Total MX-5 takes a look at Gymkhana, the freshest motorsport on the block – represented in the UK by Barrel Sprint and Formula G – and learns it’s the perfect arena to enjoy bargainpriced racing in your MX-5
Gymkhana events – represented in the UK by Barrel Sprint and Formula G – are an easy, cheap and entertaining way to go racing
If you’ve always had an itch to have a go at competitive motorsport, but have previously baulked at the idea of your pride and joy sharing the same stretch of asphalt as a bunch of adrenaline-fueled lunatics, then fear no more, as there is an alternative…
You may be forgiven for not knowing that the smoky goodness as seen in Ken Block’s internet-breaking ‘Gymkhana’ videos is genuine motorsport, but it is. And the UK is at the forefront of this driving revolution. Like drifting, Gymkhana has evolved under the radar from other more established motorsport regulatory bodies and has seen an organic growth born solely through people’s desire to have a go at the discipline themselves.
Unlike drifting, however, Gymkhana is not judged and there are no points awarded for style or technique – it’s a simple race format where the first to cross the finish line is the victor. This easy to grasp premise is attracting a new wave of drivers who want to pitch their skills against the clock in a tight and technical racing format.
A track, but not as you know it
Unlike most forms of motorsport, Gymkhana is not based on a traditional circuit or track. Instead, each event uses a unique pair of ‘courses’ that are specifically designed for each event and are laid out with cones and various other obstacles such as Monster Truck tyres on a large asphalt area. These courses mirror each other and consist of hairpins, 180s, and challenging sections like the ‘washing machine’, that require the drivers to complete a full 360 around a barrel with three closed sides. Each driver must memorise the route so that they complete the course in the correct sequence, which adds a tough mental challenge to the already demanding physical driving skills needed to be a top contender. This is especially difficult, as once you have raced one side of the course, you then have to do the other side too (the mirror opposite), the winner being decided on the combined times of both sides. If you hit an obstacle you will receive a two-second penalty and getting lost or taking a wrong turn on track will result in a Did Not Finish. In many respects Gymkhana owes much of its heritage to Autotests – where competitors need to use inch-perfect precision driving to complete an obstacle course – but it’s as though it’s had an injection of 100-octane fuel, and you won’t catch any anoraks mooching around the paddock. Sound good? Well, there’s more good news. Gymkhana is also one of the cheapest and easiest motorsports to get into.
Formula G – Gymkhana’s British home
The place to live out your Ken Block fantasies is called Formula G, which is a dedicated Gymkhana championship comprising six rounds based between
Santa Pod Raceway and Rockingham Motor Speedway.
There are no barriers to entry, with different classes available for practically any make, model or drivetrain layout of car, and only need a valid driver’s licence to get in on the action.you can sign up to contest the full championship or simply dip into rounds as and when you want on a Run What Ya Brung basis, meaning the emphasis is more on having fun and learning new skills than about who can scoop the most silverware: new drivers are always given a friendly welcome by both the organisers and fellow competitors alike.
Costs for a single round are a paltry £80 (or £75 in advance) and just £350 for the full season of six races.when you consider that many other competitive motorsports, such as Time Attack, will set you back £360 per round, it shows that Formula G is seriously good value!
You don’t need a long list of expensive equipment either, the only mandatory item being a helmet. However, you are required to wear suitable clothing that covers your arms and legs, but that’s just common sense really. Safety items like rollcages and fire extinguishers are recommended, but ultimately optional. What actually happens? So what can you expect if you decide to give it a go? Well, after signing on and receiving your race number and sunstrip (a sunstrip mounted on the windscreen is required for the driver to be eligible to accumulate championship points), your car will have to undergo an inspection by a safety marshal to ensure it’s in a safe condition to race. Rules regarding modifications and tuning are extremely relaxed and pretty much anything goes as long as it is deemed safe, although all entrants must have working brake lights and some tracks require the exhaust note to be under a 95db limit.
Once through the checks, the morning starts with an open practice session, where all competitors get to try out the course for the first time and learn the sequences and obstacles that they will have to negotiate at speed later on. Many entrants advise walking the course, too, to really get your head around the layout before even getting into your car.
After practice it’s on to the qualifying sessions. Each driver gets four runs, two on the left and two on the right, with the fastest time of the four being placed on the leaderboard where only the top 16 drivers will progress to the Battles.
The Battles are run head-to-head with drivers of the same class racing in pairs, one on each side of the track. Once drivers have completed a lap of each side, the driver with the fastest combined time will proceed to the next
Some cars are more ‘purpose built’ than others, but you’ll have plenty of fun in a near-standard MX-5 road car
Some of the venues may not look so glamorous, but once you’re behind the wheel, the clock’s about to start ticking, and you’re trying to remember the course, you really won’t care!