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