Those of an anti-MX-5 disposition look away now, there follows some evangelising about how 115hp and skinny tyres are all you need... So it's been a while since my little Mazda was driven in anger and longer
still since I've been on track. Both of these issues have now been addressed with a most entertaining outing at Goodwood, just a week after the Revival and following in the wheel tracks of considerably faster and more valuable cars.
But that's one of the rather wonderful things about Goodwood; any old Herbert who fancies a go can drive their own car, be it a Jaguar XK150, a GT-R or - in my case - a noisy old Mazda around the circuit. All of those and more were there the day I attended, adding to the flavour.
As previously reported, I've finally gone back to the original 14-inch daisy wheels, now a most un-original orange in colour and shod with Dunlop Sport BluResponse eco tyres. The hope being that a kilo off each corner in unsprung weight (going by the bathroom scales, now with tyre prints), some extra sidewall and mere 185-section rubber would put a bit of spring back in the Mazda's step, reduce the grip a tad and trade it for a bit of give and slip.
A quick oil change later I was ready to go, a shakedown with a non-driving visit to Bedford confirming that my 90db static should be fine for Goodwood's strict limit and I wouldn't have to re-fit my cat to get through. See dear, I told you it wasn't that loud really. Only it was, the Goodwood guys testing me at rather higher revs and the Mazda scraping through at bang on 98db static "before it did that little burble." Phew.
My thought was to take it easy and build up the speed gradually. Which I did. For the first few laps, before just taking a Colin McRae 'if in doubt, flat out' approach to Goodwood's fast, flowing corners. Which with 115hp is less heroic than it is in a GT40 in the wet.
Amazingly this was the first time I'd really had a chance to push the Performance 5 dampers and geo set-up too. And what a revelation.
What I love about the Mazda is that it forces you to carry speed through the corners because, let's face it, you ain't getting any for free on the straights. And the beautifully neutral stance the P5 set-up gives as a base-point just gives you so much scope. Even with progressively bolder entry speeds there was no sense of understeer, just a neat turn-in, lovely balance through the corner and just a smidge of four-wheel drift on the braver laps. Why on earth would you want more rubber?
Since changing to the smaller wheels I've found the front end a little bouncy so I wound the dampers up to maximum stiff on the track (backing the fronts a quarter turn softer to retain the balance) and it felt a little more planted. I had the 15-inch OZs and their wider, lower profile tyres in the M135i but didn't see the point in faffing about and changing them.
Once up to speed a lap of Goodwood went something like this; fourth down the pit straight, a modicum of a lift to aid turn-in to Madgwick, balanced throttle through the first apex and over the crest before feeding in the rest for the second with just the odd flicker of movement and a bit of load through the wheel, exiting at about 90mph before hitting 100 or so and fifth for the comfortably flat Fordwater. A confidence lift and downshift to fourth for No-Name (probably flat really) before a quick stab of stabilising brake and down to third for St Mary's. I could get pretty much immediately back on the power here, a little float over the crest and turn-in blending into a lovely neutral stance through the dip and to Lavant, taken in third and, again, held in a delightful balanced poise before the long drag up the straight.
By the end of the day I was braking for Woodcote at the 50 board, down to third and then hard on the power to the chicane, topping the lap off with a just smidge of oppo, more likely the result of roll rather than power oversteer but enough to style it up for those watching from the pits.
And then down the pit straight, exhaust blaring off the pitwall and turning to whichever ashen unfortunate was in the passenger seat shouting "...and it only cost me 1,200 quid!" Noise and a sense of speed in the place of the real thing had me grinning like an idiot by the time the day was out and once again in awe of the amount of fun this little car just keeps giving me.
And for what it's worth having revisited Harris's video on the subject I think he's absolutely bang on. It's not the be-all, end-all of driving pleasure or dynamics. It's not really a sports car. But it's a hell of a lot of fun for not much money. And I remain in awe of the smiles per hour it continues to give me. All I need now is for the ringing in my ears to stop.