Autosport tries out the 750MC's Ma7da Championship

Thrown in at the deep end, Autosport tried to get to grips with the Ma7da Championship - one of the 750 Motor Club's newest and fastest-growing series. Here's what we discovered about a competitive but friendly category

Autosport tries out the 750MC's Ma7da Championship

We’ve all been there at one time or another, eagerly waiting for a set of traffic lights to change. Revs rising, finding the biting point of the clutch before trying to limit wheelspin and not stall, while for a fleeting second or two – in our minds at least – we’re racing drivers trying to get the jump on our ‘rivals’.

Those same actions are racing through this writer’s head while sitting on the starting grid, looking up in anticipation for the five red lights to come on and then disappear for my inaugural standing start, having only driven the car I’m in for the first time earlier that morning.

The race in question is the Silverstone round of the 750 Motor Club’s Ma7da Championship, while the car is a proven race-winning machine in the hands of regular driver Ben Powney, with Autosport given the chance to get behind the wheel while he performed best-man duties.

Created in 2019, when it began life sharing grids alongside the Sport Specials, the category was granted championship status in 2021 and is growing from strength to strength. A total of 28 drivers took part in at least one meeting last season, with a high of 22 for Brands Hatch, while 24 have already competed this year. One round remains, at Snetterton in October.

An off-shoot of the popular Locost Championship, the Ma7da cars are predominantly an upgrade, with a larger engine – a 1.8-litre VVT Mazda MX-5 – and Yokohama tyres offering much more grip.

“Bearing in mind we’ve been interrupted by COVID-19 as well, it’s been a solid start,” says Powney, who finished runner-up in Ma7da last year and previously raced Locost and F1000s.

“Whenever you roll out a new championship it always takes a little bit of time to get going, and this one seems to have hit the ground running and it looks like it’s only going to get better as well.”

Autosport's Stefan Mackley got a taste of the 750 Motor Club’s Ma7da Championship

Autosport's Stefan Mackley got a taste of the 750 Motor Club’s Ma7da Championship

Photo by: Steve Jones

I’m welcomed into Team Sellars Racing by owner Stuart Sellars, a mainstay of the 750MC having run cars in Locost, F1000 and Ma7da, while regular drivers Jonathan Lisseter, Eddie Mawer and Simon Cort are on hand throughout to offer me pointers and advice. Watching onboards from their Friday testing, one thing that’s surprisingly noticeable is how much the car understeers through high-speed corners. Not something I expected of a rear-wheel-drive car that in my mind at least would be on the verge of spinning every time the throttle is applied…

It’s a busy schedule, with scrutineering, qualifying, a drivers’ briefing and two 15-minute races taking place in the space of a day, and all while trying to get my head around a completely new car. Helped by having at least driven the Silverstone International layout previously, I soon get used to the low cockpit position and the strange sensation of having a lot more car in front of me than usual. The car in general feels responsive and controllable, with the rear generally planted as I try to gain more confidence through the high-speed bends, the flat-out left of Farm proving the most daunting as the car pushes wide.

My deficit of 6.62 seconds to pole, while pretty sobering, is pleasing enough, having spent all of 10 laps in the car. The run isn’t without incident, though, as the engine drops to three cylinders at one point, and I find that the brake and throttle pedals are too close together, meaning I’m catching both under braking, which is rectified ahead of the opening race.

My deficit of 6.62 seconds to pole, while pretty sobering, is pleasing enough, having spent all of 10 laps in the car

I’m not the only driver making my debut in the championship. Stephen Manley is competing in his first-ever car race, having bought a Locost chassis in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown and spent the last two years converting it to Ma7da specification.

“Some of the success was just getting it ready for this weekend,” says the AlphaTauri Formula 1 aerodynamic model designer, who for 20 years has worked for teams including Jaguar, Red Bull, Honda, Lotus and Marussia. “I thought if I don’t do it now [go racing], I won’t ever do it.”

Like many in the championship, Manley has been attracted by its generally affordable budget – in the region of £10,000 for a new car or less if home-built – ease of acquiring spare parts and the relative simplicity of maintaining and running his own car.

“I liked the idea of the engine being standard and you’re not spending all your time tuning it,” he adds, “and if anything did go wrong you’re not spending loads to fix it.”

With just 10 laps of practice behind him, our writer took part in two races around the Silverstone International layout

With just 10 laps of practice behind him, our writer took part in two races around the Silverstone International layout

Photo by: Steve Jones

Apart from 10 laps at Donington Park for a shakedown, Manley, like me, is in at the deep end and he quickly becomes my direct rival, albeit at the back of the field. Having actually got a decent launch at the start, I lose time on the opening lap due to a missed gearchange down Hangar Straight, but I slowly reel Manley in before running wide at Abbey and losing all rhythm.

Manley suffers from a misfire in the closing laps and again I close the gap, but any chance of beating him is dashed due to an ECU issue – related to not changing up from third quite soon enough – heading onto the final lap, which robs me of nearly all power. Still, my best lap time has improved by nearly 2.1s, placing me only 4.54s off the fastest lap.

While success might be proving elusive on the track, without doubt the most pleasant aspect of the event is the warm welcome among both TSR and the championship as a whole.

“We try to work really hard on the friendliness of the paddock,” says Powney, a driver representative for the championship. “When there’s a new driver, I try and get a handful of people to go over and introduce themselves, because that first race is terrifying for most people.”

Also very apparent looking at the results is just how competitive the championship is, with series rookie Mawer claiming his maiden win in race one, and Lisseter cementing his points lead in race two with victory – but only after race-long battles with less than 2s covering the top four on both occasions.

Having avoided a collision at the start that necessitates a safety car, my race two is a lonely one, with Manley having retired with a repeat of his misfire, while I’m left disappointed after my best lap is again some 6.33s off.

A check of the car weeks later reveals a lack of power in fourth gear, which accounts for some of the time loss, but there’s no denying the calibre at the front.

But, more importantly, my experience in the paddock showcases an affordable, accessible and friendly championship, which is the lifeblood of UK motorsport.

“These cars will always generate close racing,” adds Powney. “Once I had decided I wanted to move on from Locost, I looked at all sorts. It was trying to find something that was quicker and harder to drive, but still had that element of really close racing. I’ve not seen anything else in club racing that’s as close as the Ma7das.”

Taking a look under the bonnet of the 1.8-litre VVT Mazda MX-5

Taking a look under the bonnet of the 1.8-litre VVT Mazda MX-5

Photo by: Steve Jones

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