an honor, this is a large relief. I have three major events left. Two are autocrosses that aren’t particularly hard on the car – UMI’s KOTM 3.0 this weekend, and the SCCA Solo Nationals in two weeks. The last is the final round of the Optima Series at NCM in October. I don’t have to beat the car to death at NCM in pursuit of a points invite. I can relax, just have fun, and maybe take a few sessions to jump in right seat and help some participants that aren’t as familiar with the track as I am. I got my invite, maybe I can help somebody else get one, too.

Then I’ll get the car cleaned top to bottom and set out across the country once again.

Huge Gallery of Images and Videos!

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