After a one-year hiatus in 2016, the Mazda Adventure Rally returned in 2017 for a 4th edition, and, like the previous rally held in British Columbia in the fall of 2015, it took place on Canadian soil (the first two editions having been held in the United States).
The Mazda Adventure Rally brings together a merry band of automotive journalists from across the country to put the pedal to the medal for a few days, with the sole objective of raising funds for a good cause. Participating teams vie for a top prize $10,000, to be donated to a pre-chosen charitable organization; 2nd and 3rd place finishers get to donate $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.
Teaming up with fellow Auto123.com contributor Dan Heyman, I knew I had to be ready for this 4th edition of the rally, if only because in 2015, on the last day of the event, our team was fortunate enough to climb on the top step of the podium. Success brings pressure, of course, and it weighed heavily on our shoulders as we set out to repeat our achievement. Our goal? Hand over another handsome cheque to an organization that provides youth in need with professional consultation and information services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Here’s how another beautiful story featuring Mazda, a rollicking adventure and a noble cause unfolded…
Muskoka, a hidden jewel of a region
Mazda has habituated us over the years to some pretty exotic locations, which always helped make the long days of driving that much more enjoyable. From the breathtaking vistas of Colorado and Utah and the sinuous roads of Tennessee to British Columbia’s forested routes, the rally always offers something for everyone.
For the 2017 Mazda Adventure Rally, the manufacturer chose a central location, not far from its administrative HQ in Toronto: the Muskoka region. While this area is deservedly renowned for its beautiful scenery, it wasn’t clear whether its roads would be up to the expectations of the driving enthusiasts taking part in the rally. At it happens we were in for a very pleasant surprise!
The formidable 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF
Mazda, a company whose trademark has been vehicles that are fun to drive, made sure once again that the rally that bears its name would be played out behind the wheel of some oh-so-driveable cars. We learned, just minutes before the beginning of the hostilities (!), that our weapon for the next three days would be the 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF, a retractable-hardtop version of the popular roadster.
The extra cash required to own this souped-up model buys, among other things, a fold-down roof that, once tucked away, transforms the car into a targa-style sports car. The added weight on the rear axle gives the traction an extra edge, while the new adjustments to the rear suspension contribute to enhancing its road handling.
Rest assured, under the sporty shell there still lurks that same mischievous formula for delivering some pretty delinquent driving on a sinewy road!
Experience is no guarantee of success
The beauty of the Mazda rally is that every edition has its particularities, the challenges of each being unique to the region chosen. Even with Dan’s and my experience in this fundraising event, there was nothing to guarantee us a return trip to the podium. We had to be ready for anything, the majority of the other teams being new to this little adventure.
Day one: a good start
With the rally starting just steps from the Queen City’s main airport, the first stage entailed a run northward on the area’s monotonous highways. Fortunately, the search for visual elements demanded of us helped keep us alert. As we racked up the kilometres, we observed that the Mazda MX-5 RF is actually quieter than we would have expected, thanks in part to the hardtop that proves a superior sound barrier to the regular MX-5’s soft top.
Once into the Muskoka region, local roads allowed the sport coupe to show more of its true colours. Riding over uneven surfaces and a mix of sand, ice and gravel, our car was soon covered in a coat of dust. This aesthetic detail notwithstanding, the expressions on the faces of participants during the lunchtime break said it all: this adventure was to provide virtually immeasurable fun!
After a first day shortened by the late start to the rally, our team stood at the top of the standings with a score of 18.5 out of a possible 20. A good start for us!
Day two: staying within the rules
Our confidence renewed by our first day’s results, we set out all smiles for the second day of driving. The roof pulled back, and sporting tuques, gloves and winter coats (and with the heated seats doing their thing!) we continued on with our excellent adventure. After a first portion that was relatively straightforward with few specific tasks required of us, we encountered a second section that necessitated a different approach to the drive. We were given two objectives: obtain the best fuel economy possible and cover a very precise total distance, with each result being recorded by the car’s onboard computer.
We put into practice every one of the rules of fuel-efficient driving possible for this stage. The vent was only active when we needed it, the heated seats were turned off and the roof was closed to ensure optimal aerodynamics. Of course, on every descent the gear box had to be virtually at a standstill in order to save every bit of fuel we could. In the end we managed an average fuel consumption of 5.2L/100 km/h – not bad, but not as good as the top teams’ 4.8L/100 km.
At the end of the day, the team behind us at the end of the previous day had managed to inch ahead of us, and we stopped for the night sitting in second spot.
Day three: a costly error
As the sun rose on day three, temperatures in the environs had dropped considerably, making the road conditions that much more arduous. On certain legs, black ice became a factor we had to consider. At least the winter tires fitted on the car were not proving unnecessary after all.
Unfortunately for our team and for the Kids Help Phone foundation, a delay getting to the first checkpoint cost us 5 points. That we had to make do without a GPS did not help. As fewer points were up for grabs on this last day of the rally, the penalty proved too large a deficit to overcome. We gave up on any ideas of attaining the podium and soldiered on for the sake of pride.
In the end, the Auto1234.com team finished in 5th place, but not before the rankings tightened up over the last few stages; the final standings saw only 2 points separate the 2nd from the 7th positions.
Rally organizers were quick to confirm that competition had never been closer in any edition of the event. We know we’ll have to redouble our efforts if we’re invited back to participate in this distance rally behind the wheel of a Mazda, and fine-tune our strategies so that we can provide these noble causes with the helping hand they deserve.