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!
The 3-3-30 Plan was born out of the unexpected opportunity to compete in Round 6 of the NASA Texas 2017 season at MSR Houston. My original schedule for relocation to the UK had me across the pond by the time this event was to take place, but for a variety of reasons, that didn't happen.
After a busy summer working overseas, and the week prior to the event spent preparing for my move, I hadn't mentally prepared to race. It took some time on Friday to get my head back into it, but by the end of the day, my times had dipped into the 1:53's - faster than I'd run at MSR-H in this direction before. It had been hot all day, so I skipped the last session and just made it back to the hotel in time to crank the A/C and pass out.
After a solid 12 hour nap, I woke to a gorgeous Saturday at the track.
This weather was in stark contrast to the storm that had decimated parts of the city just a couple of weeks earlier. The flooding had apparently taken it's toll on the timing loop at the track, so with no times recorded during qualifying, the starting grid for Race 1 was set based on season points.
I posted the following on Facebook over lunch: "4th on the grid! Please let me make it through turn 1!"
Car #31 was behind and to the inside, but caught a glimpse of car #20 hopping the curb inside him and over-reacted. He nosed his front-right fender into my left-rear bumper and I spun. Thankfully, I wasn't collected by any of the following 15 cars as I slide completely across the track.
I spend the rest of our 20 minute race trying to catch the back of the pack, but to no avail. I finished 18th of 21 starters, which would also be my starting grid position for Race 2.
Only a little bit of brute force and ignorance was required to get the car sorted.
It turned out that starting from the back wasn't any better for me than starting from the front. While I was able to cautiously complete the opening lap, it was starting lap 2 that I got bumped - again. I had run a little deep and lifted off the throttle more than car #151 expected. The bump was enough to send me off into the grass. Given that I was already at the back of the field, I decided I'd had enough for the day and pulled back into the paddock at the end of the lap.
With an official finishing position of 21st (and last) from Race 2, I was disappointed to learn that the timing loop hadn't been fixed for Sunday. The starting order for Race 3 was based on an average of Race 1 and Race 2 finishing results, so needless to say, I was at the back!
I let the field get itself organized for a few laps, then started to work my way forward. I was able to capitalize on a mistake by car #63 on lap 7, then forced a mistake that let me get past car #36 on lap 9. A cloud of tire smoke gave me cover as I went inside on car #194 on lap 10. Cars #20 and #81 both made mistakes on lap 11, and finally, I got around car #78 on lap 12. The remaining 8 laps were spent solo, trying to chase town the couple of cars that I could see ahead.
Despite starting last on Sunday, I managed to finish 9th, climbing 12 spots in total. That helped to make up for a fairly awful Saturday at my last race in Texas for the year.
I didn't know it at the time, but the results at MSR-H would be enough to help me secure a top 10 finish in the season points despite missing Round 7 at NOLA. 9th overall has got more to do with attendance and consistency than outright pace, but still something to be proud of in my first full season of wheel-to-wheel competition.
Targa Newfoundland 2017 Recap
It's been a month... [Save draft]
It's now been three months since we raced at the Sweet Sixteen edition of Targa Newfoundland. At lot has happened since then - we've completed our 3-3-30 Plan and, in the process, moved across the Atlantic Ocean start a new job in the UK. While it's very late, hopefully you'll find the recap of Targa Newfoundland 2017 below actually is "better late than never".
I arrived in my home town in western Newfoundland on Tuesday, September 5. That gave me a few days before heading across the island to visit family and help with last minute car preparations. There was a little bit of work to do...
Removal of the roof and doors allowed better access to remove seats and sensitive electronics for proper winter storage. The car also sat on some borrowed wheels so the race rubber could be kept above freezing. While the weight savings would have been nice, those all parts needed to go back. Several hours and an alignment check later, the car was ready for its third Targa!
After a short flight on Thursday, I arrived in St. John's. A few hours later, I returned to the airport to meet my new co-driver... for the first time! Martin Cadieux was recommended by a mutual friend and had prior experience in performance rally. All we needed was his name above the door. Check!
We drove the Prologue stages on Friday to test our communications. I had to learn the numerical system for describing corners: 1 being tight, 6 being nearly straight, Martin was extremely flexible in adapting the timing and pace of delivering instructions until we were both comfortable heading into the race.
Registration and technical inspection were scheduled for Saturday. With all of the maintenance and upgrade work Adam has completed for Mimi, we found ourselves through inspection and twiddling our thumbs before lunch - a welcome change from 2016 when we were braving wind and rain in a parking lot to change fluids, replace brake pads / rotors and install decals.
We took the opportunity to upgrade last year's rain gutters by cutting a groove along the top to better capture the water before it streamed into the cockpit.
The Prologue stages on Sunday were not scored, giving both organizers and competitors time to work the kinks out before racing started on Monday. We faced wet conditions on familiar stages through the communities of Flatrock and Bauline. The goal was simply to continue practicing our communications and keep the car between the ditches. Success!
Here's the last Prologue stage - a short hill-climb that was a challenge for the Miata.
Leg 1 took us from St. John's to Clarenville with stages that had traditionally been held during Leg 5. While target times had been relaxed from the prior year, we still found them to be a little challenging. Fortunately, the damp conditions allowed the extra few seconds to ensure we completed all stages with no time penalty.
We had some slight issues with wind noise and Martin's microphone cutting out in the morning. A not-so-elegant, but reasonably effective solution was found.
There was a "brown shorts" moment later in the afternoon on Stage 6 - that video is below. Maybe you can see the bump at 7:00 before we did?
Leg 2 included a number of long stages - all between 25 to 40 km (15 to 25 miles). These stages allowed for some very high speeds and high average speeds. Targa cars are limited by the rules to a maximum speed of 200 km/hr and an average speed for any stage of 140 km/hr. It was the average speed that caused problems on Stage 5 as we had to crawl through the last few meters to avoid a penalty.
As usual, these stages were extremely well run by the local coordinator, JoAnne Brinston. We had a great turnout from the community in Terranceville. But with the light fading, the last stage of the day had to be transited.
We did have some fun running on one of the fast stages, including playing with a Porsche 911 starting at the 8:50 mark.
Leg 3 started with mixed conditions on two stages in Lethbridge and Brooklyn, each run twice. There was a delayed start due to some local residents expressing their displeasure with our activities. We eventually got to race, but the roads were rougher than we'd experienced so far in the week. We completed without time penalties and kept the car intact going into lunch.
After two scrapped stages, the remaining two afternoon stages were run at George's Brook and Burgoynes Cove. These were longer stages and, unfortunately, not as well controlled as one would have hoped. We faced oncoming public vehicles on both stages, really putting a damper on our fun due to the significant risk involved.
At the 2:00 mark on Stage 7, you'll see what we mean...
Leg 4 was also marred by issues. The morning was supposed to consist of 4 stages in Harbour Grace - two run forward and two in reverse. Again, community residents made it known that we were unwelcome and the permission to run stages was revoked by town council.
The afternoon stages were long delayed, but we did race twice in Carbonear. The stages were fun, but the steep hills were not a good match for our Miata. While no car was able to achieve the target time, our penalties were quite a bit bigger than the 500+ hp Mustang we were racing. We fell 48 seconds behind the leaders on the day.
Here the better of our two runs.
The final day of Targa 2017 started with what are traditionally Leg 1 stages - two laps of the John Curran Memorial and a trip from Marysvale into Turks Gut (which makes a great spot to enjoy the rugged Newfoundland scenery). With no time penalties for us or car #101, we remained 48 seconds off the lead after the morning.
With the stages in Cupids cancelled, we had an extended lunch, which gave us time to help Mimi get her game face on for the final stages in Brigus.
The Brigus stages followed the same layout as previous years - a fast run into town, followed by tight turns between picket fences and rock walls. This stage suited the Miata, and while we were able to take advantage and pick up 6-7 seconds on our rivals for each of the three times we ran the stage, it was only enough to cut our deficit in half.
That secured second in Targa Classic - our best result in three years. We were also extremely proud of posting the second fastest time through the Brigus stage of ANY CAR, including the Open Class. Here's that lap.
Thanks to our crew chief, Adam, for the perfectly prepared car. We completed the week with no mechanical issues. And it was a pleasure to have Martin Cadieux as co-driver for 2017.
We're not sure if / when there's another Targa Newfoundland in our future. It won't be 2018. There are, however, many new adventures to be found in motorsport. More to come!
Targa Support Crew
Racing at Targa Newfoundland has been a family and friends adventure for the last 3 years. My wife supports the time and money that goes into this hobby. My father has been in charge of shipping and receiving as car parts are delivered to him in Newfoundland. And my aunt and uncle have graciously hosted us for the overnight stays each trip.
But the biggest supporters have been my cousin, Adam, and his wife, Megan. They have been our dedicated support crew from the beginning, following us through rural Newfoundland and ensuring the car is ready for each stage.
Adam runs his small business - Penney's Mobile Repair - on top of his day job. And he's also done all the preparation for Targa 2017 - refreshed head, upgraded cooling system, and custom air intake. We're in better shape this year than we've ever been before!
While Megan will get dirty helping Adam with the car, her camera equipment is never out of reach. She runs Megan Marie Photography in addition to her 9-5, and she's been responsible for capturing spectacular images from Targa for the last two years.
We wouldn't be starting our 3rd Targa Newfoundland without all their great support - thank you!
Bryan Bursey, driver, founded Underbite Racing in 2015.