2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Update 2: Autocross Frenemies with a Silverado

#hashtags: #Mazda MX #Miata Club #Miatas #Honda #Ford Fiesta STs #Chevrolet Silverado #Silverado #Miata

There’s nothing like a half-ton pickup to get you fired up at the track. I recently took our long-term 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club to its first autocross, and there among the sea of other Miatas, Honda S2000s, and Ford Fiesta STs was a Chevrolet Silverado skillfully weaving through the orange cones. (You really can autocross almost anything.) It was entertaining to watch. But it was even more entertaining (and tough) spending a good chunk of my day trying to beat its lap time.

Before the Silverado arrived, I spent a good chunk of the morning learning the course organized by Speed Ventures at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (One advantage they offer over SCCA is a staff dedicated to working the course and picking up cones.) I hadn’t autocrossed in a while, so I started off slow, paying more attention to technique than the stopwatch.

That changed when the Silverado came out to play. The black single-cab pickup sat low to the ground and sounded pretty mean, and its bumper sticker taunted me: “Yes I am a GIRL. Yes this is MY truck. No you can’t DRIVE IT.”

I couldn’t drive it, but the driver sure knew how to. Her large truck provided little leeway between her tires and the cones, yet she consistently threw down clean lap times in the 41-second range. Pretty respectable considering what she was working with. At that point I was hovering around 43 to 44 seconds. It would’ve been a shame to have an autocross staple like the Miata beaten by a half-ton bully, so I had to pick up the pace. I set my goal at 40 seconds.

The course was essentially a combination of Motor Trend’s signature figure eight with a slalom and a three chicanes mixed in (squiggly-eight?). Wide sweepers at opposite ends of the course allowed me to reach the Miata’s grip limits. Here, the Miata leaned quite a bit, but the outside rear tire clung and put power to the ground quite well. The Brembo brakes clamped strong all day long, and the quick and responsive steering shined through the tricky chicanes. And thanks to the Miata’s small footprint and excellent visibility, the course felt much wider than it really was.

Through the morning I continued to push the Miata harder (or so I thought), but the best I could muster were 42-second lap times, about a second behind the Chevy. Around noon I went out for another lap, lost control toward the end of the course, and mowed down a row of cones. Time for lunch.

When break time was over, I return to the course and sat out a few laps to observe the more experienced drivers. One noticeable difference between them and me was the slalom. They were much smoother, and it became obvious that I was overdriving (body rolling all over the place, tires screeching, scrubbing speed, etc.). For my new approach to the slalom, I was much lighter with steering inputs and turned in sooner (closer to the cone), which allowed me to unwind the wheel a bit and set up for the next set of cones. It definitely felt quicker and smoother—more like an Olympic speed skater and less like a hockey player—and probably helped shave down my lap times. After a few laps in the 42-second range, I got down to 41 seconds, right there with the Silverado. Threes runs later, I finally broke into the 40-second barrier. (Woo hoo!) From there, everything seemed to click. I set my target on other cars, such as a Mustang GT, Mitsubishi Evo, and a third-gen Miata, which were in the 38-second range. I continued to shave off tenths from my lap time and managed to hit 38.990 seconds, my best time for the day. With super quick times in the 34-second range, a group of modified first-gen Miatas, S2000s, and an E46 M3 were the ones to beat. Stickier tires and a tighter suspension (along with more practice) would definitely help achieve quicker times. But as it stands, right out of the box, the Miata Club is a ton of fun and an excellent autocross performer. Silverados beware.

More on our long-term Mazda MX-5 Miata Club

Arrival Update 1: Rats, Road Trips and Real MPG