IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME
Cutting laps on track leads to introspection and brutal self assessment
SOMETHING’S NOT QUITE adding up. And I’m annoyed I’m missing the point. On one hand I have the knowledge that the MX-5 has been adorned with a perfect 10 in terms of a MOTOR track rating combined with my impressions from myriad Alpine kays. On the other I’ve just got out of the mighty Miata from a session at Haunted Hills and, pause for gasps, I didn’t like it. What’s more, I have a beaming Andy Enright staring at me eagerly awaiting my impressions. Gulp.
Now, let me backtrack and add some context. Bryant Park, or Haunted Hills as it’s also aptly known, isn’t an easy layout to master – actually, any of the circuit configurations for that matter. The full clockwise course we use might only be 1.4km long, but to downplay it based on length is an oversight. So is viewing the track map on a screen. The real-world geographical rise and fall means the reality is far more daunting than the virtual illustration. It’s also damp today. And cold.
Yet, faced with divulging some form of insightful assessment, I muster a simple “it’s so much fun”. Points for detail and truth telling, I think not. The problem was me, and not the car. Not being familiar with the technical track layout meant that I was arriving too fast into tightening corners and inducing understeer. At the same time, I was also selecting the wrong gear for corners with steep inclines post-apex, meaning the 2.0-litre would get caught in the lower rev range that’s somewhat bereft of torque (there is only 205Nm to access after all). In essence, I lied about having fun. I didn’t at all.
Clearly, the first session taught me what not to do. And reminded me of the fact that the driver, despite how acclaimed the steed, remains the core element to not only going fast, but also gaining enjoyment out of the experience.
It’s hard to admit, but BNP296 was behaving badly because of me. Taking time out to chat with Andy and gain valuable pointers while also conducting some self-assessment makes all the difference. Luckily the video team here to film other goodies (check out the MOTOR YouTube channel) are still setting up, so I head out for a second session.
The experience is night-andday different. Not only has the gale-force wind mostly dried the surface, but my brain has wrapped its head around the track. Basically, I now know where it goes. I’m no longer offering up reactionary inputs. The MX-5 comes alive. Being able to anticipate the road ahead allows me to work with the trademark body roll of the roadster. Yes, the RS gains a stiffer Bilstein suspension setup, but managing weight transfer alleviates awkward instances of pitch. Not that there is much heft to worry about with the one-tonne mass.
Instead of driving it on the nose with myriad apexes missed, engaging the rear axle livens the experience to no end. While 135kW might not seem like much, the SkyActiv unit is happy to be extended to redline and the LSD allows for on-throttle drift action. Plus, there is a ‘rightness’ to all the controls, from the superb shortthrow six-speed manual and the light, yet tactile steering. With only 1052kg to arrest, the Brembo brakes stack up well while the pedal placement allows for snappy heel-and-toe downchanges – when the driver gets it right... Even with the fabric roof down, the experience isn’t sullied.
After two wildly contrasting sessions, I can see why the MX-5 elicits such high praise from those in the know and I can understand how it gained its impeccable track rating. It’s bloody brilliant.
Yet, refreshingly, you as the driver also have to rise to meet it – flattery without hard graft isn’t part of the Jinba ittai philosophy. My bruised knees, from holding myself in the poorly bolstered seats, are proof of the effort exuded. It all adds up after all. – TG
THERE IS A ‘RIGHTNESS’ TO ALL THE CONTROLS, FROM THE SHORT-THROW MANUAL TO THE TACTILE STEERING