1 December 2007
25 November 2007
More photos here
16 September 2007
SATURDAY 15 September saw the Merlot head to Woodbridge Airfield for another Javlin Track day. Two new track day drivers, Chris Gage and Gary Smith joined Ken Ward and Katie Pyle driving on the Suffolk track.
The day got off to a very bad start when the exhaust system failed completely on the way to the venue. A quick trip to the nearest Exhaust Centre and half an hour later it was welded back together. Thanks go to Hadleigh Tyres and Exhausts of Woodbridge Road Ipswich for the invaluable assistance.
After a successful day on the track the Merlot headed west in convoy with several other Eastern Region 5s to the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon ready for the MX-5 Owners Club National Rally on the Sunday.
The Merlot featured on the Owners Club Motor Sport stand on the Sunday where it was conveniently located immediately adjacent to the AON Insurance stand and was joined by several other club motor sport cars including the Phoenix 5s racer.
29 August 2007
Project Merlot returned to the track on 29 August with a visit to the Cadwell Park circuit in Lincolnshire for another day organised by Javelin Trackdays.
Full report to follow, but check out the video here;
Merlot at Cadwell.
Photo copyright: Extreme Sports Photography
26 August 2007
But on this occasion the speeds were somewhat less then the car is used to when on a track. The car was taking part in a parade lap with nearly 30 other MX-5s from the Owners Club who were invited onto the track by MaX5 Racing who were in action that day.
Check out the video of the Merlot on track, thanks to Chris Gage.
25 August 2007
At extremely short notice the Merlot was squeezed into a spare time slot with Wheels Inmotion for a full geometry check and adjustment. After discussing with Tony our requirements for the little "racer" he proceeded to dial in the desired amount of caster, camber & toe-in ensuring the car would be predictable and controllable for any ability of driver who maybe behind the wheel.
4 August 2007
PROJECT Merlot along with 40 other cars from the MX-5 Owners Club Eastern Region and local Mazda Dealer Underwoods of Colchester was on show at the Helmingham Festival of Classic and Sports Cars. The annual event held in the ground of the stately home near Ipswich attracts hundreds of classic and sports cars every year.
22 July 2007
PROJECT Merlot took pride of place on the MX-5 Owners Club stand at JAE 07. The Japanese Auto Extravaganza is the biggest gathering of Japanese car clubs every year in the UK and features every japanese enthusiasts car imaginable, from the cute Suzuki Cappuccino to the mighty Nissan Skyline.
This was the first time the car had been seen out in public proudly carrying the name of AON car insurance who are now supporting the project.
Aon Car Insurance
The Merlot also toured the showground and put in an appearance on the Sunday at the MX-5 Nutz stand.
21 July 2007
The world's number one display driver has become a star after wowing audiences of programmes like Fifth Gear and Top Gear and proving to be the skills behind numerous car stunt TV commercials.
He also holds three Guinness world records - including parallel parking in the tightest space (just 33cm longer than a car) and the fastest do-nuts (10 complete revolutions in under 15 seconds).
The celebrity precision driver took a moment out of his spectacular show at the 2007 Japanese Automobile Extravaganza at Peterborough to check out Project Merlot and chat to the team. Russ said: "My background is in grassroots motorsport. I used to do autotesting and I've seen with projects just like this, how you can start at the bottom and work your way up."
After hearing the car had been rescued from a scrap yard fate for just £50, and rebuilt on a shoestring budget, Russ said: "This is right after my own heart this is.
"I love to see it. These days motorsport is so much about money - it's such a big factor in most forms of the sport. I like to see people compete, or just have a go. If they win it's a bonus!"
Obviously enthused by the project he chatted about the modifications made to the car and recommended the team consider fitting a limited slip differential to help cornering while on the track. So taken was he by the little roadster that with a mischievous glint in his eye he asked what the handbrake was like. Maybe Russ was angling for a quick spin... Literally!
7 July 2007
For the most part the day was dry but a couple of short showers livened up the track again.
Project Merlot had some very welcome company on the day with the second appearance of Ian and Tula Wards new Roadster track tool together with track day regular Brian Hoskins in his SE Gleneagles.
Woodbridge is very much our home ground now and we hope to be back soon.
Thanks again to Javelin for their faultless organisation.
More photos here.
1 July 2007
16 June 2007
The weather was not quite so kind as on the previous outing to Woodbridge with a couple of heavy showers but fears that the rain would spoil the fun were completely unnecessary as the extra wet track was even more exciting to drive with the lower levels of grip!
And to top off the day the car and drivers spent some time on the shorter handing circuit really putting the car through its paces and learning the difference between over steer and under steer.
The Merlot was joined on track by 5 other MX-5s on this occasion with Eastern Region regular track day fans Ken Ward and Brian Hoskins putting their own cars through their paces.
The day also saw the first track outing for Ian Ward’s track day MK1 which he had been working on in secret for the last few months.
The line up of 5s was completed by Eastern Region member Ben Edwards in his red MK1 and a “special guest” appearance on the handling circuit by David aka “Captain Muppet” in his matt back MK1 which he is currently competing with in the 2007 Eurodrift Pro-Am Championship.
Thanks to Javelin for another brilliant day at Woodbridge. We will be back soon.
For more info on the Eurodrift Pro-Am Championship follow this link;
Click here for photos.
2 June 2007
The MX-5 Owners Club hold a non competitive fun day at Curborough every year on which the sun always seems to shine.
Full report to follow but check out the action here;
Team Merlot at Curborough the Movie.
20 May 2007
In its new livery the car was a last minute entry in the MX-5 Owners Club Spring Rally Hot 5 competition. The car drew loads of attention from club members and the general public at the event held at Beamish Museum in County Durham. Several people were heard to say on first sight such things as “hey, that’s the car form the club magazine we have been reading about”, proving that the cars fame is spreading.
Following the voting by club members the Merlot was declared the winner and co-owner Robbie Marsh was presented with a trophy. It was a proud day for Team Merlot and all those involved.
5 May 2007
Martin Curtis and I arrived at Woodbridge at 8:30am after an “it’s going to be one of those days” journey to the venue. After me locking the keys in the boot at the filling station (Martin had his spare), overflowing the tank and loosing a good few quids worth of petrol on the floor, Martin having to drive back home to get some polish then when we did arrive at the gates of the Airfield the Marshall had Mrs Curtis’s name on the driver list, a recurring theme at track days now! We carried out the usual routine of removing number plates & items from the boot, setting the tyre pressures, checking the levels and giving the car a quick shine up. At 9:30 we were called to sign on and attend the driver briefing. Now accompanied by fellow drivers for the day Ken Ward (Track day veteran) & Neil Barber (Track day virgin), we listened, shivering to the very specific instruction given out by the Javelin Track Days owner and the head Marshall (who must have the neatest facial hair in the northern hemisphere). At 10:00am the first group of 15 cars went out to do 3 sighting laps of the circuit followed about 6 minutes later by the second group of 15 cars which included Project Merlot. After the sighting lap I was a little unsure about how the rest of the day was going to pan out. Unlike proper race circuits the “track” on an airfield day is marked out using cones. This can get quite confusing as from a distance a lot of cones look, just like a lot of cones so working out which ones to drive between or round while traveling at speed takes more thinking about than “just keeping on the black stuff”. Also an airfield has less than perfect “road” surfaces. Changing between tarmac & concrete and having to ride over tracks in the ground that military style gates run on! Being marked out by cones (and hay bales on some corners) also meant that drivers didn’t have the luxury of being able to clip the kerbs.
Roll back to the Sunday before the airfield day and you would see the Merlot on axle stands with Jamie Tink and various other Eastern Region members mucking in to fit a set of Super Pro poly bushes(supplied by Performance 5) and front strut brace (supplied by Dandycars) at one of their bi annual Tech Days. With logistics arranged that would make a formula 1 team look amateurish the Merlot Motorsport team and a fast car managed to collect the car from Woolpit, put in an appearance and participate in the monthly meet drive from Ipswich to Bury St. Edmunds, get it to EMG Cambridge for a wheel alignment then end up at Woodbridge to put its new suspension components to the test.
After warming the tyres up and tweaking the rear suspension damping rate after the first 2 sessions on the track the car set up was perfect for the conditions. Javelin had marked out a varied circuit with straights, tight 90 degree left and right hand bends, chicanes, sweeping bends and a fantastic “loop” that you could power round with great satisfaction. This was without a doubt Martins favorite part of the circuit, commenting on how well the car holds on around this part of the circuit and how he was determined to evoke a bit of controlled over steer. It was on Martins final session that I would be genuinely concerned about the safety of the car. OK, the loop area was a big expanse of concrete but it was surrounded by (also concrete) walls!
I was first in the driving seat for the day and drove a steady 15 minutes getting a feel for the circuit and the car with its new suspension set up. As the tyres warmed up I was getting more and more confident but still being cautious around this uneven circuit. Ken was next out and there is photographic evidence of the left hand front wheel leaving the ground at some point during his run. Obviously, as usual our very own Mr. Ward was pushing it to the limit! Next out was Neil. Three members of Neil’s family were present at Woodbridge but they all seemed reluctant to take a passenger ride so I jumped in. (maybe I was nervous about letting the Merlot out of my sight – who says we’re getting to precious with it?). After his session Neil returned to the paddock having thoroughly enjoyed himself and I was heard to be telling his family members how smooth his driving was I thought he drove very well, if I didn’t know any better I would have said he’d been out on a track before. Martin clearly enjoyed his session judging by the amount of tyre squeal. This was an aspect of the day that Martin warmed to. He said “I feel out of place squealing the tyres too much on a proper circuit. At an airfield it seems to be more about enjoying the car than getting in super fast lap times.” Up until lunch time the car and drivers had behaved. The only concern being a noise developing from the RHF wheel which a brake strip-down over lunch seemed to cure. On my second session I was clearly getting more confident in the car and the circuit, with Katie as passenger on the first left hander of my 5th lap I went into the corner too fast, lifted off through fear of understeer taking me straight on in to a hay bale and consequently induced oversteer. I managed to recover the slide & made a quick apology to Katie who said “No need to apologies, that was great can we do it again?” It was Ken’s turn. Had Katie known what tricks he had up his sleeve she would have paid to have taken a passenger ride with him this time. While being closely followed in the Merlot by a faster and more expensive Porsche Ken, maybe in sympathy for me took the first right hand corner too fast again forcing the car in to an oversteer situation. First the rear slid to the left impressively spinning 2 traffic cones video game style across the track, then after Kens counter steering efforts the car spun across the full width of the track and through 360 degrees causing the Porsche driver to brake hard and maybe, just maybe soil his pants!
So the first track day wounds were etched into the paintwork of Project Merlot, small scraps on the left side from Ken’s encounter with the cones. Despite Martins determination to drift the car round the concrete loop on the last session of the day, a task he was unable to accomplish due to the “perfect handling of the car.” The rest of the event passed by with no more lasting memories other than those on camera and those great ones in the minds of the attendees.
See Project Merlot in action at Woodbridge here
Image © Xtreme Sports Photography
I found it a very different experience than driving on a proper racing circuit, but still loved it, a brilliant day out. Thanks to Javelin Trackdays who organise the event at Woodbridge, which I can highly recommend if you fancy some track action.
A full report to follow
28 April 2007
The morning saw Jon dashing to Ilford to visit our latest sponsors Dandycars.com. Its great to have the support of someone else so enthusiastic about Project Merlot.
Martin's morning got of to a hectic start (selling a Fiat!) followed by a dash to EMG Cambridge with Jon to meet up with Robbie and pick up the Merlot for the start of the weekends work.
How can you get lost going to Woolpit? (Well we did!) The plan for the afternoon was to get a head start on The Eastern Region Tech planned for Sunday at which the Merlot was to get its new suspension bushes fitted (donated by Performance 5). The first set of bushes were easy and we began to wonder why another well know Mazda track car team found it so hard! When we got stuck into the second set from a rear lower wishbone we found out how hard it can be! We only broke the one 150mm heavy duty G cramp but the end result of an afternoon work planned to get one side of the car complete saw us get just half of 1 wheel done.
Nevermind, there is always tomorrow and with lots of help from the guys at the Tech day and fortified by lots of sausage rolls we will no doubt succeed (fingers crossed!).
12 April 2007
The Woodbridge Airfield is fairly new to the track day scene but the events there so far, organised by Javelin Trackdays, have proved a big success.
For more information on Woodbridge and the 5 May event check out Javelins website at;
Javelin are big MX-5 fans themselves with their very own "MX Experience" which gives people the chance to hire track prepared MX-5s and put one of the greastest sportscars through their paces.
11 April 2007
April has also seen some further sponsorship developments. Team Merlot are now pleased to have Performance5, the top UK MX-5 performance specialist, as a main sponsor. http://www.performance5.co.uk/.
This month has also seen a further appearance in the national media with a photo of the car on the track at Donnington Park and a write up in the news section of the May issue of Classic and Sports Car. This is the second time the Merlot has appeared in C & SC having been spotted in a write up on the MX-5 Owners Club 2006 National rally in Lincolnshire where the car made its first public appearance back in September.
The bad news for April was the discovery by Robbie of the terrible state of the brakes after the Snetterton track day in March. Robbie described the front brake pads as having “melted”, with “globules of molten metal” having “scored the discs” and “the rear brake pad material having come completely away from their back plates”. All sounded a bit technical to me, I just used the brakes to slow down a bit before the corners, as you do!
10 March 2007
View the Snetterton movie here;
Merlot The Movie
And for the Snetterton photos;
The full story - Snetterton Saturday 10 March 2007
A crowd of more than 20 Eastern Region spectators watched as three new drivers took up the challenge to get behind the wheel of Project Merlot.
The novice track day at Snetterton on Saturday, March 10, showcased just what the club's budget-build racer was designed to be - a unique opportunity for members to have more fun.
Steve Hider, Tony Brown and Ian Ward signed up to be on the driver list, alongside track day veteran Martin Curtis.
The car's other owners Robbie Marsh and Jon Elsey were also on hand to ensure that everyone's adventures in the lightweight Mazda went as smoothly as possible.
There were tense faces and a few quiet moments after the 8.30am safety briefing, then Martin handed over the keys to the three who had never driven on a track before.
First were a couple of siting laps for drivers to familiarise themselves with the two-mile track, first to climb into the snug driver's seat was a nervous Ian. He returned 15 minutes later with a big grin on his face, and reported that he found the chicane quite confusing the first time. He said: "I'd been round as a passenger with Jon before so that helped. To be actually driving was good, very good."
He added: "I think there's a lot more speed left in Project Merlot - I haven't used it all... yet!"
He had contended with all sorts of other cars from Porsches and a Maserati, to Caterhams and a custom-built yellow peril with a highly-tuned bike engine.
As a bright green 2CV raced past the pits, Steve laughed: "I'm just happy there's something like that on the track - it gives me more of a chance!"
After his first laps, his verdict was: "Absolutely brilliant, I loved it. Now I can't wait to buy my own car for the track."
As a paramedic, Tony is trained in advanced driving techniques but he said: "I usually drive defensively so this is certainly different."
Following his first laps watched by his son, Tony admitted: "I was a bit nervous. I realised you feel very small with all these bigger cars around you, so I found that a bit disconcerting. But it was really good, I can't wait to go out again."
After his next drive his smile spread even bigger as he said: "My verdict is fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!"
Passengers got great value for their £10 Snetterton fee, with many opportunities to ride with the various drivers.
Mandy Huggins first accompanied Steve, and he said: "I could hear she was enjoying it so I decided to go a bit faster! Unfortunately every time we caught up with someone they turned into the pits, so I didn't get to overtake much!"
Mandy said: "For the first lap my foot kept trying to brake, then I told myself 'Just relax Mandy' and then I was so relaxed I was rolling around all over the place!"
Kendra Dixon was sitting alongside Tony when the Merlot suffered it's only spin of the day - a full 360 degrees with the car behind following suit.
"The spin wasn't worrying," she said. "But the Porsche spinning and drifting towards us was quite scary. I was wondering how we were going to explain a Porsche-shaped dent in the Merlot to Martin, Jon and Robbie."
Fortunately, the feared impact never occurred and racy roadster was straight back on the track.
Tony suggested his spin could have been due to a twitchiness caused by Robbie and Jon stiffening the suspension during the lunch break.
Technical guru Robbie, who kept the car running all day, said: "If someone smashes it nobody will be upset - but we will take the mickey out of them forever, from now on."
Robbie who had also adjusted the engine's timing to try and eek a bit more power added: "It's quite relaxing for me to stay in the garage and not drive, I'm really enjoying today"
Ken Ward and Kevin Allen both took the opportunity to drive their own cars on the track again. By the afternoon session 33 cars were participating, close to the circuit's maximum of 38.
"It's really busy out there today," said Ken. "but it's good fun."
Jon said: "Today summed up what the original idea was all about.
"It was great to see Merlot being used as it was always intended and I hope that Ian, Tony and Steve got as much fun out of their day as I know Martin, Rob and I have in the past."
During its time on track Project Merlot notched up 294 miles using £90 worth of petrol - that's roughly 14mpg, perhaps we ought to approach Shell for sponsorship!
Watch this space to see when the Merlot's next outing will be - and contact Martin if you want to apply for a drive.
merlotmotorsport @ mx5easternregion.co.uk
28 February 2007
3 February 2007
27 January 2007
FIGHTING to keep Project Merlot on the racing line was the primary challenge for Eastern Region members during their second track day.
Patches of ice and standing water still covered the famous Snetterton circuit at 8.30am, so track action was delayed by an hour until the surface was deemed safe.
A crowd of ER supporters lined the pit wall, as the Merlot plus three other club MX-5s made the most of the opportunity to drive unlimited laps - with plenty of thrills and just one spill.
Jon Elsey’s 360-degree spin carved deep into the grass at the first corner. He said: “It was on my second lap in very damp conditions and I watched in my mirror – and through the windscreen! – as the Fiesta behind spun in sympathy at the same time.
“Helpfully, the marshal then waved a flag to warn of the slippery stretch!”
Jon’s only regret was that his video camera had stopped running, and missed capturing the moment.
Eastern Region coordinator Martin Curtis, and Robbie Marsh were also to take their turn at the wheel of Project Merlot.
Motorsport nut Ken Ward dared to drive his own MX-5, as did Norfolk’s Kevin Allen with his new racing wheels and tyres on his local track.
Everyone listened to a safety briefing, along with the drivers of the 34 other cars which covered a huge range from a professionally-built racing Renault Clio to an ex-police Vauxhall Omega, with a handful of Lotus Elises thrown in for good measure.
As the track day was a novice event, a few words of tuition were given before drivers were allowed to get behind the wheel. Cones and signs were placed around the track, showing where to brake and turn for each corner. These aids helped the drivers gradually gain in confidence, as they negotiated Snetterton’s two chicanes, sweeping corners and long fast straights.
As the track dried out and the surface conditions changed, Robbie adjusted the softness of the suspension. Jon said: “At one point, the car was suffering from a nasty twitch when braking hard at the end of the long fast straights, and Robbie’s adjustments brought back stability.”
Martin’s driving went well despite the fact he was having a bad day – Mrs Sharon Curtis could have driven as Martin brought her license by mistake, and officials wouldn’t believe his cross dressing fetish!
After a quick call to the DVLA to confirm his identity, he was allowed on to the track. He later missed not one, not two but three waved red flags ordering a return to the pit lane because of an incident.
The evidence is on tape Martin! This followed him getting a black flag at Donington Park last year on Merlot’s first outing.
When he eventually pulled in after an extra lap, and saw the official striding towards him, Martin said: “You’re going to tell me off, aren’t you?”
Many other ER members enjoyed the thrill of the day and took the chance to participate. Passengers Ady Neill, Steve Alleyne, Jamie Tink, Ian Ward, Kendra Dixon and Tracey Sparling put their lives in the drivers’ hands, and climbed in to the game little car to see what it was capable of. Any members who wanted to experience Project Merlot on our region’s local track, could obtain a passenger wristband and jump in.
Katie Pyle was a passenger in speed demon Ken’s car, and Kendra even talked officials in to giving her a fast ride in the safety car.
The three Merlot drivers clocked up 190 miles
Jon said: “This time the car behaved impeccably, unlike me! And stood up to all we threw at it.”
Just to add to Martin’s trying day, when the time to leave came, he discovered his car battery was flat. Even this setback failed to dampen members’ spirits as everyone gave him a push start.
Martin said: “Today has been a real success. It’s what we set out to achieve from the outset with everyone getting a chance to take part. We think novice events like this give scope to run up to four drivers in future. If you want to drive next time, come and see me – and form an orderly queue!”
Thanks to Tracey and Jon for the words and photos.