For some reason that I have yet to work out, the local race season seems to have many races during the middle part of the year, which if you live in Cape Town brings the constant threat of a wet race.
There was barely a moment to take a breather between rounds four and five of the Power Series.
Little to do
With the short break between rounds we decided that it was best not to do too much to Project MX-5. There were a few small things that I’ve been wanting to do, but nothing of major significance.
With the help of another MX-5 owner, Andre du Plessis, we tidied up the engine bay, removing a few unnecessary brackets and bolts as well as the remnants of the aircon system, such as the radiator, associated piping, fan and dryer unit. We figured removal of all the excess parts would save some mass; in the end, the total was just about 12 kg.
In typical Cape Town fashion, the weather forecast was wrong and race day dawned cloudy and wet as opposed to the promised sunny and dry. The first few classes to venture onto the track were finding conditions underfoot very tricky with cars leaving the track at almost every corner.
When time came for the Kent Homes Fine Cars to head out to qualify, the situation wasn’t much better. In the first two laps at least four cars found the dirt, including one Porsche 944 that made contact with the inside wall at Killarney’s T3.
That incident brought out the red flag and no real chance for any of us to set a time.
After you sir… no, after you
At the category’s post-qualifying driver’s briefing the class convenor Johan “Jaybee” Pretorius had to make a call regarding the starting grid.
In what must have been the most polite briefing in history, drivers reached consensus as to whom should occupy each grid slot, with each easily agreeing as to where they usually qualify and who should be in front.
Of the 15 assembled cars, I would start 13th, with only the Ford Sierra of Jacques Blom and Nissan Skyline of Tony Lindeque starting behind.
Race 1 (see below for video)
Thankfully, the sun eventually made its presence felt, warming the air and ground enough to dry the tar. By the time we were lining up in the pre-race paddock the track surface was bone dry.
From a rolling start, the usual first lap jostling took place through T1 and T2. Drivers were all getting up to speed on cold tyres and brakes, which really kept the field bunched up during the initial stages.
As is now customary, I was tucked up behind the car most similar to mine, the red MX-5 of Rob Toscano.
Unlike previous events where I was left behind as the field spread out through the opening laps, I was really keeping pace with the guys ahead of me.
Close, so close
I was tucked up behind the rear bumper of the other MX-5 but as we ran down the back straight in the early laps, I noticed that the red car really had the legs on mine. The recent addition of a roof to Toscano’s car has given him a definite aero advantage as speeds rise over 100 km/h. Try as I may I could not keep up in a straight line.
Toscano in turn was staying in close contact with Ray Cooper (Ford Escort) and Niel Mouton (Alfa Romeo Giulia) just ahead.
Battling for track position
The Mazda driver eventually passed Mouton down the inside on the brakes into T5, which left me chasing the Italian car for a while. Mouton didn’t seem as quick through the in-field section from T1 to T4 so I knew I could attempt a pass.
It didn’t take long as I passed the Alfa on the brakes into T2. I then proceeded to chase after Cooper and Toscano. Cooper is an old hand and managed to keep the two Mazdas at bay. At one point I managed to get by the other MX-5 at T5, but that pass didn’t last as the red car is so much faster than mine in a straight line.
In the laps leading up to the finish, we tried all we could, racing hard but fair against the guys around us, but the positions remain unchanged. When the flag fell I was classified 11 of the 14 runners.
Quicker than before
More encouraging than my finishing position was the quickest lap time of the race. Up until now the best time I have achieved around Killarney in this car was a 1 min 38,39 sec. During heat one of the most recent race meeting that time fell to a 1 min 37,01 sec.
I’d like to chalk up that time to sheer grit, especially under braking, but there are other reasons for the gain in speed, which I will explain in the next update.
Race 2 (see below for video)
Run a few hours later, the start of race two was nowhere near as frenetic as the earlier event. All drivers seemed far more relaxed and the opening laps were quite sedate, at least from where I was.
As the faster cars at the front of the field opened a gap, Mouton passed me for position. He joined Cooper with Toscano making his way ahead of the two older cars.
Slowed for no reason
As the cars in front are all more powerful than my 1,6-litre Mazda, I was working hard to keep up. Toscano’s 1,8-litre MX-5 was opening up on the Escort and Mouton was staying close.
Around mid-race we encountered a slow car from the Classic Car field, with whom we share the track. Toscano and Cooper made easy work of passing him at T2. Mouton took a little longer and I had to work really hard to make a pass on the much more powerful car.
Despite the fact that we weren’t competing against each other, this driver kept racing me essentially letting the other racers get away in the process as he would pass me down the fast back straight then I’d fight to get the position back.
Eventually, I just let him have the position and saw out the remaining laps as I knew I’d not be able to gain on the cars ahead. The end result was another 11th place.
Extremely close, but no silverware
When the sums were done the index of performance showed that just about anyone in the field could have walked away with the win, 12 of 14 finishes were in the 95th percentile on index. As it stood Dave Rowley in a super quick and extremely neat Beetle took top honours.
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.
Images courtesy of Jason Hanslo and Cloudnr9 photography