Despite what this magazine’s amazing photography might tell you, not every journalist can drift the tyres off a Ferrari. I know because I’m one of the sods who can’t handbrake turn to save his life.
Before joining chez MOTOR, my days at the track were spent keeping the car straight as possible, wary of any behaviour that saw otherwise. In fact, they still are.
The reason behind this is my first ‘performance’ car was a bum-dragger. Now, even though it was fine as front-drivers come, not even an early generation Honda Integra Type R, with its willingness to rotate under brakes, could teach you the dark art of controlled, willing drifts. That can only really be achieved with one thing, a propshaft.
This is something the MX-5 has. But it doesn’t instantly make it, or you, a hero. I learnt this when tagging along to compare the MX-5, Abarth 124 Spider, and Subaru BRZ at DECA, in Shepparton. With its skidpan ours for half a day I seized the chance to have a few bites of sideways action.
With editor Dylan Campbell playing tutor, the instructions were to build speed, turn in, lift or brake to shift weight forward, feel the front load up, then floor the throttle to initiate the slide. Easy enough. The MX-5 didn’t need much provocation.
After initiating the slide it’s about balancing the throttle, power and steering to hold the slide. Which I found a little harder.
The front-end didn’t seem to have as much bite as I thought it would. And while it makes up for it with superb chassis balance, I found it hard to keep up with how quick everything happens and would heap on too much opposite lock, or throttle, to keep things straight. Transitions? Forget it.
The MX-5’s no Australian Drifting Grand Prix regular, for a few reasons. Its wheelbase measures just 2310mm. About 260mm shorter than an 86’s wheelbase, and a whopping 600mm less than a Commodore’s.
Then there’s its power. It’s a decent but not stonking 118kW and 200Nm, both delivered quite high in the rev range. Add to the list its significant bodyroll and relatively slow steering and you have a recipe for difficulty.
If you think I’m making excuses you’d be right – sorta. Because I can’t help feeling like a V8 Commodore would have made my day very different. A longer wheelbase would create a wider window in which to add opposite lock, and a LS3 would make more use of the right pedal’s travel. In the hope of maintaining a slide, I usually overdid the throttle and sent the MX-5 into a spin.
In spite of these frustrations, the MX-5 still stacks up as a brilliant device for slides, if only for the fact it needs to be mastered.
That’s probably why Japan’s discontinued but outrageously popular show, Best Motoring International, used the Roadster (as it’s known there) as a stepping stone for transforming a Super GT driver into a drift king.
Because in contrast to principles of ‘grip’ driving, being able to drift a low-powered car like the MX-5 indicates a developed level of skill. You’re forced to use momentum, timing, and judgement to greater effect. Which left me with the final thought that if you can drift the MX-5, you can probably can drift anything.
Hanging out the MX-5’s little bum
Spinning it. Many times
Almost linking a transition
Fuel this month: 7.68L/100km
Distance this month: 642km