Mazda Autocrosser and Road Racer Wins Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car

Long time Mazda autocrosser and more recently ChampCar road racer Brian Johns set his sights on a different series this year, Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car.  The 1993 Mazda RX-7 he pilots had been used primarily as an autocross car for years but sat idle for the last four. “Tinkerbell” – as the car is named – has a two rotor powerplant with a single turbo conversion making right around 500hp.  With improvements to Mazda’s already excellent suspension and provisions allowing for 315/30-18 tires on all four corners, Johns decided he had the perfect platform for the series. 

In the off season he began making improvements to the car to compete in the Optima sponsored series that allows tagged and insured street cars to compete for the coveted title of “The Ultimate Street Car.”  The series is broken down into six classes, with something to offer for nearly everyone.  The RX-7 that Johns competes in is classified in the GTC class, which is geared towards cars that are naturally aspirated or forced induction 4 cylinder or 2 rotary engines, FWD or RWD, front engine mount with max 107” wheelbase. All vehicles in this class must weigh, at a minimum, 95% of the factory published curb weight.

The series includes seven regular season events across the country leading up to the year-end finale in Las Vegas that is run in conjunction with the SEMA show, allowing all the competitors to have their cars on display at SEMA for the entire week leading up to the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI).  Invitations are extended to these competitors at each of the regular season events by either winning their class at the event or being the highest finisher in the class that has not already received an invitation.

The competition consists of five individually scored segments: Autocross, Design and Engineering, Road Rally, Speed Stop, and Road Course. 

The autocross is very typical of what you would find at any SCCA autocross event across the country with your fastest timed run on the course counting as your result for this segment. 

Design and Engineering (D&E) is unique to this series, but very important as it counts for just as many points as any other segment.  D&E is a judged portion of the event where the competitor has two minutes and thirty seconds to describe the modifications to their car while a panel of three judges score the car.  The D&E segment is important to the series with its alliance with SEMA to produce show quality cars being on display the week before OUSCI. 

The third segment is a Road Rally to show that each of the cars are road worthy for a longer distance than just a race course.  Destinations often include local landmarks or sponsor headquarters with distances ranging from 25 to 75 miles. 

The fourth segment is Speed Stop and showcases each cars ability to accelerate from a standing start, negotiate one or more turns and stop in a 20’ by 40’ box lined with cones.  There are two mirror image courses with cars lining up side by side as if they were drag racing.  Each car is timed and a combination of your best right and left side courses will count as your result for this segment. 

The final segment is the Road Course consisting of iconic tracks that host each of these events such as Road America and Barber Motorsports Park.  Scoring for the road course is very much like any other time trial series across the nation with each competitor’s fastest lap counting toward his or her final placement in the standings.

Johns worked diligently in the off season to convert what was once primarily an autocross car into what he considers the ultimate street car by improving the cars appearance, handling, braking, and comfort as a street car. 

The first event he competed in this year was held at the NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Ky.  Johns not only won every segment in his class but placed fifth overall for the event.  At this point, Johns had secured his invite to OUSCI in his first ever Optima event.  Also, for his efforts, Johns was recognized as the top placing “first timer” and received a refund on his entry for the event.  Johns said, “All the hard work over the winter paid off and getting a chance to not only go to SEMA but have a car on displayed there is a dream come true.”

The next event Johns competed in was at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL.  Unlike the previous event, Johns finished second in the Design and Engineering and the Road Course segments but dominated the Autocross and Speed Stop segments while successfully completing the Road Rally.  Once again, he was rewarded with a class win, but since his invite was secured at NCM it would be passed on to the second-place finisher.

At this point, Johns had planned on his season being complete except for going to SEMA and OUSCI, but a commanding point lead in the GTC class had him rethinking that plan.  With three events being needed to claim the GTC National Points Championship, Johns was now looking to find a way in to the final event at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI.  With that event already being sold out, Johns would have to purchase an entry from someone who had already signed up.  Fellow Mazda racer, Erik Vandermey, came to the rescue.  Not thinking he would be able to attend, he sold Johns his spot allowing him to make a run at the championship.

That event went very much like the previous two events for Johns with a second place in Design and Engineering, successful completion of the Road Rally, and wins in Autocross, Speed Stop, and the Road Course.  Those results once again resulted in the GTC class win and secured the National Points Championship for the GTC class as well.  “This year has gone better than I could have ever imagined,” claimed Johns. “I never dreamed that I would do as well as I have, let alone win the points championship.”

Johns is continuing to make improvements to the car in the days leading up to SEMA and OUSCI with high hopes for another great finish and possibly coming away with the coveted title of “The Ultimate Street Car.”  OUSCI will be held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on the weekend immediately following SEMA November 3 and 4.