Coverage of the Great 924 Race 2017

AJK TV have now published their footage of the Great 924 Race, held at Donington in September, where we celebrated the anniversary of the launch of the 924 Championship which with the addition of Boxsters became the BRSCC Porsche Championship. The 2-litre front-engined 924 was never intend as a race car and Porsche Germany really didn’t want to see this series start. Fortunately for us, that intent was ignored and the ‘PDA‘ still represents the cheapest way into Porsche single-marque racing in the UK.

I am interviewed in the coverage of Race 2 but had to retire with brake failure before the race started.


Mazda CX-5 Reviewed

Having reviewed the brand new MX-5 at this time last year, it was time to test a car at the other end of Mazda’s range this January – the larger of their two “SUV” models, the CX-5. Given the only other SUV I’d driven to date was the Porsche Cayenne – that costs almost three times the price – it had a lot to live up to!

Parked up in Quainton village on a sunny winter morning, its front styling rather reminiscent of Jaguar’s entry in the SUV field, the F-PACE. Its not as angular – nor frankly as ugly – as similar offerings from the likes of Nissan (Juke) and Toyota (CH-R). My particular car was black but I think it would look better in the same colour the MX-5 looked great in – Soul Red.

With cream/black contrasting leather trim, the front seat adjustment is all-electric with two slot memory for the driver’s side. Its elevated driving position is accompanied by a head-up display of your current speed and the current speed limit, as detected automatically via forward-facing camera – clever stuff, eh? I struggled to get to grips with the same hateful “infotainment” system that I first encountered in the new MX-5, despite it boasting a big colour touch screen. You certainly don’t want to attempt to make any settings beyond volume while on the move.

A 2.2 litre diesel engine drives via a six-speed automatic transmission, which was incredibly smooth with almost imperceptible changes. In fact without switching the stick across to manual (there’s no paddle shift), you really could not tell what gear you were in. Auto stop/start was an almost expected fuel-saving feature, defeated if you prefer by a switch near the driver’s right knee. Being a modern Mazda, the quoted economy figures are typically impressive with this top-of-the-line model returning an amazing 52 miles per diesel gallon.

While certainly more capable over the bumps and pot holes common on our roads these days, the ride was none-the-less quite harsh; no adjustments were available for either the suspension of 4WD arrangement. Mazda really promote safety with all cars in their current range and the CX-5 comes with a wide range of features designed to make your transit as safe as possible – including a lane deviation warning, cruise control that detects range to the car in front, stability and traction control. There’s a reversing camera and sensors and the handbrake is electronic.

Its 19″ wheels came fitted with summer tyres, which would not have coped well with any off-road conditions and frankly would have struggled on the ice and show a potential buyer may well expect the car to cope with.

In conclusion, the CX-5 was not a car that I felt particularly attracted to, but it does demonstrate just how economical such a large car can be. My thanks though to Lodge Garage, Aylesbury for the loan of a car that, this time, I was happy to return.

Reliable Rogue at the Birkett

To close my racing season, this was to be my first Birkett Relay since 2015, when I was part of a four car team in Rogue Motorsport Toyota MR2s. Then I was in a Mk3 Roadster – this time it was to be a Mk2.

WARNING: This article contains Top Gear spoilers! We were all under a non-disclosure agreement as Rogue had been building race cars for the BBC TV series Top Gear and as well as us and two other Toyota-based teams, would be running Matt LeBlanc, Rory Reid and Chris ‘Monkey’ Harris during the event. They were in the garage next to us so I was hopeful for an international TV appearance later!

Our MR2 team for 2017 started with four drivers with the expectation of signing a fifth by race day; this we did when JM Littman (who I had raced with the Creventic Hankook 24 Hours of Silverstone in 2016) but on the day, one dropped out so we were back down to four. Team manager Patrick assured us that there was sufficient fuel in a full tank to give us at least an hour and fifteen minutes and therefore we planned to do 1:12 stints with five drivers or 1:15 with four.

I’d bought a FitBit Charge 2 wrist-worn step/fitness monitor a few days before the race as I wanted to see what happened to my heart rate during the day. It recorded a peak heart rate 157bpm during the race and reported later that I’d burnt an incredible 5499 calories in 24 hours. Quite where it got “82 floors climbed” from I don’t know!

I was in the ‘C’ car so qualified in the third session of the morning, spending most of the time getting used to the car again having not driven one for so long. I don’t think I put in anywhere near a reasonable time but on completion, one qualifying screen showed my a P4 in Class C, just behind two Radicals and a Rapier so I was congratulated by JM for having posted a 2:18 lap – 8 seconds faster than my personal record on the GP circuit, which I’d set in Fareed’s Cayman GT4 earlier in the year. Something clearly wasn’t right with 750MC’s timing, confirmed as the race progressed where our times and position never appearing on the live timing screens. Patrick has asked the 750MC officials but was assured it was a “known problem” and that they had everything under control…

One of the other Rogue teams suffered two critical failures – those of Stuart Nicholls (MR2 SuperGT – catastrophic engine failure) and Rob Horsfield (MR2 Mk2 Speedster – diff) – in qualifying and as we were a driver down we offered Rob a chance to join our team, which after clearing with team manager and the officials, he accepted. We were back, then, to five drivers and 1:12 stints. After some seat juggling, JM saddled up for the opening stint and he was pit-boarded in with his low fuel warning just starting to show.

I took the third stint and had a fairly uneventful but not particularly quick drive; the only minor battles I had were with a Ginetta G40 and one of the Grove & Dean Alfa Romeos. Two of the Top Gear cars expired during my session: Rory’s Rolls Royce had ploughed a trail of destruction through the polystyrene turn boards at Copse and later, Chris Harris lost a wheel from his massive V12 S600 Merc at The Loop, leading to a safety car period. The team flagged me in after a few laps behind the safety car: going purely by the fuel state, I was convinced I’d only been out about 1/2 hour but investigation showed it was just over and hour.

With still nothing on the timing boards, we had no idea of either position or lap times, but I was pretty confident we weren’t in a podium position. Final results were eventually published, showing us 52nd overall, 14th in Class C – and in the handicap positions – which no one ever seems to know how they’re derived – 42nd overall but a lowly 20th in Class.

I’ll be interested to see the relevant episode(s) of Top Gear when they’re shown in the Spring of 2017 – I suspect an hour of qualifying and six hour of racing will be whittled down to mere minutes of screen time.