As fun as it is racing a local, club championship it does come with a few drawbacks. When I competed in the VW Polo Cup National Championship series a few years ago we visited many different tracks in a single season.
When you race in a club series such as the Fine Car category races usually visit a few circuits, if you are lucky and live in Gauteng, or just one track if you happen to live in just about any other province. As much as I enjoy driving Killarney, a degree of familiarity is bred by return visits in the same car.
With competitors usually contesting eight to nine rounds of a series at Killarney International Raceway, the Western Province Motor Club, which runs the circuit, came up with a great solution: to run the circuit in a reverse direction.
This experiment was carried out last year and it seemed to work well. Any concerns about safety due to lack of run-off, etc. were not an issue as the track organisers were meticulous with tyre-wall repositioning and creating a new chicane part way down the front straight to slow competitors as they approached Cape Town corner, i.e. the new T1.
A ‘new’ track, a new challenge
With the rejig Killarney has essentially become a counter-clockwise circuit, with four left-hand corners as opposed to four-right handers. This, of course, comes with a few challenges.
Drivers have to work out new braking points and race lines for each of the new corners. In its regular format some corners open up on exit and flow into the subsequent straight, which means that now they close up on exit … fun times.
Lack of practice
For reasons I’ll go into later I was not able to practice the day ahead of the race meeting held on June 18, though I did get a look at the circuit a week earlier in an open practice session.
This meant that I was essentially going into the Saturday qualifying session cold. Not ideal, I am sure you’ll agree.
The qualifying session proved interesting as some drivers pressed on to find an advantage in the new environment, which resulted in a few off-track excursions. Others were far more cautious in their approach.
My MX-5 didn’t seem to mind the change of direction and I gained some time to the guys who are usually ahead of me, and are usually much quicker. When the flag dropped I was classified 10th of the 13 cars entered with a time of 1 min 48,69.
Because of the narrow first chicane for both races we had to make our way through in a single file on the opening lap. This allowed cars ahead to open up a bit of a gap. I pushed hard in the opening laps to catch the Alfa Giulia of Niel Mouton and the Ford Anglia of Gerrit van Zyl, but they could both out-power me down the back straight and opened up a gap.
As is becoming the norm these days Rob Toscano, in a similar car to mine, and I ended up in a great battle. It lasted most of the race with close, wheel-to-wheel action throughout. In a repeat of the last race, Toscano used the fast-lapping leaders of the Classic Car field and passed me for position.
In the latter stages, I tried to come back at him but I ran out of laps to attempt a pass. At the end, I was classified 10th, thanks to the retirement of Dion Valentine in his extremely quick Mini, just 1,4 seconds behind the other MX-5.
Having spent more time learning the track, I managed a best lap time of 1 min 45,88 a full 3,0 seconds quicker than I achieved in qualifying.
Grid positions for the second race are determined by your race one finish, so I would start 10th. Again we had to tip-toe our way through the makeshift chicane and proceed to race thereafter.
Toscano started ahead of me though I was keeping in close contact; a few taps on his rear bumper just to let him know that I was around. We stayed in close proximity for the opening laps until he went off at (regular) T2 when he out-braked himself. I grabbed the position and tried my utmost to hold on to it.
I tried to keep the driving tidy to build a lead though completely aware that there was a red MX-5 hunting me down. As the leaders made their way through I was balked once or twice and Toscano closed the gap significantly.
In the dying stages of the race he slipstreamed me down the back straight and passed me on the brakes into the (now) double left-hander called Malmesbury. He made the pass stick and there was little I could do to fight back in this fast section.
I tried to stay close to pressure him into another mistake but he was steadfast to the flag. At the finish line we were just 0,5 seconds apart.
HUGE fun and points in the bag
As usual, racing in the Fine Cars category with guys who respect each other’s abilities and machines was great fun. A day of trepidation and anxiety on Friday, unsure if I’d make the race, was wiped away by the two great races.
When the index of performance was calculated I was classified 7th of the 15 drivers entered on the day, which means that I bagged a handful of points to add to my tally.
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 Reynard Gelderblom
Here are links to all the previous Project MX-5 posts: