Alfa Romeo at the Nürburgring to MX-5 in Australia

Original publish date: June 2009

Hooking an Alfa Romeo 75 into the Karussell at the Nürburgring in Germany, you soon discover just why it was nicknamed “The Green Hell” by Jackie Stewart. Hell it may be, though many would consider it heaven, myself included.  I made the decision early in 2008 to visit this 21km circuit of unrestricted toll road and it’s a memory I’ll never forget.  With Porsche GT3’s, BMW M5’s and the odd McLaren SLR flying past you, it can be particularly intimidating but nonetheless it is a first point of call for any true car fan. The issue of course is it’s not particularly cost effective to fly into Frankfurt International Airport and travel to The Ring regularly to get that motoring fix, so I had to find something more local, say, in Australia.

Of course, Australia doesn’t have the luxury of unrestricted roads. Instead we’re blessed with speed cameras on every street corner. So how could I enjoy the internal combustion engine as it was intended without being classed a hoon? Somewhere that doesn’t involve keeping the green parties happy. The obvious answer is track day sprints.

Fast forward to early 2009 and I’d just purchased a Blue 1990 MX-5 NA6 with the sole purpose of getting out on the track. The first outing for the Blue MX was also a first for the Club, a run around Gippsland Car Club’s Haunted Hills.  Such a track day would involve quite a process, and being an IT nerd, I like processes. Preparing the car, preparing the driver, getting car and driver on the track and off again. Although not particularly difficult, there are rules in place which must be followed to ensure safety of everyone, and a trouble free day. Things like having the CAMS license ready for driver check in and the car prepared prior to scrutineering makes the day run smoothly and means more time on the track.  And what a track it was. This short loop of tarmac in the hills of Yallourn proved to be unbelievably tight, twisty and undoubtedly epic. After a day fighting cool weather, wind, clouds and drizzle (which all made the day just that little bit more exciting) I settled with a time of 1:10.5. This translated to a second placing in my class. Pretty satisfying for what was essentially my first track outing.

The next club outing was a trip up to DECA in Shepparton. The skidpan challenges of DECA reward the driver who has experience with handbrake turns. Unfortunately I much prefer a smooth flowing racetrack to the racer boy handbrakies. So DECA wasn’t any good then? Quite the contrary in fact. Admittedly I found the skidpan stuff fun, however I still consider it harsh on the car and not as enjoyable as the “back track” events at DECA which were much more like a true race circuit. The DECA event was also newcomer friendly, with no requirements for CAMS licenses or car scrutineering. This means it’s a good place to start if you’ve no track experience and want to give it a go in the fast lane. But what did DECA provide me at the end of the day? Well, another second place in my class and another smile on my face at the end of the day.

Most recently the MX-5 Club of Victoria attended Sandown with a club sprint day being run by the Alfa Romeo Owners Club of Australia. This race circuit is visited by the big guns of Australian motorsport, the V8 Supercars, and has held some major international events since opening over 40 years ago.  We arrived at Sandown at around 7.30am on the last Sunday in May to be greeted by a thick fog making it impossible to see even the first corner. With compromised visibility it was simply unsafe to get on track first thing in the morning. Thankfully it wasn’t long before the sun appeared to warm the skies and we were clear to start. Being my first time at Sandown, I took the opportunity to go out for a few sighting laps and get my lines right for the 3.1km circuit. Immediately upon entering the track I discovered just how rough and bumpy the surface of Sandown is in some places around the track. As the day moved on and we got into timed runs, lap times dropped as the track warmed up and I became familiar with the circuit. That said, I did manage to come into the first corner a bit hot and went wide and onto the grass, thankfully it’s a forgiving corner with plenty to run off to. By the end of the day, my fastest time was a 1min 43.1sec and I ended up with another second placing in my class.

I’ve spent most of my life enjoying cars, but I’ve spent less than 6 months with the MX-5 Club of Victoria. In that time, I’ve met some great people and had an awesome time. So next time you’re hooking an Alfa Romeo into the Karussell at the Nürburgring in Germany, keep in mind that you can have (almost) as much fun here in Australia with the MX-5 Club of Victoria.