A few weeks ago I reported on Project MX-5’s race debut during mid-February; round two took place a month later, just a few days ago.
With the initial nervousness of competing in this new formula behind me, and a far better grasp of my car's traits, I was really looking forward to the second race meeting of Cape Town’s regional championship, the Power Series.
The qualifying session went well. Unlike the car’s debut outing, I knew what to expect so I could really go for it from lap one. When the 10-minute session ended I accomplished a best lap time of 1 min 39,891.
This time was only fractionally slower than the best I have achieved with the MX-5 thus far. It placed me 14th on the grid with six cars behind me.
Race 1 - action-packed
As is customary, race one commenced with a rolling start from which we all cleanly got away, racing hard but fair through the opening corners. I managed to overtake three of my fellow racers by the time I exited T2.
I got ahead of regular sparring partner Jacques Blom (Ford Sierra XR6) on the brakes into T1. Niel Mouton, (in a beautifully prepared Alfa Romeo Giulia), as well as Paul Leppan (Porsche 944) who I passed in T2.
Considering I hadn’t done any work on the engine of my MX-5 since the last race I knew that time ahead of these guys would be short lived. Mouton and Leppan regained their positions a few moments later.
As we started lap two Blom tried to pass me on the brakes into T1, but I successfully defended. The field started to spread out and I was preparing to settle into a rhythm, but little did I know…
A few corners ahead Rob Toscano, in the only other MX-5 in the field, lost control through the fast sweeper that is T3 and made heavy contact with the inside wall. The tyre barrier absorbed the bulk of the impact but it also bounced him back onto the track.
Unfortunately his momentum carried him across the path of the fast-approaching Mouton. With nowhere to go, and the brakes of the Alfa locked up, Mouton made solid contact with the front of the, now, heavily damaged Mazda.
I arrived on the scene a few seconds later, just in time to dodge rolling tyres. As you can see in the pics and the video taken from my on-board camera.
You can watch the closing seconds of the accident at the bottom of this post.
Red flags… no clue
By the time I arrived on the back straight red flags were being waved by all the marshals. As the rules dictate, in a red-flag situation drivers are supposed to make their way back to the grid and stop.
Somehow this important fact slipped by all the racers and I was the very first to stop. A few minutes later, after completing another lap, the rest of the remaining field arrived and took up station behind me.
The grid marshals waited while the accident aftermath was cleared. There seemed to be some confusion as the two classes that run on track at the same time, but in two different categories, Classics and Fine Cars were all intermingled.
With a clearer idea of who needed to be where, cars were slowly reshuffled according to class. In this process I was not given a chance to return to the Fine Cars grid before the race was hurriedly restarted.
As race results are based on Index of Performance (explained in Part 6B) it didn’t really matter where I started so I did what any racer would do and just 'went with it'. I started at the very back of the Classics grid and thought that I’d mix it up with different machinery before the fastest of the Fine Cars hunted me down.
The faster guys from my own field eventually passed me, one of whom was Des Erasmus, overall winner of round one. Des drives a very quick VW Scirocco and he was involved in a titanic battle with the VW Jetta (Mk1) of Arnold Lambert.
Lambert passed me into the final corner, T5, and Erasmus chose to wait until the front straight to get by. As he pulled alongside I could hear his engine climbing to peak revs, then BANG! Initially I thought the motor in my car had finally called it quits, such was the loudness of the sound.
I was soon distracted from that thought by the smoky Scirocco alongside. A catastrophic engine failure ejected bits of sub-assembly (conrod end, gudgeon pin, etc) through the side of the block and onto the track. One of them even smacked my MX-5 on the door.
You can see the engine failure at the bottom of this post, listen out for the thwack on the Mazda’s door.
After all the drama, when the flag fell I was classified 10th across the line with five finishers behind me.
The second race was far less eventful. I got off to a good start and had a great tussle with Benjack Phillips in a Fiat Mirafiori through the opening corners.
Late in the race I passed the ailing Ford of Jacques Blom as the Sierra developed an exhaust manifold leak. I whiled away the remaining laps concentrating on brake markers and trying to open the throttle earlier and earlier at each corner. I finished 11th on the road with five cars behind.
Shortly after race two was concluded and all the sums were calculated I was informed that on the index of performance I had won overall, a totally unexpected result, but one I was glad to take anyway.
It felt good to be rewarded for consistent driving, even if I wasn't the fastest on track or first across the line.
As usual, all comments and suggestions are welcome. I look forward to hearing from you. For intermediate updates feel free to follow the Project MX-5 facebook page.
Images courtesy of Patrick Vermaak and Reynard Gelderblom
Links to all previous updates:
Race 1 start and accident:
Des Erasmus' engine failure: