I’ve finally stopped basking in the glow of Project MX-5’s first win a few weeks ago. If you haven’t yet done so, you can read all about it by clicking here: First race win in Fine Cars.
If you’ve been following the car’s development since early days you would have noticed the changes, and if you looked closely from race debut to race two, there was one major change as far as safety is concerned, I’ll expand on that in a bit.
On the very last lap of the opening round there was a great battle developing just ahead of me on track. Involved in that duel was Paul Church driving an immaculate Ford Cortina. As is often the case in wheel-to-wheel battle Church was giving it his all, and maybe a bit more.
He tried to maintain the outside line on T1 at Killarney and ended up drifting wide into the outfield as he exited the corner. With too much steering angle on he hooked a rear wheel into the dirt and before he knew it he was hanging by his race harness staring at the roof of his car.
The Cortina went over, but thankfully Church was unhurt. I was one of the first to arrive at the scene and saw the marshals trying to extract the hapless driver from his turtle-prone car.
As the pilot of an open-top car I was suddenly very aware of the dangers of ending up wheels facing the wrong way as I stared at the stricken Cortina. In a tin-top at least there is some head protection, in my car there is none. I decided there and then that Project MX-5 needed a full roll cage.
In an effort to make it to the season-opener earlier this year we constructed a simple roll-over hoop for my MX-5, the minimum requirement for the class and I thought that would suffice for the remainder of the season, but that thought was quickly replaced.
A roll cage is not something that racers like to think about. It’s nice to have, but not a safety item you ever want to call into play, much like the airbags in your road car. But there is one guy who is regularly relying on this critical safety item to keep him safe and that man is Craig Sobotker.
You may not have heard of him but chances are you’ve seen him in action in an advert or movie at some point. Sobotker is one of the Cape’s, and probably SA’s leading stunt drivers. As such he is regularly driving into/through/over things and relies on a roll cage built in his own shop to ensure his safety.
The team at Craig’s Car Care is well-versed in the art of building strong roll cages for all manner of movie cars, so the confines of an MX-5 proved no trouble. With the race seat set for me the chaps went about creating a mock-up of what the eventual design would look like.
With enough clearance for my head, with helmet, and arms around the doors (the door handles had to make way for side impact protection beams) the chaps built the item you see in the pics above.
The jungle gym of pipework was formed from extremely strong steam pipe that boasts a wall thickness of 3,4 mm and an outside diameter of 42 mm. The entire structure with welding added a few extra kilograms, but it’s worth it to protect my noggin.
Building roll cages for racecars is a new venture for the Montague Gardens-based firm, but with the expertise and experience gained from the movie and television industry it was a natural extension. If you think your ride needs some form of roll-over protection then they are definitely worth chatting to.
As you may have read and seen in this video clip, there was a rather severe crash in the second round of Fine Cars. The only other open-top car in our field, another MX-5, speared off the track and made solid contact with a tyre barrier; thankfully it didn’t roll.
That accident made me realise that I really needed the roll cage from day one, though I am quite happy to never call it into use, I am still happy that this major safety device is in place.
More racecars from CAR
We were quite impressed with the professionalism and thought put into the roll cage build process of Project MX-5, that we’ve since taken a second car to them for similar treatment.
CAR road test assistant Lyle Africa has a rather potent Honda CRX that can regularly be seen tearing up the tar at Killarney. As of a few weeks ago his car also boasts a roll cage that was custom made by Craig’s Car Care.
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 Tony Kent and Patrick Vermaak
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