Duel

It’s a reasonably typical Monday, and this week I’m testing the 2016 Mazda Miata.  I’m already pretty happy with it; I miss my ’99 Miata something fierce and the new car provides an updated version of that seamless melding of driver and machine that drew me to the first one.  It’s not so much like driving the car as being the car, even on a dull-ish commute to work.

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There are no filters on this photo; my iPhone case is just artistically dusty.

There is the roundabout, though.  I pass through a roundabout intersection on the way to work (okay, to be honest it’s a slight detour) and figure it’ll be fun to loop the Miata through that at least.  As I stop at the last light before the roundabout, I’m first in line, which is great—no risk of a timid driver in front of me stopping instead of yielding.

That’s when I notice what’s behind me.

It’s a bright blue Subaru BR-Z, in gleaming metallic STi blue.  All I can see in the windshield are a pair of sunglasses and hands on the wheel.  Is that guy wearing driving gloves?  It doesn’t matter; he might as well be. The Miata and the BR-Z are natural enemies, queens of the small-nimble-and-cheap class, and there’s open road leading to a goddamn roundabout ahead of us.  There is a chance that it’s about to be on.

The light changes, and I accelerate with cautious vigor.  Don’t want to assume that it’s on when it’s not, of course.  That just makes you look like a huge tool.  But oh, no, behind me that BR-Z’s exhaust shouts waaaaaaaarp and I just put my foot down, or maybe the Miata does it all on its own because it is on, friends and neighbors, it is well and truly on. These cars might as well be fully-caged race builds with numbers on the sides and that roundabout might as well be Turn 8 at Road America. In this instant, the cars don’t know the difference.

The BR-Z’s got the edge in horsepower so he stays right on my tail, so close I can’t even see the Subaru badge on his nose.  It’s a short straight, perfect for this kind of stupidity because there’s not room to get up to more than five over the speed limit anyway, just a fast first-second-third row through the gears, but that doesn’t matter, I’m looking at the roundabout, gauging the velocity of the sleepy commuters bumbling through.  GMC Sierra’s just exiting it, there’s a Honda CR-V on the opposite side that’s not going to be a factor…and a Chrysler Pacifica coming in from the left.  I’ve got to time this just right, the Miata can loop this thing without touching the brakes.  I don’t want BR-Z guy to see me touch the brakes.

The entry is clear, the Pacifica’s almost dead in front of me.  Everything goes into bullet time, orange sunlight sparkling through the motes of dust hanging in the morning air.  I bang off a decent 3-2 rev-matched downshift as I enter the roundabout, the Miata’s engine letting out a cheerful yap.  As I start to bend the wheel into the turn, a quick right then left into the little carousel, the Chrysler does something weird, slows down for another vehicle on the far side of the ramp.  I tighten my turn a bit to avoid clipping its rear bumper, which spoils my entry.

The Miata apexes way too early and gets set up a little cockeyed, the rear end straining against physics as we come past the Pacifica and on into the heart of the roundabout, left front wheel perfectly on the curb, right rear crabbing out just a little bit.  I can almost feel the traction control getting ready to intervene, but it doesn’t, the car keeps its composure. It’s all right though, I got this. In bullet time, I can feel everything the car is doing, it’s nowhere close to getting out of shape.  I have time to notice a battered Focus coming to a stop in the entry that I’m passing, to notice the cars lined up at Tim Horton’s across the way, to notice the Cintas van coming in the opposite direction.  Just a lazy Monday morning commute flying sideways, nothing to see here.  Watch this, I’ll gather her right up.

In an instant we’re round the bend and straightening up to head out of the roundabout, just a jink of the wheel to the right to gather up the tail-out slide that the Miata is holding back and then I put my foot down, a quick power dump to the rear wheels to straighten the car out and power through the instability.  Bullet time ends:  we’re shooting out of the roundabout at the same speed we entered it, maybe a little faster.  Behind me, the BR-Z has dropped back two car lengths but he romps on it immediately as soon as he straightens out, starting to eat up the distance between us.  But that’s okay.  I drop back to the speed limit. The moment is over.  We both saw that gap open up.  He didn’t carry nearly enough speed into the roundabout, and the Miata has established dominance.

Today is a good day.