7 November 2010

Back to Snetterton

New Merlot driver, Andrew, gives us his report on a fun day.

"Yet another great day out for the Merlot at Snetterton on 7 November with Robbie (driving and shepherding us newcomers), Martin and Jon all attending. After sign on, safety briefing, sighting laps and noise testing, both Graham and I were let loose for the morning session, mainly run on a damp but drying track. As I got used to the car, conditions, track ,wearing a helmet and being strapped in tightly, the Merlot fun factor soon kicked in and my laps flew by.

After lunch the track really started to dry out and several driver/passenger pairs strapped in to the pocket rocket to mix it up with a whole host of machinery ranging from Caterhams to an Aston Martin DB9, as well as Mk1 ,2 and 3 MX-5’s. Although outgunned on the straights, the Merlot more than held its own in MX-5 country ,the corners. After 3 we all swapped over quickly to get as many laps in as possible.The chequered flag came out all too soon at 4.00pm, one more lap and the Merlot magic finished for another day.

Despite being out on track for around 5 hours, Merlot didn’t miss a beat all day. Then, unlike the cars on trailers, Robbie loaded all his tools up and drove Merlot home. Thanks to Robbie for making her bulletproof, safe and so much fun for us track newbies throughout the day. Also fo rall the time he, Martin and Jon put in to keep the car going. I had a great value fun day out and highly recommend it to any Eastern Region member wondering what track days are all about. I’d do it all again tomorrow."

Andy M.

29 October 2010

Rockingham with Mazda on Track

Project Merlot's third visit to Rockingham Motor Speedway was on 29th October. The event was organised by Mazda on Track in association with Rockingham Cars. With the car sporting decals for its new sponsor MX5Parts, Robbie and Jon took to the International Long circuit.

The new-to-the team circuit configuration brought fresh challenges to enjoy; having two extra tight hairpin bends and a fantastic chicane after the turn in off the banked section meant there was a great mix of fast and slow corners.

After seeing "sparks" emitting from the right hand front wheel under heavy braking, the pad wear was closely monitored during the morning session. Just after lunch the cheap after-market front pads had nearly worn down to the back plates (apparently wearing out about 6mm of pad material) so a used set of pads was fitted to finish the day. The EBC Redstuff pads and Turbogroove discs kindly supplied by MX5Parts will be fitted next.

Jon said: "It was one of the best track days we had ever been on, with good etiquette on track, no incidents, we were driving well and the Merlot was behaving itself while holding its own against much faster cars."

But the clear highlight of the day for both drivers was spending time with Rob Boston, who took to the driver's seat of Project Merlot to give Robbie and Jon a taste of what the car can do when in the capable hands of Ma5da Racing's 2010 MX-5 Champion.

Robbie said: "Without needing time to become accustomed to the car, Rob was turning in off the banked section of the circuit in 4th gear at speeds in excess of 90mph, a turn that at 60mph I thought was very good going."

Jon said: "Rob was constantly making corrections on the steering wheel but the car was absolutely as smooth as can be. I said to Rob afterwards that I couldn't believe how much he constantly corrected the steering to get the right lines, while the car was always in control. He said that was the key to achieving speed- being smooth yet committed.

"In Rob's hands, we were convinced we had the quickest car on the circuit which was borne out by the fact that the local dealership had brought along two race cars (a Fiat 500 and a Mazda MX-5 Mk3 which had recently been entered in the Britcar 24-hour race) and both were being driven by former British Touring Car drivers to give people fast passenger rides. Yet when I wet out with Rob we were going so quickly that when we came up behind the race MX-5 Rob had to back off to give them space to accelerate away. Then we caught them up again and overtook them in our basically standard road car! It's obvious to me now that you don't need to spend thousands adapting your car to be quick. You're better off spending your money on driver tuition to become a better driver."

Rob said: "The car was fantastic, just lacking a limited slip diff - and the rear view mirror kept dropping down." After hearing what Project Merlot was all about, he said it was a 'brilliant idea'.
The Project Merlot team agree with the limited slip diff observation, but say but the mirror issue was just due to Rob using every kerb on the circuit!

Rob and Robbie.

17 October 2010

We are very pleased to announce......

The boys with the Merlot are very pleased to announce that Footman James have confirmed their continued support for the Project in to 2011. Footman James have provided insurance cover for the car since the Project’s inception offering as they do specialist MX-5 insurance and discounts to MX-5 Owners Club members.

We are also thrilled to announce our new association with the UK’s foremost supplier of MX-5 parts, the one and only MX5parts.co.uk. Their aim is to bring you the very best parts and accessories for the MX-5 and Eunos Roadster, at the most competitive prices and with the very best customer service.
Its only with such generous help from all the sponsors, supporters, the drivers and the passengers, that all get involved, that we are able to carry on our mission. So a huge THANK YOU to you all.

In the next few months Project Merlot will be on track at the following:

Mazda on Track and Rockingham Cars Customer Track Day on 29 October.
Click for more info.

Track day at Snetterton with Focused Events, 7 November.
Click for more info.

(STC) Track Day at Brands Hatch with Mazda on Track, 3 December .
Click for more info.

1 October 2010

Read all about it in Soft Top Hardtop.

The October edition of the MX-5 Owners Club magazine, Soft Top Hardtop will once again feature Project Merlot in a look back over the last four years. The original project team of Jon, Robbie and Martin give their thoughts on the past and on the future.

"One of the more recent
highlights for me has to be
going out on a track day
with my son Daniel driving.
I certainly never expected
that when we first started
on the project. And when
he managed to lose control
and spin the car on a
bend, it was quite a proud
moment for me!"

“At it’s first public appearance at the
2006 national rally in Lincolnshire, it looked fantastic and drew a great crowd. I loved driving it at Cadwell, which is my favourite circuit to
date. It was quite bizarre when a stranger in a petrol station after the event, recognised us.
He said ‘that’s the car that’s in the magazine it really does exist.’ Thinking about it, everything which we’ve done with it has been a highlight!”

22 September 2010

Project Merlot on TV!

Ma5da Racing from Rockingham on 30 August, as reported earlier, featured a parade lap of the circuit of 60 MX-5 Owners Club cars, including Project Merlot, and now the coverage has made it to the small screen on the Motors TV channel. If you missed it then watch out for repeats or try the online version available via the Ma5da Racing website, click the "ma5da racing web tv" link.

19 September 2010

MX-5 Owners Club National Rally Chatsworth

It was rather damp Sunday at Chatsworth house in Derbyshire for the MX-5 Owners Club 16th National Rally. But spirits were not dampened and its estimated that over 1000 MX-5s were in attendance.

Project Merlot was once again the subject of Owners Club Technical Consultant Robbie Marsh's presentation when he demonstrated diagnostic fault code procedures to many interested Club members.
This was Project Merlot's 5th MX-5 Owners Club National Rally, having first been unveiled to the world at the 2006 National Rally in Lincolnshire.

12 September 2010

Pro Mer at JAE with the ER.

Project Merlot spent the weekend of 10 - 12 September at Wicksteed Park, Kettering, for the Japanese Auto Extravaganza 2010.
JAE a festival of all things Japanese and car related.
MX-5 Owners Club Eastern Region members, following an absence of 2 years, were back at JAE for one of the best car club gatherings in the UK.

1 September 2010

The most famous MX-5 in the UK?

Project Merlot is a 1995 Mk1 owned by three MX-5 Owners Club members Jon Elsey, Martin Curtis and Robbie Marsh. The limited edition was saved from the scrapheap back in 2006.

The dead engine and blocked radiator were replaced in Robbie’s garage and the surplus parts were stripped and sold off at an Owners Club national rally and via the internet. Before long the car was 10% lighter and still road legal.

When it was raring to go, an open invitation was offered to all Eastern Region members to sign up as drivers for track days. Thanks to generous donations from sponsors Project Merlot has been able to introduce many beginners to the excitement of MX-5 motorsport. Project Merlot enables people to take a Mk1 MX-5 for a spin without risking their own pride and joy whether as a driver or passenger.

Thanks to extensive media coverage Project Merlot is possibly the most famous MX-5 in the UK and you can catch up with the racy roadster's latest news here on this very blog.

In August 2011 Project Merlot "merlot" was replaced with Project Merlot "black" a Eunos Roadster. The story continues.......

Project Merlot, now on Facebook!

30 August 2010

Project Merlot at Rockingham

Project Merlot alongside 60 other MX-5s from the MX-5 Owners Club, plus MX-5 race cars from Ma5da Racing took to the Rockingham circuit for a parade lap on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday.

Video courtesy of Chris, Cambridge Area Training.

mx-5, rockingham from chris g on Vimeo.

26 June 2010

Woodbridge Airfield 26 June 2010

With sun shine all day and plenty of other MX-5s on the track The Merlot took to to Suffolk Airfield track for the first time this year. We got a new track layout with some extra twisty bits that challenged the Merlot's drivers to get around them!

Jon E, Robbie M and Martin C took to the wheel with new boy Daniel C who in his first outing in the Merlot managed to spin it out on his second lap on one of the aforementioned corners.. ! woops!

Thanks to Javelin Track Days once again for making the old Woodbridge Airfield site in to the brilliant venue it has now become. And to Chris from Catrain.co.uk for continued support, for the video below and for lending us a crash hat....

260610-2 from chris g on Vimeo.

24 March 2010

Temporary Repair

It was back in September 2006 when the engine was being changed that the rusty power steering fluid return pipe was noticed. There was no way that a small problem like that was going to stop Team Merlot getting the car up and running, on schedule that weekend. With no replacement pipe to hand, emergency measures were called for so using the spare parts available at the time, the rusty part of the pipe was cut out and a short length of rubber hose fitted in its place. This was meant to be a temporary repair...

42 months later and the rubber pipe was still in situ and holding out well, long forgoten about. March 21st and the hose finally decides to let go, spewing PAS fluid all over the exhaust and engine.

Back in the garage the hose was removed, expecting to be in shreads but only a small cut in the pipe was found, although the hose was well swollen and clearly on borrowed time! It looks like is was a coolant pipe in a former life so did well to last as long as it did.

A new pipe has been fitted in place of the failed one, a propper metal pipe? No. That would cost money, money a lo-cost project like this doesn't have! A piece of power steering hose from a Ford Focus has been used that was destained for the skip... A temporary repair you understand!

20 March 2010

Snetterton with Javelin 21 March 10

Back on track at last and Team Merlot and the Eastern Region realise what they have been missing since the Merlot’s last track event at Mallory Park last year.

Jon, Robbie and Martin, the guys who keep it all going, were joined by MX-5 Owners Club Eastern Region members Chris Gage and Chris Woodger on a Javelin trackday at the Norfolk cicuit. Chris Gage also represented car sponsor Cambridge Area Training who are continuing their support for Project Merlot into 2010. Chris Woodger, long time MX-5 fan and Club member is also now know as Car 82 in the Ma5da Racing series. This was Chris W’s first time in the Merlot and it gave him an opportunity to compare the cars ability with his own race car (it came out quite well I think) and give Chris some much needed experience of the Snetterton circuit, new to Chris, but where he will be racing on 24, 25 April.

The day’s sunny start didn’t last long and intermittent light showers throughout the day gave the drivers the chance to try out their wet weather driving techniques as well, although overall the track stayed pretty dry.

It looked very much like “game over” early in the afternoon session when smoke was seen to come from the car which then limped home to the pits. After a few minutes of fear and trepidation Robbie got to the bottom of the problem. A split power steering pipe, and loss of all the fluid were the cause of the smoke. With his usual no nonsense flair 5 minutes later Robbie had it sorted and the car was back on the road, minus its power steering system, but otherwise none the worse.

Several Eastern Region members took advantage of the chance for a high speed passenger ride around the Snetterton Circuit. Ian Johnson had come along with 3 generations of the family and the Merlot had its oldest passenger so far when Chris W took Ian’s 83 year old father, for what was described afterwards, as a “very, very” fast ride!

Its now three and a half years since Project Merlot made its first appearance at the MX-5 Owners Club National Rally in Lincolnshire shortly followed by its first track day at Donnington Park. In that time it’s given many Owners Club members a unique opportunity to get behind the wheel, not worry about those speed limits and learn what an MX-5 is really capable of. Its seen many more members, don a crash hat, get strapped into the passenger seat, and be given the chance to see and feel first hand what its like to be on track, on the limit!

19 March 2010

CAT go forward with Project Merlot into 2010

2010 is the third year that CA Training Ltd. have helped sponsor Project Merlot, the MX-5 track day car operated by MX-5 Eastern region members Jon, Martin and Robbie. As ever the mission statement at Project Merlot is unchanged, to provide hands on experience backed up by experienced drivers.

During 2009 I was lucky enough to experience one of Project Merlot's track days at Woodbridge. With the aid of drives with all three of the team I soon appreciated how valuable their experience was.

Yesterday I attended the first Project Merlot event of 2010 at Snetterton. As ever the car was well turned out and when a minor mechanical hiccup threatened the afternoon, the teams experience was on hand to ensure the Project Merlot car was back on track in minutes.

CATraining wishes everyone involved in the project an extremely busy 2010 and we hope to be able to report back on another action packed season at the end of the year.

Chris Gage Cambridge Area Training Ltd..

11 February 2010

Starts on the Button

After standing, untouched since the MX-5 Owners Club's National Rally in September and through a very cold winter Project Merlot started on the button with not even a Jump start boosting its small AGM type battery! The alternator appeared to be seized, a fact pointed out by a loud squeal and smoke being emitted from a slipping drive belt. But giving the pulley a spin with a spanner seemed to free it off. I am thinking it may have been the massive charge load on the alternator casuing the belt to slip rather that a mechanical seizure... although the alternator was stationary with the belt spinning around it! I took the car into the Workshops at EMG Motor Group in Cambridge for a quick once over ready for the new season ahead.

Other than usual service items, I have decided to change 2 of the metal brake pipes which have rusted. The one that runs from the front to the back of the car is rusted where it passes though the plastic retaining clips. The clips tend to scratch the protective coating off the pipe exposing the metal which promotes the corrosion. The 2nd pipe is the one that runs from the right to the left side of the car accross the rear subframe. I think that this pipe is subjected to rusting due to its relatively exposed, lateral location accross the car.