I can't spell 'necessarily.' I know, I just did it correctly there. But more often than not, I write it with two Rs and one S. I've been doing this for years. I love spell-check. It makes sure I'll never have the word "necessarily" spelled incorrectly in my work, but it doesn't solve the root problem: I can't spell it myself.
A lot of modern performance cars have their own spell-check in the form of advanced traction and stability control systems. On a race track, these systems keep you safe—inarguably a good thing—though at the same time, they don't make you a better driver. They create an illusion of talent.
This is a problem for a track-day novice like me in the pursuit of improving my skills. Thankfully, among modern performance cars, there is an exception—the Mazda Miata.
When we went to last year to compare two fast Hondas at , we brought a 2017 MX-5 RF Club along because, well, we had it and why wouldn't we? Especially because the Miata in question was a Club model with a limited-slip differential and the optional BBS wheels and Brembo brakes.
The new Miata has traction and stability control, which keeps you out of serious trouble, but it's basic and not intended to mask your faults. There's no cutting spark to help you blend in power when you're acting dumb with your right foot. No clever system that measures wheel-slip and helps you hold a slide, when frankly, you deserve to spin. In the Miata, the systems are there to interrupt and correct stupidity, not to flatter you.
Which is perfect for the learner. There's just enough assistance to keep you out of trouble, but not so much that you'll gain an unearned sense of confidence.
This is also perfect for Lime Rock Park. Don't let its 1.5-mile length or mere seven turns fool you—this is a tricky circuit. Opened in 1957, Lime Rock is very much an old-school track, with glorious elevation changes and a lovely natural flow. But as our site director Travis Okulski once said "placing a wheel wrong doesn't lead to a mile of runoff, it leads to a barrier."
The Miata immediately shines. Mazda engineered a lot of compliance into the chassis, and it's quite helpful on track. It might look silly in pictures, but the roll gives you a real sense of what the car's doing. As a beginner, I'll take any information the car is willing to offer.
With a Miata at Lime Rock, 3rd and 4th gear will get you around most of the track, and you'll likely hit 5th just shy of the braking zone before Turn 1. Unless you're like me and you screw up Turn 7, killing all your momentum before you begin the next lap.
That's kind of the story with this car and track. Blowing an apex, coming in too hot and having to scrub off speed, or any other flub at a corner will ruin the rest of the lap. I actually think that's good. The Miata doesn't fix your mistakes with torque and speed—if you set a quick lap time with this car, you've earned it.
And let's get back to gearing, because that means we can talk about one of the greatest parts of the new Miata: the gearbox. It's truly world-class, with short throws and well-defined gates. This is all great for the novice because it means you can track a manual-transmission car with the confidence that you (probably) won't miss a shift. And while the Miata lacks the automatic rev-matching feature of a lot of modern performance cars, you don't need it and you're probably better off without it. Well-spaced pedals and a light flywheel make heel-and-toe a breeze, even if you're a bit of a klutz.
The upgraded brakes on this Miata were more than up to the task too, which isn't much of a surprise given the car's low weight. We had no issues after a day of multiple drivers lapping, though if it were my personal car, I'd probably upgrade pads and fluid. Just to be extra safe.
The Miata also stands out among other modern performance cars with its naturally aspirated engine. In foregoing turbocharging, the Miata doesn't have extra power and torque to compensate for a lack of talent, but you do have an engine with very predictable power delivery. In other words, your inputs match the car's outputs, with no turbochargers suddenly giving you more than what you asked for.
That day at Lime Rock, I could have lapped the Civic Type R or NSX we had on hand and been much quicker, but I probably wouldn't have learned much. The Type R would flatter with its huge torque, and the NSX's electric front axle would have atoned for my sins just as I was committing them.
The Miata makes you work for every bit of speed, without hanging you out to dry. And you'll have a blast doing it lap after lap, figuring out the quickest way around the track and feeling a sense of accomplishment when you finally get it right. Or in my case, almost right.
I left Lime Rock that day happy, but not with the inflated sense of self worth you get in a lot of performance cars. Those cars might help you set a quick laptime, but they're not going to teach you much. The Miata forces you to learn where to find speed, because it's not going to find it for you.
It's the same thing with spell-check. Life without it would be annoying. You'll make a lot of frustrating, time-consuming mistakes, but it'll force you to learn. And one day, you too might be able to spell "necessarily" with full confidence.
Special thanks to the for kindly granting us track time!