Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Challenge 2022

High-performance genuine streeters of all stripes had their talents tested when the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car returned to Calder Park

Photographers: Cristian Brunelli

Back in 2007, American Jimi Day and a few mates wanted to create a new kind of event. “We were at SEMA and there were all these people talking about how fast and amazing their cars were, but they couldn’t prove it,” Jimi says. “We decided to create a platform that would allow people and companies to show off their creations, to show how good they are instead of just saying it.”

With that goal in mind – and spurred on by the rapid growth of the pro touring movement in the US and the availability of extremely capable modern muscle – the Ultimate Street Car Association (USCA) was born, a sanctioning body that now runs several events a year in the States under the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car (OSUSC) banner, sponsored by Optima Batteries.

Following on from their debut Australian event in 2019, the USCA team brought the OSUSC back to our sun-baked island in December last year, giving punters the opportunity to experience multi-discipline racing at Melbourne’s Calder Park. As the name suggests, the event’s objective is to find the fastest and most capable genuine street car in Australia.

The Aussie OSUSC is made up of four main racing events: auto test, speed stop, drag race and the hot lap. The auto test is a sprint down a short section of the main track, with a couple of tight turns and straights, and a hairpin that catches pretty much everyone out. The speed stop comprises a short sprint through the drag-strip burnout box into a tight 180 onto the staging lanes, where a series of bollards must be navigated as quickly as possible before screeching to a halt in the brake box. The drag race is a simple quarter-mile event, while the hot lap is a blast around Calder’s main track.

There were only two classes for 2022: Vintage and Modern, separated by the year of manufacture. Any car that met the required safety standards to pass scrutineering could enter. “We pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t pick your platform,” says Jimi.

While the long straights on the main track allowed the participants to really stretch their car’s legs and favoured those with more than three forward gears, the tight turns of the speed stop and the sweepers in the auto test proved a recipe for huge amounts of tyre smoke and steering with the accelerator pedal.

Brendan Irvine took out the Vintage category with his mean blown HQ, beating Heath van der Waerden in the Ultra Blue LX-styled UC Torana hatch by a bare seven points. In the Modern class, the monster Harrop C6 Z06 piloted by ex-V8 Supercars driver Nathan Pretty proved to be the standout winner, though Nathan graciously passed the prize of a trip to SEMA 2023 to third-placegetter Chaise Delia.

Optima and the USCA crew will be back in Australia in 2023 to host the Search for the Ultimate Street Car once again. Judging by the huge amount of positive feedback from last year’s event, it’ll be a blast!

Heath Van Der Waerden
Holden UC Torana hatch

If you need an example of a car that doesn’t fit any of the usual stereotypes, look no further than Heath van der Waerden’s wicked LX-converted UC hatch. It’s got a drop of show car, a dollop of track car, and a healthy serve of pro touring.

When Heath bought the UC almost a decade ago, it was a pretty basic black cruiser with a 202 and ugly wheels. It wasn’t long before the front end met with an angle grinder and the car’s transformation began. The extensive modifications Heath made included hiding all the wiring, seriously stiffening the chassis, completely redesigning the hatch floor, making the custom aluminium sunroof, and adding more than 1300 speed holes to remove weight from anywhere that could stand to lose it.

Under the fibreglass bonnet lives a 383ci COME iron lion, with COME aluminium heads topped by a glorious, eight-stack EFI Hardware ITB manifold. Surprisingly, this little monster lives on a diet of injected LPG and spits out 435hp, with more in the tank as soon as Heath can figure out how to feed it more fuel.

The front suspension is fairly standard, though the lowered ride height and 24mm front sway-bar really improve the way the Torana tackles corners. The rear end has copped substantial mods, including a fully floating, negative-camber BorgWarner diff with 31-spline axles and a Truetrac centre, all swinging from custom lower arms, Shockworks coil-overs and a rear-mounted third link to control the diff’s movement.

The Torana proved to be a very capable combo at OSUSC, running consistent track times that saw Heath taking home second place in the Vintage class thanks to a speedy 1min 15sec hot lap.

“The auto test was the most fun you can have with your pants on,” Heath laughed, although the hard driving did show up some issues with the newly finished Torry. “There was too much oil being delivered to the rocker gear, the tyres weren’t appropriate, and it had too much anti-roll in the rear end.”

Since OSUSC, Heath addressed the oiling problem, and then picked up a spot in the Summernats Top 60. He drove the UC there and back from Melbourne!

Engine: Holden 383ci V8
Trans: TKO600
Diff: BorgWarner
Brakes: Wilwood discs and four-piston calipers (f & r)
Power: 435rwhp

Chaise Delia
2017 Ford Mustang GT

Chaise Delia’s 2017 Mustang may look fairly tame to the casual observer, but that OSUSC third-place trophy proves that there’s way more going on with this car than might first be apparent. Nipping at the heels of the Harrop GT3 for most of the event, Chaise took every opportunity to get out on track and wrestle the angry ’Stang to a podium finish.

The Mustang was Chaise’s daily until he popped the stock engine after feeding it a few too many herbs. With help from Powerhouse Engines, Chaise put together a fresh 5.2L combo based around a Ford Performance M50R block, stock crank, 3.700in sleeves and Manley slugs. Slawko ported heads wear stock Gen 2 Coyote cams, and there’s a Harrop 2300 party-starter strapped to the intake that shoves 10psi into the cylinders.

A custom SPEC single-plate clutch passes the power to a Tremec Magnum XL cog-box. One of GJ Drivelines’ carbonfibre tailshafts is bolted to the factory Ford diff, though the driveshafts have been swapped out for some beefy 2000hp Driveshaft Shop units.

The fat CC_Forged custom 20in rims wear sticky Goodyear and Yokohama rubber and cover standard Mustang GT Brembo calipers that bite RacingBrake two-piece rotors.

Of course, nothing carves corners well without some decent bouncy bits, so Chaise turned to American Mustang suspension guru Mike Maier for a complete set of his adjustable springs and shocks, and even had Mike on the dog-and-bone from the other side of the planet for some tuning advice while at the track.

Out on the asphalt, the ’Stang and its pilot proved a difficult pair to beat in the hot lap, with Chaise handing out chops to everyone other than ex-Supercar pilot Nathan Pretty in the Z06 Corvette.

That should make it obvious that this Mustang is a pretty crackin’ combo, but don’t go thinking it’s just a track car. Chaise drove two hours to Calder, gave it an absolute hiding all weekend, cruised the streets of Melbourne and drove home with all of his tools packed into the boot. “There’s no question that it’s a proper street car,” he said proudly.

Engine: 5.2L Coyote, Harrop supercharger
Trans: Tremec Magnum XL
Diff: Stock
Brakes: Mustang GT
Power: 700hp (approx.)

Brendan Irvine
HQ Holden

Brendan Irvine’s bright red Quey has been through a couple of iterations, but its current one is by far the best. “I bought it in 2010 – it was a nice, presentable car with a 308, TH400 and 9in, and I used it for drag racing and skid comps,” he said.

While the driveline was pretty healthy, the interior and body were in need of some tidying up, so the HQ was blown apart and Brendan slathered it in straight red tinter in his shed, just in time to be his wedding car!

A few years later, with a view to making the car more streetable, Brendan yanked the grumpy 308 and swapped in a VZ-spec LS1 with a Harrop blower, good for 700hp. The grunt heads rearwards through a suitably worked DTM 4L60E trans.

“I wanted it to be a car that I could throw the family in and go for a long drive, but would also stop and steer well,” Brendan said.

To handle the substantial increase in power, the rest of the HQ’s underpinnings were beefed up as well. Brendan braced the body and added Rod Shop upper and lower control arms to the front end, while under the bum, the diff is a shortened XY 9in with 3.5:1 gears. The motion of the ocean is controlled by QA1 shocks at all four corners, with BA Falcon discs and calipers hauling the car up from the crazy speeds Brendan is happy to take it to.

Getting the rear tyres to stay in contact with the tarmac proved to be a serious issue for Brendan at OSUSC, with the Quey slipping and sliding its way to 220km/h down the main straight, so there’s a tyre change and some suspension tuning on the cards before the next event.

Even with the traction issues, Brendan pedalled the HQ to a convincing win in the hotly contested Vintage class. “This event was great because you had to perform in all aspects of performance, not just one,” he said.

Engine: GM LS1, Harrop supercharger
Trans: 4L60E
Diff: 9in
Brakes: BA discs
Power: 700hp

James Mackie
Ford XY Falcon

James Mackie is well known for his sacrilegious re-powering of an XY with an LS1, using the combo to skate drift tracks with smoky aplomb. XYYNOT has had a few different guises over the years, including the iconic black-over-orange GT clothes it wore when we featured it in the mag (SM, Oct ’16), but it owes its current spray-canned paintjob to James’s desire to shake things up.

XYYNOT isn’t just a drift car though; James built it to compete in just about any motorsport event that would let him in the gate. Sure, it’s far better set up for drifting than your average XY Falcon, but you won’t find a fancy quick-change IRS or trick suspension under this little monster.

The LS1 is a much milder recipe than you might expect of a competition car, with nothing but rods, pistons and a VCM cam to beef up the bottom end, all screwed together by Rodbilt Engines. It’s force-fed air by a Harrop TVS2300 blower and spits out 380kW at the rubber.

Behind the LS, a Mantic twin-plate clutch transfers drive to the T56 ’box, and under the bum is a shortened BorgWarner diff with a spool, 3.9:1 gears and 31-spline axles.

The suspension is mostly stock XY, with a set of adjustable Shockworks dampers controlling every corner, and fat custom sway-bars. The front springs are 800lb/in items out of a mate’s XF race car, with XF knuckles that have been modified for more steering lock. Reset standard leaves hold up the back end.

It’s pure track car inside the cabin, with race buckets, an extensive ’cage, stuff-all sound deadening and a hydraulic handbrake for more control when the XY isn’t pointing straight.

At OSUSC, James was streets ahead of the rest of the Vintage pack in the auto test, and even nipped at the heels of the Harrop development Porsche – how’s that for an old Falcon? The man doesn’t go easy on the XY, and he took every chance he had to go sideways. Sadly, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory when the grippy tyres and heavy rims (and probably the years of lead-footed abuse) tore an axle in half before the end of the first day. Fear not, though, XYYNOT will be back on track before you know it.

Engine: GM LS1, Harrop supercharger
Trans: T56
Diff: BorgWarner
Brakes: XF discs (f & r)
Power: 500rwhp

Jason Briffa
XT wagon

Twenty years ago, Jason Briffa went looking for a ute and came home with this XT wagon.

The current driveline is a 351 Windsor wearing Holley Sniper EFI, a TR6060 and a Truetrac-equipped 9in, all hauled up by Hoppers Stoppers discs.

Nathan Pretty
C6 Z06 Corvette

The Harrop C6 Z06 Corvette was always going to be tough to beat, especially with pro driver Nathan Pretty at the helm. The 440ci LS7 is fitted with Harrop’s Hurricane ITB manifold and a gorgeous Fluix air intake.

The transaxle copped a PPG helical synchro gearset, while Harrop’s new monobloc calipers and massive discs stop the 700hp missile. “It ran 11.86@129mph on the strip, and around the track it’s the ultimate analogue V8 sports car,” Nathan said.

Kevin Grech
C4 Corvette

Kevin Grech’s C4 Corvette is so close to being stock that he’s pretty sure it’s running the original shocks! “It’s a lot of fun on the track, but I think I had more fun in the grass than on the asphalt,” he laughed.

Ed Vivares
VE SS Commodore

Ed Vivares’s VE SS breathes through an OTR intake, while the baffled sump helps improve the engine’s oiling when he’s chucking it into corners.

Pedders coil-overs and sway-bars assist handling, although Ed had issues with rear-end traction through the twisties on the main track.

Craig Knight
XR Falcon

Craig Knight’s XR Falcon looks like a neat streeter but has a 500hp 351 Windsor for power, while the suspension is all Pedders with XF discs and steering gear.

Although Craig entertained everyone with his zero-traction driving style, mechanical issues knocked him out early at OSUSC.

Heath Moore
2018 Porsche GT3

The Harrop crew will strap a blower to almost anything, and one of their current projects is this 2018 Porsche GT3 that’s now making 600hp at the rubber! Harrop MD Heath Moore was behind the wheel at OSUSC.

Grant Grech
Torana hatch

Grant Grech will throw his Torana hatch at any motorsport on tarmac, including SM Drag Challenge. The Torry runs a 414rwhp LS2 with a T56 and 9in.

“The front suspension’s just ploughing into corners and I couldn’t get any grip, but the Hoppers brakes didn’t fade at all,” Grant said. “I’m not here to win; I just want to enjoy it!”



Hot lapAuto TestSpeed StopDrag RacePoints
1. Brendan IrvineHQ Holden1:14.24276.920:18.8211.72393
2. Heath Van Der WaerdenUC Torana1:15.39478.490:19.9011.9386
3. Grant GrechLX Torana1:24.52779.290:20.0912.3379
4. Jason BriffaXT Falcon1:16.64879.360:20.6314.04377
5. James MackieXY FalconDNF71.30:19.21DNF198
6. Craig KnightXR FalconDNF76.550:20.44DNF


Hot lapAuto TestSpeed StopDrag RacePoints
1. Nathan PrettyC6 Corvette Z061:03.27364.150:16.8911.86403
2. Heath Moore2018 Porsche 911 GT31:07.30169.320:18.3511.37399
3. Chaise Delia2017 Mustang GT1:07.29769.080:18.2012.6398
4. Ed VivaresVE Commodore SS1:22.27482.10:21.8514.3372
5. Kevin GrechC4 CorvetteDNF80.540:19.4814191