MX-5's are amazing, but it's the driver that makes them fast.

Original publish date: August 2010

A great person once said to me, “It’s not the car, it’s the driver”. A pretty clear statement really, and one that can often hold true, particularly in Club level motorsport.

You see people often look at lap times and say, “I need more power” or “Upgrade the suspension”. Instead, perhaps what should be said is “can I brake later?”. The easiest way to improve your lap times is to tighten the biggest nut in the car, the one sitting in the drivers seat.

Take Gippsland Car clubs Haunted Hills hill climb for example. I drive around here at speed 12 months ago, my first event with the MX-5 club in my newly purchased NA.

After a day of pretending I was Mark Webber, I managed a best lap of 1min 10.5seconds. “Not bad for a first outing” I told myself. But why was I nearly 3 seconds slower than someone with the same car? Was my car old and worn out? Perhaps, I just needed practice and experience.

I can solve a Rubik’s cube, no matter how messed up it may be, in under 60 seconds. People think I’m a freak, or some sort of rain man type prodigy. But the fact is: a) I’m not unique, other people can do it too. And b) it comes down to one thing, practice.  Motorsport can be approached in much the same way; experience and practice make all the difference. Sure I’d never driven my car on a race track before, and I wasn’t going to win any trophies on my first outing, but what’s stopping me from aiming high?

Fast forward a little over twelve months later to August 2010 and the Mazda MX-5 club of Victoria teams up with the WRX club for an event at Haunted Hills in Yallourn. This will be the second ever official calendar event for our club at this track, and likewise my second attendance also. Things had changed a bit however. I had about 12 track days under my belt, and about 12 months of practice to gain some useful experience. This therefore would surely mean an improvement in times.

The day started well, with a damp track quickly drying thanks to the warm sun and a blue sky. The usual necessities were addressed, and the first runs of the day begun around 10am. I started the day with a 68 second lap, already an improvement from the same event 12 months ago. The following runs proved quicker and quicker, I dropped into the 66 second range, then into the 65. The times were clearly dropping and the smile on my face growing. The clincher came with the fourth and last run around the standard clockwise hill climb. I had a best time of 64.97, just 0.05 slower than my key competitor, and equal Class Champion for 2009-10, with 64.92.

I put all my courage in my left pocket and all my skill in my right. I took the car out aiming for another personal best, a class record, and a round win. The light went green and I put my foot down. I hit (or at least aimed for) every apex, clipped every curb and squealed through every corner. The run felt good, the car was enjoying the track, and I really felt that the car was proving how good an MX-5 can be, even if it is 20 years old.

As I crossed the line, my time was shown on the digital display as I slowed to climb the hill back to the pits. All I needed was a tenth of a second, or even just a few hundredths of a second would suffice. It was then I realised my day hadn’t ended quite how I hoped. I arrived at the track hoping for a good day and an improved time. I left after a great day, a new best time, a new class record and a round win! I’d managed a 64.12 second lap.

So is it the car, or is it the driver? I’ll argue it was the driver.