Ice fol­lies

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Welcome - JOSHUA DOWLING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDI­TOR Twit­ter: @JoshuaDowl­ing

DRIV­ING a drop-top in Siberia may not be ev­ery­one’s idea of fun — but that’s where Mazda hosted a test drive to re­mind us that the MX-5 is still the world’s most pop­u­lar road­ster, with al­most 1 mil­lion sold.

An all-new Mazda MX-5 — co-de­vel­oped with Alfa Romeo — is at least two years away, so Mazda’s keen for the world to know the cur­rent model is still young at heart. Which is why we’re stand­ing on an ice lake near Yeka­ter­in­burg, about 400km north of Kaza­khstan.

Two dozen mo­tor­ing hacks from nine coun­tries are here for the fifth an­nual snow job event and the stakes are high, at least in our col­lec­tive mind.

Af­ter the first prac­tice ses­sion it’s ap­par­ent the three Rus­sian teams have pro­fes­sional driv­ers mas­querad­ing as mo­tor­ing writ­ers, as op­posed to us mo­tor­ing writ­ers mas­querad­ing as race driv­ers. At this point, to con­firm ev­ery­one’s bona fides, I qui­etly sug­gest that the or­gan­is­ers force all com­peti­tors to write a road test, to see who can tor­ture the most cliches like they’re run­ning out of fash­ion. My heart sinks when I see our ri­vals work­ing out on lap­tops be­tween prac­tice ses­sions.

Af­ter qual­i­fy­ing third out of nine our only hope for a vic­tory was to do a Brad­bury: drive at eight-tenths and hope they stick it into a snow bank. Af­ter some dar­ing first lap driv­ing from the first of our four driv­ers, and an abil­ity to make the MX-5 much wider than it re­ally is for sev­eral laps there­after, we lead.

Then a friendly nudge from one of the Rus­sian guns punts us back to sec­ond, but we re­gain first af­ter a slick pit-stop. We learn to be care­ful what you wish for, be­cause a Mazda does in­deed end up in a snow bank. It’s ours. It’s a mir­a­cle it doesn’t hap­pen to all of us on ev­ery cor­ner. Our car’s plucked out by a trac­tor and we get go­ing again.

Then the safety car comes out in front of me even though we were not in the lead. So al­though it’s pro­to­col for safety cars to drive slowly in front of the lead car and let the rest of the field pass, we trun­dle around be­hind a CX-5 with flash­ing lights to avoid a col­li­sion we never get to see and lose so much time we may as well have been in a dif­fer­ent zone.

Af­ter some dar­ing driv­ing from our man on a mis­sion and some gen­tle­manly driv­ing from the Mazda exec in our other car, we at least end up in front of the Other Aussie Team. By the end of the two-hour race, the Rus­sians score a one-two-three clean-sweep, some­thing the or­gan­is­ers may have an­tic­i­pated — they pre-or­dered tro­phies for fourth, fifth and sixth po­si­tions un­der the guise of a “Na­tion’s Cup”.

We rank fifth — or sec­ond, depend­ing on how you mea­sure it — al­though fin­ish­ing in the mid­dle the field never felt so good. If only the sweet taste of our “vic­tory” didn’t bring yel­low snow to mind. Rus­sian cham­pagne re­ally is an ac­quired taste. Es­pe­cially when it’s in your eyes.

Snow job: A Mazda3 (above) joins the drop­top MX-5s on the Siberian ice. Car 4 from Aus­tralia heads for the top of the “other na­tions” list, be­hind Rus­sia

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