There can be no doubt about it, the MX-5 is the most iconic car that Mazda has ever created. For 25 years it has been a popular part of our streetscapes. Testimony to its iconic status outside of the brand is the fact that the latest MX-5 has just won World Car of the Year. Mazda has decided to thank their fans and customers by offering some “money can’t buy” experiences through their Friends of MX-5 programme.
So, what is Friends of MX-5? Well, I’ve travelled to Barcelona to find out. You’re welcome. Friends of MX-5 is open to MX-5 owners, MX-5 clubs, and wait for it… MX-5 enthusiasts, which means that effectively anyone can become a Friend of MX-5. I would best describe this friendship as a kind of rewards scheme for some part – and a competition for the other part (but I’ll get back to that).
Let’s start with the rewards. For example, Mazda are sponsors of Tomorrowland in Belgium. They offer free tickets to some lucky friends when the concerts come up. Earlier this month they brought some “friends” over to the New York International Auto Show – just because they were the lucky “friends” for this particular trip. So what does a friend have to do in this instance? Well, they just have to be a “friend” and hope that they get picked out of the hat.
Okay, now here’s the competition part, and this is going to be uber-exciting for both Mazda fans and gamers. How would you like to race at the Mazda Laguna Seca race track in the USA? If you’re a potential gaming King or Queen, then check out iRacing. Mazda has teamed up with iRacing and they are inviting everyone to sign up for a very special Mazda experience. At the moment there are about 60,000 iRacing enthusiasts in Europe. If you start iRacing you can enter into a special Friends of MX-5 cup. If you excel at this, you might soon get a chance to actually enter into real races in Laguna Seca. The winner of the Friends of MX-5 iRacing challenge will compete in an actual real world race in Europe – Mazda European MX-5 Cup championship. Three people will make it to this race and the winner of the three will get to drive the MX-5 global race car at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, California.
The winner of the European heat will be trained to a professional level and will receive a professional, international racing licence – which means that some lucky punters will actually go from being gamers to professional race drivers over the next short while.
There are of course other things about being a “friend” of Mazda’s MX-5. If you’re a really good “friend”, you get to take part in what I did today. Racing around tracks, learning precision driving and more.
Friends of MX-5 will also get a chance to enter into Q and A sessions with designers and more who are associated with the MX-5 and Mazda in general. In the video above, I speak to Nobuhiro Yamamoto, Program Manager of the fourth generation Mazda MX-5. This guy was also one of the people responsible for the 787B winning 24 hours of Le Mans back in 1991, when Mazda became the first Japanese Manufacturer to ever win the race. No Japanese manufacturer has won this since. Oh, I also got to go for a track drive with Johnny Herbert – the guy who drove the 787B and won.
During my interview, I asked Nobuhiro Yamamoto what his favourite generation of MX-5 was – excluding the fourth generation. His favourite is… generation 3. I also asked if work had begun yet on the design of generation five and he hinted that the next generation design process might begin during 2017. Of course, we don’t believe him. The next generation is probably already built and ready to go for 2025!
So, where’s the catch? Well, there’s none really. This is all free. Of course, to enter the iRacing competition with Mazda, you must be over 18 and hold a full licence. It will be difficult for newcomers to iRacing to win this time around, but we’ve been informed that this will become an inaugural event and will be back for every year, which means, if you start racing this year, you might actually be in with a punt next year.
Personally, I would love to see an Irish person Compete and do well in this. The video above shows a little more of the MX-5 racing cars doing their thing.