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Mazda MX-5 Challenge results

The MX-5 is a popular choice for enthusiasts who want a real driving experience.

The unofficial annual face-off between Australian and Russian motoring journos has just taken place in Australia for the first time. And the change of location emphasised the differences between the two teams' training.

The Russians sharpen their skills in the ice and snow and the Aussies hone theirs on tarmac and gravel. Russia took the trophy last year on their frozen home turf -- possibly because of our limited experience ice racing.

THE CAR

Mazda's mighty little roadster is a logical weapon of choice, largely because it offers the purest form of driving. In its favour are relatively light weight, rear wheel drive, conventional six speed manual transmission, sporty dynamics, adequate power that rewards driving skill as opposed to a heavy right foot. Mazda sponsors the event in that they supply the cars.

This year a row of roofless roadsters presented themselves at the venue complete with roll bars, competition brake pads and racing seats with five point harnesses. Apart from that, they were bog standard MX-5s. Now you might think 118kW is a trifling amount of power to play with but we found out pretty quickly that it's all you need to get going really fast.

Too fast in some cases.

THE CONTEST

This year, Australia won after a four discipline contest based outside Canberra that included motorkhana, skid pan, hill climb and rally.

HILL CLIMB

First discipline was the hill climb, a 700 metre circuit with a narrow ribbon of old tarmac threading its way across the side of a hill and into a valley below. No problem for the Mazda here and some of the times were respectable, not anywhere near as fast as "real" hill climb drivers but.... well, respectable. From the driver's seat the experience was thrilling and totally absorbing because if you make a mistake, you're off into the dongah.

Tick one.

MOTORKHANA

Next was the motorkhana between randomly spaced flags out of one imaginary "garage", returning to another imaginary "garage" adjacent in a far under 20 seconds as possible. It was a contest in 100ths of a second so any stumble was heavily punished by the stopwatch stress levels on the redline but still an interesting challenge.

SKIDPAN

It was all about a delicate touch rather than bold throttle application and lurid tail-out drifting. Those who kept it all in check and didn't lose the front or rear ends achieved the best times. Challenging in the extreme.

RALLY

Then the main event -- the rally section in the Canberra forest on a 7km section of the national capital's rally course. Remember these were standard MX-5s on low profile road tyres with the roof off. Not a problem for the tough little roadster thanks to its rigid chassis, big brakes and sharp dynamic responses.

Some of the times achieved were truly incredible for essentially a road car.

That the MX-5s came through unscathed mechanically is testament to their toughness and near perfect balance of power and handling. There was absolutely no time when any more than the 118kW/188Nm output from the 2.0-litre engine was needed. The car was a handy weapon in all four disciplines thanks to its pedigree.

UNEQUIVOCAL

We now know unequivocally why the MX-5 is such a popular choice for enthusiasts who want a real driving experience.

MAZDA MX-5 CHALLENGE FINAL RESULTS

Overall

1. James Stanford
2. Glenn Butler
3. Toby Hagon
4. Josh Dowling
5. Marton Pettendy
6. Vladimir Melnikov
7. Tim Robson
8. David Zalstein
9. Scott Newman
10. Mark Borlace
11. Peter Barnwell
12. Vadim Gagarin
13. Sergey Voskresenskiy
14. Ernest Litera
15. Darren Moody
16. James Cleary
17. Peter Yastrebov
18. Tony O’Kane
19. Brent Davison
20. Brad Leach
21. Barry Green
22. Ian Crawford

Gravel Rally

1. James Stanford
2 = Toby Hagon
2 = Vladimir Melnikov

Motorkhana

1. Scott Newman
2. Glenn Butler
3. Tim Robson

Hill Climb

1. Glenn Butler
2. Scott Newman
3. James Stanford

Skid Pan

1. Josh Dowling
2. David Zalstein
3. James Stanford

Teams

1. Mark Borlace / Marton Pettendy
2. Toby Hagon / Darren Moody
3. Vladimir Melnikov / Sergey Voskresenskiy

 

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