DRIVEN: MAZDA MX-5 GT4
It's now got wings, a turbo and genuine GT4 pretensions - and you can buy it too
With more luck than judgement I manage to keep the wheels from locking up and though it doesn't show much enthusiasm to do so the nose just - just - turns in enough for me to miss those ominous red kerbs.
A close shave
There's the smallest opportunity to catch breath, let out a little sigh of relief, and then it's out of the chicane and a bwaaa-THUNK-bwaaaa-THUNK-bwaaaaaa-THUNK up the pit straight towards Redgate.
I last drove it and feels a whole lot more serious than before. But it's undergone a very serious development programme, not least the addition of proper aero, a turbo and additional 50hp or so over the normally-aspirated version that competed last year. It's also now on sale as a customer car - yours for £125,000 plus VAT and a proven performer in British GT with podium finishes in GT4 at Snetterton and Brands to its name. As it would have to be if Jota expects people to lay down that kind of money on an MX-5 rather than an Aston Vantage GT4, Lotus Evora G4 or Ginetta G50.
Out on track I'm just glad to be under way properly, my first lap being perhaps the slowest ever circulation of Donington after my failure to locate the pitlane speed limiter button (yellow, with a 'P' next to it as it turns out...) sees me trundle a full lap at what feels like walking pace, fouling the plugs in the process. Not the best start.
Know your limits
No, there we go again, those angry looking red kerbs once again licking their lips in anticipation of a chomp at the MX-5's carbon splitter. Once again they're denied, just. Sort it out Trent!
Like a 'real' MX-5, the race car's true talents aren't explosive speed but more about carrying it and using it well in the corners. OK, the pace has increased by a significant margin. And maybe it's the new turbocharged engine's more linear power delivery because that swell of revs and induction howl from the previous normally aspirated engine has been replaced with a savage monotone roar, punctuated by explosive pops with each tug of the dinky carbon shift paddles. But the acceleration doesn't strike you quite as much as the speed you can carry into and through the corners.
Get on it
And again I'm not decisive enough with my turn-in, conscious of Mildenhall's warning to avoid even these more conventional rumble strip kerbs so as to avoid pad knock-off. It's a totally different mindset to the knockabout fun we've been having in the road and production cars - you need to drive this car with a racer's focus and accuracy.
And then I'm flagged in as my time is up. "How was it?" asks Mildenhall's teammate Mark Ticehurst. "Brilliant, it was all coming together and I was really getting comfortable!" I gush. "Why do you think we're only giving you four laps," he grins. Ah.
Can an MX-5 really cut it as a viable GT4 car though? Hignett reckons yes, a bit more rubber on the ground among the upgrades on the way. Yes, a Ginetta will get you to the front of the grid for a lot less money, an Aston appeals to well-funded gentleman drivers and the Evora looks fabulous. Getting more serious has removed some of the MX-5 GT's underdog charm and puts a bit more pressure on a need to score some wins. But it's still an MX-5 at heart and to see it even with a shout in such company warms the heart.
MAZDA MX-5 GT4
Engine: 1,999cc 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed pneumatically actuated Hewland sequential,rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 320@7,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@6,200rpm
Top speed: N/A
Weight: 1,000kg (plus driver)
Price: £125,000 + VAT