After the raft of changes we had conducted on Project MX-5 over these past few weeks, I was really looking forward to getting back on track in the Kent Homes Fine Car series.
Not only had we upgraded the cooling system, but in the process of modifying the inlet also found an additional 7 kW, which would undoubtedly come in handy at the track. You can read the full extent of the changes by clicking here.
Practise and quali
During Friday’s open practice session, for the penultimate round of our championship, the car felt great. It was handling well and I could immediately feel the additional power, particularly in the higher reaches of the engine speed range.
Those feelings of positivity were translated into a terrific qualifying session on Saturday morning. With no traffic I managed to hook up a quickest lap time of 1 min 35,359.
That time is roughly 1,2 seconds quicker than I’ve managed to circulate Killarney before in this car, and it earned me 7th spot in the 15-car field. Due to a small electrical problem experienced by the Porsche 944 Turbo of Geoff Bihl (I believe a conrod went through the alternator), I was promoted to 6th on the starting grid.
In the first race I lined up alongside Dave Rowley in his extremely quick Volkswagen Beetle. From the customary rolling start, I got the jump on the Bug running down to T1. I pulled ahead of the VW and my old sparring partner Rob Toscano, in a similar MX-5, followed suit. At this point I was running 5th on track.
The two Mazdas ran nose-to-tail until the back straight. The red car has a roof, which makes it quicker down the long back straight at Killarney. Toscano got past me on the brakes into T5. A few seconds later, I was powerless to fend off the grunt of Rowley’s Beetle as he whooshed past me over the finish line.
You can watch all the first lap action here:
A three-car battle
I was caught napping a little as we approached T2 on the second lap. I went wide to take my usual race line and left the door open for Benjack Phillips, who was close behind in his neat Fiat 131 Mirafiori. He snuck through and chased after Toscano.
We were having an almighty battle lap after lap. Each driver was quicker at a different part of the circuit and trying to fend off the other two where they weren’t. Phillips got past the red MX-5 and I had a ringside seat for the race ahead.
It was a great fight with each driver giving the others enough space to race fair and still keep it fun. The three of us kept it clean and eventually settled into a pattern. The Fiat seemed to have a bit of breathing room over the Mazda.
With a two laps to go, I took a chance and went around the outside of Toscano at T1. The move stuck and I tried to chase Phillips, but he was too far ahead. When the leaders of the Classics Field started to overtake it prevented any further challenge and that’s how we crossed the line. A class-best finish for me of 6th position.
Race one finishes determine the race two grid slots so I was behind Rowley and alongside Phillips. At the start of race two, Phillips chanced his arm and started to tussle with Rowley for 4th place.
As we approached the quick double-right-hander T4, known locally as Malmesbury, former Fine Cars champion Ray Cooper (Ford Escort Mk1) passed me on the inside. In retrospect I should have had the line covered. Toscano, as always, was lurking in my shadow.
I fought hard to try to re-pass the Ford but Cooper is an old hand, and his Escort is a tad quicker than my car in a straight line, even if his lap times are slower than mine. He used all the track to keep me at bay.
Toscano, realising he’d be held up by the slower Ford, passed me at T4 and started to chase Cooper as best he could. He found the same problem I did: the world’s widest Escort in his windscreen.
With a double slipstream, the red MX-5 made a passing move around the outside of T5 and started to put some distance between him and the Ford.
On the edge
Cooper tried to fight back but he couldn’t match the pace of the MX-5 ahead him, and he was too busy blocking the MX-5 behind him.
I could only watch as the red car ahead disappeared into the distance while the Ford directly ahead used every bit of track, and then some, to keep me at bay.
With two laps to go, I decided to try a pass up the inside on the brakes into T5. I slipstreamed the Ford and pulled out of the draft at the end of back straight. As I went for the inside line Cooper decided to close the door and I was fast approaching a diminishing gap.
Totally committed to the manoeuvre I kept my foot flat, the two right-hand side wheels scraping the dirt. I was through, but held my breath firmly the entire time. Perhaps Mr Cooper is from the Max Verstappen school of racing…
You can watch that close pass here:
When the faster Classic racers started to pass, Cooper passed me back. With a few very close calls in the closing stages it ended with him in front. I was 8th at the flag.
Points and silverware
When all the sums were calculated, I was classified 7th on Index of Performance, which earned me a trophy and more points in the title race.
Apart from a few unnecessarily close calls, the day of racing was superb. Project MX-5 started from very humble beginnings and is now able to run near the front of the field, which is more than I could have hoped for when the season started.
Images by Jason Hanslo
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 (https://www.facebook.com/projectmx5SA/).
Here are links to all the previous Project MX-5 posts: