I Entered My Street Car in the Optima Challenge and Survived

I took on Optima’s Ultimate Street Car Challenge in a less than ideal vehicle, and had a blast!

When I first put my hand up to have a crack at the 2024 Optima Street Car Challenge at Calder Park, I was envisioning myself tearing it up in my Nissan S13 Silvia. 

If you don’t know what the Optima USCC is, it’s basically a carnival of motorsport tests all in one day for street cars. Entrants take on an autocross track layout, speed stop challenge, hot lap and drag racing to see who has the best street car. 

Two weeks out from the event it became clear my nippy, corner-carving S13 wasn’t going to make it. So, I activated the backup plan: my 2006 Holden VZ SS ute.

Sure, it’s manual and V8, but it’s also a bloody ute! It’s virtually stock as well, with nothing more than some lowered suspension, a catback exhaust and a set of not-so-grippy Dayton DT30 tyres. I never intended for it to be a corner carver.

What the calamity did provide was an opportunity though, and that was to see if you can do a basic track day in any car. People often get spooked by the idea, many seeming to think you need a fixed back seat, R-comp tyres, 10 piston brakes and a crew chief to just have a crack. I was out to prove that’s a load of BS. 

With virtually no budget in hand, I did the bare minimum anyone should do before a track day. I gave the car a basic service, checked for any fluid leaks, flushed the braking system and made sure nothing was about to fall off.

I also upgraded the front brakes, as my discs were already warped. The crew at Bendigo Specialist Brake & Clutch sorted me some Delios rotors and DBA Xtreme pads. Given the main straight at Calder would likely see me doing north of 200km/h on the hot lap, I wanted to make sure my brakes were in order.

Race day was a blur, but in the best way possible. With 70 competitors in a variety of classes and everything from McLaren P1 and Lamborghini Huracan to GR Yaris’ and pro touring Toranas, I felt truly outgunned.

First up was the autocross lap, which also had the speed stop challenge in between runs. As I expected the ute had a decent amount of understeer, but sliding the arse out in the 180 degree hairpin during speed stop challenge was a ball of fun. I ended up getting a sub one minute time by my third lap on the autocross, which wasn’t half bad.

The next major challenge was the hot lap, which is what most entrants are nervous for; including myself. With three flying laps and several big braking zones on the Calder National Circuit, it’s an exciting but daunting prospect. 

Nudging 200km/h down the straight on my first two flying laps, I well and truly got my money's worth out of those brakes coming into the first hairpin.

My group had three more cars in it, and I spent my time chasing Steve Holland’s mid-engined, WRX-swapped Mini. I never caught him.

Some mates of mine had also entered their street cars for the day: a VF SS sedan, Nissan Stagea C34 and a Subaru Outback BH5 with a B4 twin-turbo swap. 

There was good banter between us all day, especially when Sam’s Subaru spat the dummy and the engine gave up during the hot lap session. The Optima USCC is great for that, you can hang out with mates, try all kinds of motorsport and you don’t need to spend $10,000 building a car to do so.

As the sun fell, the final test was the drags. With a manual and stock toothpick driveline, I steered clear of a hard launch. Despite being a writer for Street Machine, this was only my second time ever going down a drag strip and a first in the SS.

I ran a couple of 14.3s, but the real fun was lining up against my mates. I lost all but one of those races (congrats to Tas McMillan and Jesse Jury on their wins), but it didn’t matter to me. Most importantly I completed all the driving events, felt fairly competitive, didn’t break anything and drove the car two hours home. 

So, to answer the question: yes. You don’t need a shopping list of modifications to do a track day, just the will to get out there. I assume the Optima USCC will be back in Australia in 2025, and if it is I highly recommend putting your hand up for it. It’s one of the best days you can spend in a car.

Pictures Shaun Tanner & Noah Thorley


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