Britcar Production Sports Car Race, Silverstone International Race Circuit, 11th May 2013 by David Hooper
Despite the dismal weather forecasts, race day dawned dry, and some early-morning sun quickly evaporated the remains of the overnight rain.
The team decided that Richard Aucock and I should qualify first and after getting ourselves strapped in we lined up in the pit lane with the other cars ready for the green light to start the short qualifying session.
The large field filed out of the pit lane line-astern and it was only a matter of seconds before the action started. Literally on the second corner, the BMW M3 in front of me spun round and I had to dodge the twirling car.
Then, as we came onto the pit straight and accelerated out of the corner, a Porsche Boxster did a lovely pirouette, before doing a couple of 360 degree spins right in front of me. I slowed right down until I could tell where the car was going to go before steering around it.
The track soon began to dry and we did four or five increasingly quick laps before being called in to hand over to Owen Mildenhall and my team-mate Mark Ticehurst, the two professional racing drivers on the Mazda UK team.
They hadn’t driven on the International Circuit before, but unsurprisingly it didn’t take them many laps to get the hang of it, and before long the two were enjoying themselves, having a race of their own, egged on by their respective race engineers telling each that the other was slightly quicker.
The pair emerged from their cars grinning from ear-to-ear, with only a tenth of a second between them, but Owen had the edge this time and started one place higher on the grid.
Our car came in with a big scuff on the front corner and a new dent on the bonnet, after Mark had gone off the track and taken out an exit marker in the process.
We agreed that the pros should take the rolling start in what was quite a big field of experienced racers in more potent cars than our little MX-5s. It proved to be the right decision as the first corner quickly resembled a demolition derby with several cars going off the track.
As the cars came past the pit wall, our MX-5’s rear bumper was flapping in the wind after being hit firmly by another car rejoining the track. A concerned marshal came to “have a word” and said that if it got any worse, the team had to bring him in.
The mechanics went for the masking tape and I got my helmet on just in case we had to go for an early change, but the Mazda’s bumper held.
At about mid-way through Race one, Mark came in and I took over. The pit stop was quick, and the flapping rear bumper was ripped off by the mechanics before I went out. The car felt great on its hot slick tyres, I was comfortably at home on the circuit and set about putting some decent laps together.
On my third lap, I knew I had braked too much at the end of Hangar Straight before turning into the fast Stowe corner, so next time around I carried more speed into the corner, but turned in slightly off-line, which meant as I came out of the corner I rapidly ran out of race track.
Instead of trying to hold the car in, I decided to use the run-off area, straightened the car up and balanced the throttle, but the run-off area was astro-turf – and it was still saturated from the overnight rain.
It was like driving onto sheet ice and the back of the car snapped away so fiercely it was impossible to catch it, despite immediately steering into the 80mph skid. The car did a high-speed spin down the hill and realising I was in trouble I dipped the clutch and stamped hard on the brakes to try and bring the car to a halt, but it was to no avail and hit the waiting concrete wall head-on with some force, before finally coming to a halt.
From inside my crash helmet, I’d no idea how bad the damage was, but I feared the worst, and after a tourettes-like outburst realised the engine was still running. A glance at the water temperature gauge showed it was steady, so as I was near the entrance to the pit lane, I decided to see if I could get the car back to the garage, which I did.
Our JotaSport and Mazda UK mechanics made good use of the saved time and set about the wounded MX-5, working miracles to get it out again for the second race, which started shortly after another major downpour.
Both cars were on wet tyres this time and again Mark and Owen started the race and made some impressive progress in the treacherous conditions, with Mark piloting our patched-up car up to third position against some less talented drivers in more powerful cars, one of them being a Porsche 993.
After the second driver-change, I was back on track. Mark was immediately on the radio warning me about the greasy circuit. “It’s slippery everywhere,” he said, “especially in Stowe”, before thoughtfully reminding me to avoid the astro-turf – like I needed reminding of that!
Determined to finish the race, I wasn’t prepared to take any chances in an already damaged car and got it to the chequered flag without any further dramas, with our two MX-5’s coming home in fourth and fifth places.
This rather eventful outing at Silverstone proved that, in the right hands, not only can the diminutive MX-5 embarrass far more exotic and powerful competition, but that it is also one tough little car.
Our race car took a proper Britcar beating on Saturday, yet it still stayed the course and crossed the finishing line.