Racing can provide the highest of highs. Ask anyone who track races, the emotions conjured up during the heat of wheel-to-wheel battle are barely describable and, I guess, near impossible to replicate.
Those feelings, however, can very quickly turn upside down, given the chance racing can be a cruel mistress, and I recently found myself at the wrong end of that spectrum.
A cracker rookie season
Last year, Project MX-5 ran like absolute clockwork. We managed to start and finish every race that counted towards championship points, which ultimately resulted in a third place in the Fine Cars series.
A few key upgrades
In the offseason we also, finally, upgraded the suspension on the car, something which was much-needed. L&T Suspension SA came to the party with a set of coilover springs and dampers. You can read the full story in the Upgrades section of this site.
During the break, we also struck a deal with Pirelli Motorsport for sponsorship of its P Zero Trofeo R tyres. This range of high performance rubber is available from Stradale Motorsport in Johannesburg.
The tyres are approved for road use, though probably not ideal in very heavy rain, and ideal for high- and ultra-high performance applications. And for use on race MX-5s, so we’ll be Pirelli-shod for the remainder of 2017.
To say that I was excited ahead of the season-opener, of the regional circuit racing championship known as the Power Series, is an understatement. The combination of new suspension and tyres would result in improved lap times, but we weren’t sure by how much.
Limited running in Friday’s open practice session, due to uncontrollable logistical issues, meant that we could not set-up the adjustable suspension ideally or find the tyre pressure sweet spot of the new footwear.
For reasons too long to go into here, the Fine Cars series didn’t have a qualifying or warm-up session on race day, so the very first time we would tread on the tar was the warm-up lap of race one.
We assembled on the grid and from the customary rolling start we were off. In this class drivers tend to show each other’s machinery a great deal of respect, so there is no bumping and barging. This makes it an ideal place for rookies to cut their teeth in circuit racing.
If you have a relatively standard car that pre-dates 1990 and have always fancied yourself a bit of a hand, read up the rules on the Fine Car Racing website and give the organisers a shout. Perhaps we can share track space later this season.
Some race action
I was alongside my old sparring partner Rob Toscano, also aboard an MX-5, for the opening few corners of the first heat. We tried to keep touch with the leaders, but both aboard more powerful machinery were able to pull away.
Without much experience on the new suspension and tyres I was circumspect and at T4, the double-apex right-hander known as Malmesbury, reigning champion Ray Cooper (Ford Escort Mk1) passed me on the inside.
Cooper is well-known as a defensive driver and as I chased him for a few laps, I could see that his reputation was well-earned.
An early shower
Just as I was getting the feel for being back in action I started to sense something wasn’t right with the car as I smelt smoke in the cabin.
At the start of lap 5 the marshals started to wave flags at me, indicating that I should get off the track. I backed off the throttle, letting Cooper get away and toured around slowly until I could head back into the pits.
Unfixable at the track
Back in my pit, the chaps who help me on race day jacked up the car and had a look underneath. The tailshaft seal, which keeps the gearbox oil in where the propshaft meets the transmission, had popped off.
Without a new seal, or knowing how much oil was still left in the gearbox casing we made the, heart-breaking for me but ultimately sensible, call to retire the car for the day.
Repairs on the way
Since the race meeting a few days ago, I’ve already ordered a brand new seal and we are looking into the potential cause for it to work loose the way it did, fingers crossed it isn’t too serious.
As there are almost two months between races we may also take the opportunity to make a few other changes to Project MX-5, but we can’t say too much about that until the negotiations are complete with regards to an upcoming competition.
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