The fog of phwoar

Tackling the tarmac while the rest of the world sleeps

GLENN BUTLER

MY FIRST thought as I shake off the fog of sleep is to slap the alarm and stay in bed.

What kind of idiot rises voluntarily at 5.30 on a wintry Sunday morning? Instead, I swing quickly out of bed, knowing that to pause is to fail. Don some clothes, slam down an espresso, grab the Mazda key and go. Six minutes since the alarm; a new personal record. Out the door and intoÖ Itís blacker than black. Darker than 5.36am on a winter morning should be.

The MX-5 is the barest hint of a silhouette in my driveway. The night is still and thereís a fog so thick that the lone street lamp outside my house struggles to penetrate.

Also, itís wet. Am I mad? If itís foggy and wet at sea level, what are the Dandenongs going to be like? At least itís not raining. Anyway, Iím here now.

Slide in, then lean out to close the door.

I canít reach the handle without my head hitting the roof rail, so the windowís leading edge is my regular Ďdoor-pullí. Is this a design flaw in the car? Didnít think my arms were abnormally short.

Key placed in the rubber-lined cubby ahead of the gearshift Ė not exactly secure, but effective Ė engine thumbed to life. The two-litre doesnít have a great singing voice.

Not at idle, not at revs, not ever. But it moves the MX-5 with vigour, and the almost deserted streets quickly take us to Healesville.

Somewhere along the way, and for reasons best known to meteorologists, the fog leaves off. Perhaps it prefers leafy bayside suburbs to rolling hills. The wet road shines in headlights that make mossy patches look like supersmooth hotmix. Treachery by deception?

Weirdly, the conditions make the drive. The grip is tenuous and the MX-5ís speed is far from electrifying, but the combination has my eyes on stalks, my nerves on high alert. I sensefeel every little shimmy and slip, and respond before each becomes a problem.

Itís an intense collaboration. It feels like Iím hardwired into the tyre tread, front row at each combustion cycle, hand-holding the brakes, feeding the steering rack. Itís a slow-speed, lowgrip, sensory immersion in a world that ceases at the edge of the headlight beam.

It becomes a challenge. How long can I keep the MX-5 just over the edge of adhesion and yet still below the ESC threshold? Itís a game drivers play on racetracks around the world every weekend, often without ESC ready to assist. The fastest lap is when a car is straddling the limit all the time. On this drive, the speed limit is never in danger, and the MX-5 autoís missing LSD tempers the pendulum somewhat. But that, and the slower pace, give my mortal reactions a chance, and itís still an addictive game of degrees and centimetres.

Another lap, then another. On our third trip round the mountain, the sun crests the horizon and shatters the dream like my alarm had two hours earlier. Time to return home. Another hour later, Iím at a cafť, still energised, smiling quietly, watching the rest of the world in bleary-eyed pursuit of bacon and eggs.

Sundays are like that. But some Sundays are better than others, if you can just get up a little earlier. d

Sales soar, then time flies

The life of a test car is never pretty. This MX-5 has spent more than its fair share of time in the Tullamarine long-term car park as its Ďownerí ventured beyond borders and over waters. Itís most recent sojourn on Level 3, Section G was while I was in Japan for an Infiniti conference. I was surprised how few MX-5s I saw on Tokyoís roads, though Mazda claims 826 of these COTYwinning soft-tops are sold there each month. Australiaís running rate is about 120 a month, though it falls away as the car ages.

OurGarage

MAZDA MX-5 2.0 ROADSTER GT

Date acquired: May 2016 Price as tested: $41,710 This month: 1004km @ 7.6L/100km Overall: 2120km @ 7.9L/100km DP T O

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