What a Difference a Weekend Makes

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This being the road car section of the magazine, I try hard to limit its racing car content even if I do fail sometimes. But what if you’re racing a road car? Good enough for me.

Besides, there’s an interesting point to be made. When Mazda asked me to team up with three other hacks for this year’s Britcar 24-hour race at Silverstone I was a little hesitant. I’d done the race with them twice before, but in RX-8 coupes which had a bit of power. This time it was an MX-5 roadster with a total of 165bhp and very standard save having its interior stripped, safety gear added and some racing suspension, brakes and slicks. Then I saw the entry list full-race Porsches, Ferraris, BMWs and an Aquila, which looked and went like an LMP car. Did I really want to race so badly I was happy to spend most of my stints scanning the mirror and diving out of the way of far faster opposition? Of course I did.

We qualified 49th out of 59 cars, which is 10 places higher than I’d anticipated, and duly set off on the long day’s journey into night and day again.

I’d love to tell you the reason we finished 16th was our heroics at the helm, but in fact all we did was drive as fast as we could without making errors. Yes, 24 hours without even a spin is an achievement of sorts. But the result was down to two factors, neither to do with the drivers.

First, the way the car was prepped and run. You didn’t need to do more than wander into the pitlane to know that Jota Sport were the best prepared, most professional team at the race and having watched them work for a weekend, it’s hard to see how we could have been in better hands.

But the real relevance is the car itself. I find the fact that you can flog such a car twice round the clock, lose less than seven minutes in unscheduled pit time and find it feeling as good on the last lap as on the first quite thought-provoking.

The car completed 500 laps of the Silverstone GP circuit on a blazing autumn weekend, and it was perfect throughout, save one dodgy wheel bearing. But if you really want to know how understressed the engine is in normal use, consider the fact that it spent a day and a night absolutely on the limit of its ability yet its oil consumption from first to last was undetectable.

I should state also that a properly prepped MX-5 in race trim is genuinely hilarious to drive. It would corner as fast as almost anything out there and proved so stable in the quick corners you’d use the brakes as much to get the car turned in as to slow it down.

This was a great weekend’s giant-killing which started by me being less than sure I wanted to get into the car and ended with me genuinely sorry to get out.