It’s been many weeks since I have had anything to write about Project MX-5. The last Kent Homes Fine Car series race took place over six weeks ago and since that time we’ve not carried out any mechanical changes to the car, except for a fresh set of brake pads.
The development curve is now on a steep slope and the list of desired changes requires heavy expenditure and time, so we’ve decided to tackle them at a later stage.
Practise and quali
I spent the better part of Friday’s open practice session ensuring that I didn’t glaze the new brake pads. Unfortunately, race-spec pads for an MX-5 aren’t readily available locally so we’ve had to make do with whatever we can get our hands on.
Through the latter part of the Friday afternoon sessions I drove a few laps in the 1 min 35,3 second bracket, which is as quick as I had managed during qualifying at the last outing.
In qualifying the next morning, I couldn’t quite match that time, but a 1 min 35,65 seconds was close enough and earned me 5th on the grid, one better than last time, and the highest grid spot I have ever achieved.
Sadly, the beautifully prepared Volkswagen Beetle of Rave Dowley didn’t make it to the end of the session. Dave outbraked himself into T1 and had a coming together with the wall. Thankfully, the driver was uninjured and the car wasn’t too badly damaged.
With Rowley unable to continue, my adversary Rob Toscano in a similar car to mine was alongside and with Rowley’s grid slot now empty, the red MX-5 had a clear run ahead of him to T1.
From the customary rolling start, I was busy paying attention to the Toyota Corolla of Elton Hurst ahead and didn’t notice the extremely quick advance of Anton Rollino. The blue, MG B GT whooshed by and got ahead of me and Toscano before we even reached T1. Toscano then crept ahead of me, taking station behind Rollino.
White line rule
Fine Car Racing employs the “white line rule” for the first lap of the race. There is a solid white line painted on the approach and down the middle of T1. Once you commit to a side you have to hold station until you exit the corner.
In the cramped start, Niel Mouton came up alongside me and I left him enough room to run door-to-door. At the entry to T2, Mouton nipped by on the brakes. I have gained some power and cornering speed over the lovely Alfa Giulia so I wasn’t too worried. I out-dragged Mouton on the run to the T3 and passed him as we entered the sweeper.
Rollino had built up a bit of a gap on Toscano and I had to work hard to catch the pair, who now occupied 4th and 5th. The 3,5-litre V8-powered MG could run away from the Mazdas down Killarney’s two straights, but in the twisty bits we were clearly quicker.
Rollino also seemed to be having some car trouble as smoke poured from the rear of the MG. Later, we found out that it was a combination of an oil leak and rear tyres that constantly rubbed on the fenders. By lap three, we were all over the rear bumper of the British car. At the start of lap four, we both got the better of the MG between T2 and T3.
I tried to stay in close contact with the red car ahead but the combination of better brakes and superior aero (his car has a roof) meant that he could keep me at bay. Despite my best efforts, when the race ended, I was 1,8 seconds behind Toscano.
In an attempt to catch the car ahead, I managed to set a personal best lap time in Project MX-5 of 1 min 34,44 seconds. In racing terms that is a world away from the 1 min 40,43 seconds I achieved during qualifying for the first race meeting of 2016.
Race one finishing positions determine the race two grid so I would start in 5th again. The second time around the start was not as frantic. With a few retirees, including Rollino, there was plenty of breathing space in the field.
The entire field made it through T1 in grid order and kept station on the opening lap. Once again, I had a windscreen full of red MX-5. In the early stages of race I also had a rearview mirror full of Ford Sierra as Jacques Blom tried to keep pace. Thankfully that didn’t last and I could concentrate ahead rather than behind.
At the end of lap two, we encountered a slow-moving car from the Classic Car field, with whom we share the track. The tell-tale “X” on the rear window showed us that the driver was a rookie.
Toscano got past the newcomer on the brakes before entering T5 and I made a pass mid-corner. At that point I thought I was away. As it turns out the driver of the neat Datsun was intent on racing me, even though we weren’t in the same class.
His car was much quicker in a straight line, but his mid-corner speed was lacking, so much so that I almost hit him from behind at T2. (You can see the action in the video below). I eventually passed him on the approach to T3 but by then Toscano had opened up an insurmountable gap.
From there on in, it was a relatively quiet race, just dodging the odd backmarker or making way for the leaders of the Classics field. I held station and finished in 5th place, 6,6 seconds behind 4th.
When the calculations were all completed, I was placed 8th in the overall index of performance, which is how race results are determined in our class. That position would earn me a trophy, the fifth for the year, and a healthy haul of points in the championship.
As this was the championship finale for 2016, the Fine Cars champion was declared. Ray Cooper, in a neat Mk1 Ford Escort, scooped the title for a third time. Well done, Mr Cooper.
In our inaugural season in this series, Project MX-5 and I netted third place in the championship, with Derrick Jordaan (Nissan Skyline Coupe) in second place.
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 .
Race 1 video:
Race 2 video:
Here are links to all the previous Project MX-5 posts:
Part 10: http://www.carmag.co.za/speed_post/project-mx-5-part-10-race-weekend-4-wrong-way/