The last round of the regional circuit championship, the Power Series, was just a few weeks ago. Our 2017 season has been compacted somewhat to accommodate the FIA World Rallycross championship.
In the days leading up the most recent race meeting, I was on international assignment and returned to Cape Town only on the evening prior to Friday’s free practice sessions, which meant that there was no work conducted on the car between race meetings.
During the open sessions on Friday, I was quite relaxed in the car and had two very good sessions. I managed to complete a lap in a best time of 1 min 34,34 sec, which is about as quick as I’ve driven Project MX-5 around Killarney to date.
Heading into winter, Saturday’s race day was overcast and cool. Added to the cold surface was a surfeit of traffic. Between the Classic Car and Fine Car fields, which share track space, there were more than 30 cars fighting for open real estate.
I managed to find a bit of space and in my final lap of the session, I did a lap of 1 min 34,28 sec. That time was good enough to earn me third on the grid.
Race one kicked off from our customary rolling start. I was tucked in behind the pole-sitter, Clifford Bacon. Bacon ditched his BMW 535i for a better sorted and far more powerful Nissan Skyline GTX. Deon Conradie in his extremely neat Toyota Conquest RSi was keeping Bacon honest on the front row.
Rob Toscano in the only other MX-5 in the field timed the start perfectly and came flying past me. As we approached T1, he was already alongside me. We all held station through T1, as rules dictate, but when we arrived at T2 the fun really began.
Smoke and dust
Bacon entered T2 a little bit quicker than he should have and, tyres smoking from locked-up brakes, he ran wide into the outfield, forming a dramatic-looking dust cloud.
As the Skyline exited stage left, Conradie was left to lead the pack. He was fighting with Arnold Lambert in the VW Jetta Mk1 with Toscano in close attendance.
I tried my best to keep in touch but the lack of power from my car meant I was not in contention by the time we reached the back straight. The three cars ahead cleared off into the distance.
I watched my mirrors to ensure that I put enough breathing space between myself and reigning Fine Cars champion, Ray Cooper, in his neat Mk1 Ford Escort. Cooper’s lap times are about three seconds a lap slower than mine so I could easily build a lead and maintain it until the end of the race.
When the flag dropped I was classified third in the Fine Cars field. Not too bad from the third-place grid start.
Starting positions for the second race of the day are determined by the classification in race one so it was another second row start for me.
This time, I was alongside Toscano and behind Lambert. Behind the red MX-5 was the six-cylinder Nissan and Bacon used his power advantage to pull ahead early on.
His advantage lasted only as far as T3 when he spun out in a huge cloud of tyre smoke as he gave it too much power trying to jostle with the front-runners. With Bacon recovering at the back of the field, I was back up to fourth place.
Gambling with set-up
Rain was an ever-present threat during Saturday’s race meeting. To ensure safety of the bike racers, officials rearranged the day’s timetable, which placed our category at the very end of the day. With dark clouds looming large I made a set-up change to the car which cost me dearly.
I, erroneously, decided to drop my tyre pressures anticipating rainfall. The track stayed dry and the tyres were too soft for the dry conditions. There was too much roll from the sidewalls and the car was just not feeling as planted as it usually does.
Live and learn
I could only watch as the trio ahead cleared into the distance while I fought with an ill-handling set-up. Looking behind I could see that I had the measure of Cooper, but I could also see that the Nissan had made a recovery and was climbing through the field.
On the final lap, the GTX caught me on the back straight and I was defenseless. Bacon easily powered by, and I am pretty sure I saw him holding the steering wheel with his knees while he lit a cigarette during the overtake…
After nine laps were completed I was in fifth position on the road and when the Index of Performance was calculated I was classified fifth overall for the day.
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