"It’s often the ones you least expect. Isn’t it? Pass Tim Harvey as he walks through a paddock, you'll see he'll probably be smiling from ear to ear, chatting amiably to Nomax-clad sponsor-heavy racing drivers, or leathery-palmed mechanics, "
MX-5 – born to race?
Race commentator Scott Woodwiss tells us why the MX-5 is ideal for racing
One of Mazda’s marketing statements when it comes to motorsport in North America is “In grassroots racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer”.
While this may be the case across the pond at least, there could also be some truth in that when it comes to Mazdas across the rest of the world. The marque’s popularity is enhanced by its presence in the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship, but also due to consistently large grids in the Global MX-5 Cup both in the United States and in its homeland Japan, as well as the Spec Miata series back in the US. In fact, Mazda has sold more than 3000 Spec Miata kits to date!
The popularity of the MX-5 in racing circles has certainly spread to Europe, where the car enjoys its own race series in the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria to name a few. But it’s the car’s end goal as the “rebirth of the typical British sports car” that has helped it develop a real reputation on racetracks in the UK as well as on British roads.
Want proof? Simple – right now there are 4 club level championships in Britain dedicated to nothing but this humble little Japanese machine. Both the 750 Motor Club and the British Automobile Racing Club host their own each with its loyal band of followers, but in terms of numbers and popularity it’s the pair under of the wing of the British Racing & Sports Car Club (BRSCC) that currently shine brightest. The BRSCC Mazda MX-5 Championship for the Mk1 models and the BRSCC Mazda MX-5 SuperCup for the more contemporary Mk3 are hitting record levels of entries this season, proving that the MX-5 is a brilliant way to get started in circuit racing without the need to break the bank.
At the time of writing this, 80 drivers have registered for this year’s edition of the Mk1 Championship, while the SuperCup has seen an incredible influx of top line drivers in 2017 with the core frontrunners being able to boast championship victories and race wins in Porsches, Lotuses, Radicals, BMWs, Caterhams, Clio Cup, Ginettas and even junior rallycross, let alone just in MX-5 racing itself. Plus, the SuperCup has even attracted stars of the British Touring Car Championship like fan favourite Paul O’Neill and later on this year, the possible expectation of current top driver Tom Ingram making an appearance at Snetterton later this season (as yet unconfirmed).
Surely all of the above proves that this is a car that brings drivers who have experienced some of the best driving machines the automotive world has produced all together to prove who the best at handling one of Japan’s finest exports really is. In fact, some have described this year’s SuperCup’s levels of driving talent, competition and interest as those that match the fabled TVR Tuscan Challenge that went viral throughout the 1990s.
The MX-5 could be put into a list of cars that can teach you a lot about track driving and race craft. You could mention it in the same breath as the likes of a Caterham, a Lotus Elise or indeed a Formula Ford as all 3 give the driver a real connection between the steering wheel and the road. In the same sense the MX-5 is like nothing else you’ll ever drive, nothing that will give you such a pure, authentic and joy-inducing feeling. Why else do you think those who race them come off track with such a smile on their face? It’s driving euphoria for a fraction of the price of a Ferrari or Porsche.
Of course, those of whom you should heed the words of would be those who actually get out there and do it themselves. Former Ford Fiesta champion John Langridge, someone who had never raced a rear wheel drive car until October last year, describes the Mk1 MX-5 as “beautifully balanced, nimble and very forgiving” and feels the racing is “so close and exciting that even if I was to win the lottery tomorrow, I’d still race my little Mk1”. SuperCup race winner Jack Harding says the Mk3 race car is “pointy on the front end like my karting days”, “simply brilliant” and that “rear wheel drive and a 2.0 litre engine make a lot of fun!” Chris Dawkins, who both races and engineers SuperCup race cars also says that “the lap times are so impressive for such little power” and “you have to keep on your toes, it really tests the drivers and the accuracy of their feedback when setting them up”.
So – fast, exciting and enjoyable yet challenging, sensitive and incredibly tricky to find those last few tenths. That’s what racing an MX-5 is all about, from the mouths of people who get out there and thrash there on British race tracks on any given weekend. So far in 2017, the BRSCC’s championships have flourished beautifully and right now they’re riding the crest of a wave of momentum that doesn’t show signs of slowing down any time soon.
I’ll let you all in on something – I have to put my hands up and admit that for a long time I was one of those cynical people who only saw a car like the MX-5 as a “hairdresser’s car”. But that perception all changed one weekend at Cadwell Park in 2015. After being booked to present the TV coverage for both BRSCC Mazda MX-5 championships, the sight of watching a pack of Mk1s fly into Hall Bends for the first time caused such a shift in my opinion of the car and what it symbolised, that it converted me into a fan there and then.
The MX-5 is a car that one that any driver can pick up and handle fairly easily, yet could spend a lifetime trying to master, no matter what their level of experience or talent. Yet, that’s what makes them so satisfying. Since 1990, we’ve been racing them hard and fast in the UK and even today in 2017, there’s no sign of that changing any time soon.
Thanks, Mazda – for creating one of the best small sportscars the world has ever seen. Without it, the world’s racetracks would be a lot less exciting, that’s for sure.
images: Jon Elsey
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