Project MX-5 did not have a great season-opener at Killarney Raceway a few weeks ago. You can read all about that outing in this section as well. After the disappointment of that event I was keen to get back on track and just enjoy racing again.
The leaking seal, which caused the double DNF at round one, was replaced with a brand new item ordered from the United States because it was impossible to find locally.
A fellow petrolhead friend of someone I know through social media, though a complete stranger to me, offered to bring the part back from the US and hand-delivered it to my family in Johannesburg – what a good guy. Once we had the part we removed the propshaft, had it machined and fitted the new seal.
A week before the race meeting we took the car to Killarney Raceway for a shakedown session and after each run we inspected the seal and all seemed well. By the time race weekend rolled around I was confident that Project MX-5 would once again run faultlessly the way it had all of last season.
On race day we had a busy and somewhat untidy qualifying session. We share the track with the Classic Car category, which features some extremely quick machinery. That, coupled with a track that was slightly dirty and a driver who was a little rusty, added up to a decent but not sterling session.
At the end of the ten-minute session, I was classified fourth of the nine cars contesting the day’s Fine Car races.
Fine Cars, the category I contest, employs a rolling start to get proceedings underway. The cars ahead of me are much more powerful and I knew that I had to stick really close to have any chance of staying in contention.
Alongside me was former bike racer and rookie car pilot, Jan Koekemoer, in an extremely neat, original Mazda RX-7. I know that the Rotary-powered model is much quicker in a straight line and I was keen to put some room between his car and mine.
As we raced down to T1, Rob Toscano in another MX-5 was making ground on Koekemoer and passed him up the inside before we even approached the corner.
I was aware that defending Fine Car champ, Ray Cooper, was behind me on my right rear wheel. Cooper is notoriously difficult to pass so I was keen to keep him behind at the start. I ran around the outside of T1 and when we all exited onto the Joubert straight I was in third place.
While the Toyota Conquest of Deon Conradie and Mk 1 Jetta of Arnold Lambert were flying up the road to have their own battle, I was busy keeping the pack at bay. I held third as the guys behind jostled for position.
At the start of lap two, Toscano ran close behind on the front straight. He kept close through the twisty section from T1 to T4 and as we turned into T4, known as Malmesbury corner, he stayed off the brakes a tad longer and nipped by.
Once he got onto the back straight, the power from my 1,6-litre roofless car was no match for the 1,8-litre covered car that he pilots and all I could do was watch him pull away. A lap or two later Koekemoer, having stayed in front of Cooper, passed me down the back straight on the power; he didn’t even have to slipstream me to get by.
The remainder of the race was quiet as I watched the trackside lap counter and ensured that Cooper and Niel Mouton (in an Alfa Giulia) were not closing the gap. When the flag fell, I was fifth, having started fourth.
Grid positions for the second race of the day are determined by classification in race one. As a result, I was starting fifth behind the red MX-5 of Toscano. I know that he is good on the brakes so I kept close quarters as we ran down to T1. I managed to claw back a position on Koekemoer, who was probably worried about the fast-approaching Escort and Alfa behind.
The opening few corners were a blast. We ran nose-to-tail and door-to-door from T1 to T4. As is usual, power difference between the cars is immediately highlighted down Killarney’s 900-odd-metre back straight.
Toscano pulled away to try to chase the leaders. I had my mirrors full of a red RX-7. I tend to brake quite late on the entry to T5 so I knew that I could fend him off for at least a lap. Koekemoer bided his time and when we arrived at the back straight for the second time he simply powered by.
With just 86 kW mine is probably one of the least powerful cars in the field. The suspension, brakes and tyres are all working really well and the twisty part of Killarney is exceptional fun in this car, but the lack of pace makes the run down the back and front straights quite an introspective affair.
At one point during race two I even took the opportunity to give my photographer buddy, Patrick Vermaak, a thumbs up as I spotted him trackside with his zoom lens. At the end of race two, I was again classified fifth.
Great to be back
After the dismal opening round it was great to be back on track and battling for position, even if it was just for a little while.
Followers of this project and racecar may have noticed that its appearance has changed somewhat since the last time it was featured. We will soon run a full story on the new livery, which will include an exciting 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
Special thanks to Cape Fuel and Patrick Vermaak for the action images.