The Seven Year Itch - Part Two - 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long-Term Road Test
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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long Term Road Test

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1997 Mazda Miata: The Seven Year Itch - Part Two

April 12, 2012

1997 Mazda Miata

In case you didn't see part one, here's Part One.

So, I promised you, gentle reader, some video.

Click on through.

Let's just go ahead and start with a full lap. This lap is using Buttonwillow's #1 configuration run in the clockwise direction.

In the words of our own Michael Jordan, "Let's hear the excuses."

So, this is the second session of hot laps. I had three more after this one, but the GoPro battery died before the end of this session. In other words, I got a whole lot better. Ok, not really. But, with the help of earlier throttle application and ever improving lines, I did get my corner exit speeds up so that my straightaway speeds neared 110 miles an hour.

Remember the long pedal travel I touched on earlier? Check out how far left I move my right leg at the end of the straights. I'm doing that to create enough room to turn foot sideways to bridge the gap between the surfaces of the brake and gas pedals. That made hard braking a little less than ideal. Not to mention it made rev matching sucky. And in the interest of not going off the track, I decided to elongate my braking zones a bit. It wasn't ideal, but it was far from the end of the world.

Speaking of not wanting go off track...

So how'd that happen? Easy, one too many turn-ins.

This was my very first quick lap in Project Miata. Quite the auspicious start, but after three lead and follow sessions, all of which averaged about 45 miles an hour, my timing on the turn in to this corner was just a bit off.

This corner claims its fair share of cars. Half of them drive off to the right; the drivers valiantly fighting understeer before dropping two wheels into the dirt. Two wheels quickly become four and off they go. The other drivers, myself included, spin off to the left.

While the corner is very, very short, the speeds you reach approaching the corner are quite high. I was nearing 95 on approach, by the end of the day. A quick dab on the brakes and an accurate turn in are all it takes to get through the corner, but as the track narrows at the exit, you can't afford to turn in too early, which will cause you to run wide, or turn in too late, which will also cause you to run wide. So how'd I manage to put it off on the left? Well, I just messed up.

After turning in early, and realizing I had turned in too early, I straightened up and blinked before turning in a second time. The second turn-in put the car into a super cool neutral drift. That super cool drift was interrupted by the curb which unloaded the inside suspension just enough to pitch the car sideways. Faced with botching a save and spearing off to the right, or just letting the car spin, I decided (really, you do think this quickly on track) to let the car spin off into the dirt. Cue the vacuum cleaner.

After that spin, and almost any spin at a track day, you will get black flagged meaning you need to pit to talk with a steward. Consider this a track sobriety check. The steward wants to make you you're ok, that you know what you did wrong, and that your car is ok to continue. After a quick chat, and a good laugh, followed by an thorough inspection of Project Miata, I was waved back out, never to make the same mistake again.

Later in the next session, Project Miata just wanted to make sure I was paying attention. At 85 miles an hour.

It was way more rad in person.

Buttonwillow is about 120 miles north of Los Angeles, which puts it smack dab in the middle of... 120 miles north of Los Angeles. It's flat. And, it's agricultural. Because of its geographic location it can get pretty windy, and when you combine that wind with the gypsum the track spreads down to soak up moisture in the run off areas (that makes it safe to drive off without getting all geologic) you get randomly occurring white-out conditions. This didn't happen a lot, but when it did...

The man in me wanted to keep my foot down and Days of Thunder it through the dust cloud. However, the real man in me wanted to freak out and slow down. I settled for a happy, if not entirely safe, medium.

1997 Mazda Miata

Understand that as overexposed as the outside is in these clips, when the dust turned everything white, it really did look exactly like that.

As if you didn't know already, I'm not one of Inside Line's expert drivers. We have quite a few guys on staff who are blindingly fast and I don't want you to confuse my efforts with what they'd be capable of doing. I'm a guy who likes cars. I also like to drive. This track day, and these videos, are only to show you what our Miata is like in the hands of someone (relatively) normal. That's not to say I don't I have my eye on Sebastian Loeb's seat once he retires.

I hope you enjoyed them.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 136,570 miles


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