Bar­gain-priced mo­tor­sport

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

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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 ac­ 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!

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