At the end of September 2017, I arrived in the United Kingdom to begin a new assignment. The UK presented a new opportunity for motorsports adventures at new circuits in right-hand drive cars.
To preserve the possibility of completing the final stop of the 3-3-30 Plan, I had a week to get my hands on a UK competition license. Within 24 hours of touching down at Heathrow, I headed to Thruxton Circuit for my Association of Racing Driver Schools (ARDS) test. It included both theory and practical assessments required by the Motor Sport Association. I was able to successfully complete the exams and expedite delivery of the license in time for the Max 5 Racing event the following weekend.
The race at Silverstone International on Oct 7/8 was our second visit to a Formula 1 circuit in 2017 following our trip to Circuit of the Americas in May. As an added bonus. the first, third and fourth generation MX-5's in our group all shared a Formula 1 garage keeping us sheltered from the cool weather.
The lack of a hardtop in the UK made these small cars feel much less claustrophobic. That openness and the steering wheel being on the opposite side were the most obvious differences from Spec Miata racing in the US. The less obvious changes were the much harder tires and the lack of significant dents on the race cars - a result of the "gentleman racing" expectation that was emphasized during the licensing process.
Qualify was held late in the day on Saturday and the mixed-class Max 5 Racing group was combined with the faster Hyundai Coupes for a 15 minute qualifying session. And as we waited for our turn on track, it started to rain. Learning a new car at a new track, with mixed classes and mixed conditions, was a challenge. I spent half my time trying to find the rear view mirror (HINT: it's NOT up and to the right) and the other half staying out of the way of faster cars. I qualified towards the back, but as a guest to the series, it didn't matter as I was going to start at the back of the field in any case.
Below is a video showing the complete qualifying session.
After an evening track walk with some new friends and a night of rest, I was back at Silverstone for two 15 minute races on Sunday.
With some help from the marshals, I found my way to the last slot on the grid for my first-ever standing start. When the lights went out, I was able to get through the gears (left-handed) and picked up three spots by the time we'd made it through Turn 1 (Abbey). After "racing" with a third-gen MX-5 that was slower in the corners but much faster on the straights, I also gave back one spot to a direct competitor that dive-bombed into Vale. It took a couple of laps, I got that place back with a better entry to Hanger Straight and making the pass stick through Stowe.
Eventually, I was able to get a good run on third-gen car through Farm Curve and pass him in Village, just before a series of corners that let me stay ahead on the next straight. Unfortunately, the gap to any other cars in my class had grown too much to catch anyone else in race 1.
Unfortunately, as a guest, I was assigned the last spot on the grid for race 2 despite having made up a few places in my class during race 1. Nor did I make any places on the start this time as I couldn't find 3rd gear as we ran down the straight to Abbey.
I did have a great time racing car #87 during the opening laps of race 2, including sliding side-by-side through Abbey at high-speed on the second lap. Despite good exits and a draft onto Hanger Straight, I never seemed to be able to make the pass stick. I briefly got stuck behind the same third-gen after my fellow direct competitors got through, but was able to catch the group before the final laps.
I was able to clear two white first-gen cars in traffic, but car #87 had done the same and was too far up the road to catch before the finish line.
Racing in the UK was an incredible experience - the Max 5 Racing drivers were welcoming, the new challenges were stimulating, and I can't wait to do it again!
Bryan Bursey, driver, founded Underbite Racing in 2015.