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Aussies in fairytale MX-5 ice race debut
GoAuto man sets pole in Mazda MX-5 ice race but Aussies second to Russia
28 Feb 2011
GOAUTO contributor James Stanford claimed pole position by no less than six seconds for Mazda’s inaugural MX-5 Ice Race for journalists in Sweden last week, but that wasn’t enough for a crack Russian team to defeat Australia in the second of two races.
The left-field media event was held on a 4.9km track on the frozen Lake Kallsjon near the Norwegian border in central western Sweden, where temperatures plunged to -31 Celsius, and was contested by teams of six journalists racing identical MX-5s on studded tyres.
Some of the 20 teams appeared to stretch the definition of ‘journalist’, however, with ex-Formula One race winner Rene Arnaux competing alongside a national ice racing champion and several GT tarmac racers.
The Australian team (comprising Stanford, Unique Cars’ Nathan Ponchard, News Limited’s Mark Hinchliffe, Drive’s Toby Hagon, Carsales’ Mike Sinclair and Italy-based freelancer Michael Taylor) stunned the mainly European field by grabbing pole position on the opening day of competition after dominating the session.
Stanford set a fastest lap of 4:41.412 - a massive six seconds faster than the next best time set by a composite squad from Hungary, Slovenia and Turkey - while two other Australian drivers set times fast enough for a top three grid position.
The underrated Aussie team then pulled off a major upset by winning the first of two races, dominating the race before coming home with a 1:19 lead over Russia, with Belgium in third place.
It was a similar story early in the second of two races in the four-hour event, but the Russian team passed the Australian car during a lightning-quick pit stop in the mid-part of the race and pulled away.
The Australians fought back and there was contact when the final driver made a move to pass the Russian car, forcing the #21 Australian entry off the track. Trying to make up for the lost time, the Australian ran wide and was stranded in a snow bank.
The Russians went on to take the win, with Australia second and the consistent Belgian team third. Importantly, the Australian team did finish in front of the two squads from the UK, which ended up eighth and 15th.
Mazda Australia public relations manager and team coach, Steve Maciver, said he was happy with the effort, which also saw Stanford set the fastest lap in both two-hour race legs.
“To place second in such unfamiliar driving conditions is really an amazing effort. Coming in to the event we knew that we had some good drivers but weren’t sure how we’d go against the more experienced Northern Europeans,” he said.
“It was clear early on that we had the pace and I was delighted to see the Australian spirit come to the fore, allowing us to get the best out of the MX-5.”
Australia was the only non-European national team to compete in the novel Ice Race, which was hosted by Mazda Europe and saw only four teams finish on the lead lap, although Japanese Mazda designer Ikuo Maeda did don the helmet for a UK team.
Last year, Mazda Europe conducted a similar single-make MX-5 race on tarmac for 20 European teams at Adria, near Italy’s Venice.
Mazda, which recently celebrated a world record by producing its 900,000th MX-5, is expected to continue the convertible racing event in 2012, despite an estimated cost of $3 million for this year’s Total-sponsored race, in which all 20 cars finished – some with extensive battle scars.
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