The final race of the Fine Cars Championship season took place last weekend. Run as part of the local circuit racing championship, called the Power Series, the most recent round was dubbed "Ford and Friends".
Ford and Friends is a fun event that serves as an invitational to classic car racers from around the country, and this year also celebrated Sarel van der Merwe’s 50th year of competing in motorsport.
"Supervan" himself was entered to race, driving a Ford Cortina XR6 Interceptor similar to one he campaigned in the 1980s, along with a few other legends of SA motorsport, including Robbi Smith, Larry Wilford, Paolo Cavalieri and Willie Hepburn.
Added to the mix were several period-perfect racecars, among them an Opel Kadett Superboss in Opel Motorsport yellow, a Ford Sierra XR8, BMW 535i and 745i, a Jaguar XJ, an Alfa GTV6 and a pair of V8 Ford Capris.
It had been two months since I last drove Project MX-5 so I had to “re-learn” what the all the pedals in the footwell do and how to use that little lever between the seats. After a few laps I was back into my stride posting times a few tenths off as quick as I’ve been around Killarney in that car.
A highlight of the practice sessions was following Supervan for a number of laps. From close quarters, I watched the big man muscle the roly-poly XR6 through the turns, fighting understeer, body lean then oversteer; it was a real hoot to watch.
Thanks to a full race schedule on Saturday our qualifying session was held late on Friday afternoon. After dealing with on-track traffic and finding some empty space I managed a best time of 1 min 34, 342, which placed me fifth on the twenty-car grid. I was quite pleased with the result.
Race 1 (click here for video)
With the Fine Cars championship yet to be decided, the class convenor made the call to place all the visiting cars in a separate grid ahead of us locals. This meant that those cars would not interfere with our points-scoring. This fact was communicated to us via email and during the driver’s briefing.
We formed the grid on the start/finish straight and set off from our slots to perform our customary rolling start. In direct contravention of the earlier instructions from track authorities, championship contender Arnold Lambert (VW Jetta Mk1) decided to take station in the visiting car formation grid, ahead of Fine Cars pole man Deon Conradie (Toyota Conquest RSi) on the formation lap.
Best start in the series
That “technical jump start” from one of the front-row cars left the field a bit dishevelled. As the red lights went out, drivers were jockeying for position with slower cars ahead making life a tad difficult.
I made a flyer of a start and in an effort not to hit anyone from behind, I slipped between Derick Jordaan (Ford Sapphire) and Elton Hurst (Toyota Corolla) on the run down to T1, inadvertently ignoring our series-specific rule of not changing sides at the start. As we got off the brakes, I nipped passed the BMW 535i of Div Hoffman and held station around the outside of T1.
Unfortunately, the large field negotiating T1 meant there was some contact. Hoffman and reigning Fine Cars Champion, Ray Cooper (Ford Escort Mk1), were removed from proceedings, a bit of which I witnessed in my mirrors.
On the approach to T2, I took the chance and passed the Ford XR8 of Nick Sheward. At this point I was running third in class. In two years of competing in Fine Cars this was my very best opening lap.
I knew that it was only a matter of time before the faster cars would power by. Hurst got me into T3 and Jordaan did the same as we approached T4.
Seconds after that, Sheward rocketed by in the big Ford. I held position and on the run down to T5 I saw smoke ahead. Hurst’s Corolla cried enough as a conrod decided it would rather live outside the block than in; his retirement meant I was back up to fourth.
Cat and mouse
For the rest of the opening laps, I chased the beautiful Alfa GTV6 of Stan Stacey. His car had the legs on me in a straight line but I quickly worked out where he was slower. I bided my time, planned my overtake and passed him on the brakes into T2.
I ran in clean air for a while until I noticed a red spec in my rear view mirror. My old sparring partner, Rob Toscano in a 1,8-litre MX-5, was fast reeling me in. Toscano missed qualifying so had to start from the back of the grid. He scythed through most of the field and was gaining on me.
Looking back as opposed to forward, I misjudged my brake marker into T2 and locked up the rears; Toscano didn’t need an invite as I sorted out the ensuing tank-slapper. In the process, I thumped my elbow so badly on my car’s roll cage that I lost feeling in my right palm.
An early end
I spent the rest of the race chasing after the XR8 of Sheward, whose car had developed a suspension vibration. I could easily fetch the Ford in all the braking zones and had loads more apex speed, but the 5,0-litre V8 just had oodles of power on the straights.
As we fought at close quarters, Sarel van der Merwe had crashed into a wall alongside the back straight. The incident left his Cortina stranded on the track, which necessitated a red flag and the end of the race.
I was classified fifth in the Fine Cars class at the end of race one.
Race 2 (click here for video)
With a diminished field of visitors, the Fine Cars ran at the front of the grid for race two, relegating the visitors to play catch up. For his earlier infringement, Lambert would start last. The start was much more sedate in the second heat. Conradie, Jordaan, Toscano and I were at the front of the field.
I carried too much speed into T4 and ended up having to pile on the opposite lock to keep from spinning out. The front three opened a gap and Gerrit van Zyl (Ford Anglia) closed up. We ran side-by-side down the back straight, matching each other into the braking zone.
Van Zyl turned for the inside line and was about to drag race me down the front straight until his Anglia started to splutter. I saw him disappear in my mirrors.
From that point on, it was a relatively quiet race as there were no cars behind quick enough to catch me. Chris Davison, driving the aforementioned yellow Superboss, made his way by and I tried to race against him, but that didn’t last long. I would finish race two where I started, in fourth position.
Points and a decent finish
When the index of performance (which is how we determine the order for the allocation of points) was calculated, I ended the day in sixth overall. A decent haul of points meant that I ended the season in sixth place in the championship despite missing two rounds of racing, i.e. four points-scoring opportunities.
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
Full race one video:
Full race two video:
Here are links to all the previous Project MX-5 posts:
Part 26: http://www.carmag.co.za/speed_post/project-mx-5-part-26-race-weekend-5-2017/
Part 10: http://www.carmag.co.za/speed_post/project-mx-5-part-10-race-weekend-4-wrong-way/