BusinessCar Office blog: 10 November 2011 - Racing debut
10 November 2011
I drove a couple of very diverse products from the same manufacturer in the same week recently.
Part A was an illustration of Mazda's suitability for business cars, in the form of the new upper medium Mazda 6 Business Line model. Kitted out with TomTom satnav that's got impressive Google search functionality for a small additional fee, Bluetooth and 17-inch alloys for an attractive £18,130 P11D, and given the 6 is a decent drive and has a mammoth boot, it was an appealing package.
But with all due respect, part B was more exciting as Mazda offered up the chance to finally put my racing licence, attained earlier this year for a later-aborted feature, to use.
There are more MX-5s racing in the UK than any other one-make series, and more than 100 were competing at Brands Hatch across two different championships. Mazda's own car, prepared by the experts at Jota, takes part in the Ma5da MX-5 Cup for the current generation mk3 models.
Impressively, apart from uprated brakes and dampers, the car is standard MX-5, give or take the obvious racing-related changes such as the roll cage and fire extinguisher that aren't on the road car's options list.
My motor racing debut in a series containing one guy who raced a season of British Touring Cars and two professional racing instructors, consisted of four laps of wet qualifying before a dry race the following day.
Starting 18th on the 23-car grid, a horrendously fluffed start left me in what some would call last place plunging into Paddock Hill bend, the fearsome first corner at the Kent circuit. Easing myself into both the car and circuit, I found places to pick up speed every lap, and the MX-5 is a beautiful car to drive for a ham-fisted novice, easily handled, and just enough power to get interesting when pushed too hard or too early out of a bend. After the shambles of the start, I eased my way back to a finish of 18th, courtesy of an ego-boosting overtaking move, a couple of cars disappearing quietly into the scenery and a drive-through penalty putting another driver behind me. But he didn't catch me again so I'm claiming that as a win. And like all racing drivers, I had a hard luck story, finishing 0.5sec behind the car I'd been chasing down. One more time round and I'd have had him.
But it's easy to see why the Mazda MX-5 is such a phenomenally popular racing car, and that appeal should transfer, and does transfer, to the road cars. As well as competing on price, CO2 and practicality grounds, the Mazda range is among the most satisfying from a driver point of view. And I can now vouch for that on track, as well as on road.
Massive thanks to the guys at Mazda, and Chris and Sam from Jota who babysit, and trusted their car with, a terrified halfwit! The only disappointment was that my fantasy of being an undiscovered Lewis Hamilton may finally have been struck by the sledgehammer of reality. Though I'd love to have another crack sometime, just to be sure.
Follow BusinessCar on TWITTER