Race, Shoot, Repeat: The Drive‘s Automotive Biathlon

A fast lady, a slow Mazda, and shotguns. Plenty of shotguns. 

byChris Cantle|
Racing photo

Jackie Stewart. Now there’s a fella. Not content to be a Formula 1 champ three times over, the Scotsman is also one hell of a hand with a shotgun, winning the British Welsh and Scottish skeet-shooting championships. He’s a hell of a thing, Jackie Stewart. His only failing, so far as we can determine, is that he hasn’t made a practice out of combining racing and shooting. And that’s what we set out to remedy in the parking lot of the Oak Tree Gun Club.

The Drive’s Automotive Biathlon is inspired by a hodgepodge of things. For instance, the real and peculiar sport of Olympic Biathlon, during which cross-country skiers flog their bodies over 12 miles of hard terrain. These exceptional athletes mix in the complex and very different physical demands of competition target shooting—right in the middle of the race! For every miss with the rifle, a biathlete is hit with a penalty lap around an oval track. Native to exotic frozen climes, almost impossibly demanding and weirdly militaristic, Olympic Biathlon seems like the perfect inflection point for us. Not that we don't love mixing vehicles with firearms

Instead of skiing, we do Autocross. Now there is a miracle of egalitarianism. A sport of skill and precision, practiced by serious amateurs largely in vast parking lots, always on weekends. Drivers weave through a maze of cones, risking tire and rim, and not much else. It is a sport of engineers and fiddlers, a ton of fun if you don’t have a proper race track and damned near impossible to spectate.

For that matter, so too is trap shooting. The domain of the dirtily mustachioed and tweed-bedecked (and, especially, Jackie Stewart), trap shooting demands a perfect connection from your fingertip to your brain. It’s as infuriating as bowling.

So inspired, we set up a cone course in the tight confines of the Oak Tree parking lot and a 12-gauge shotgun in a trap field. The rules are a simple amalgamation of the things that make autocross and biathlon and trap shooting tick: On the word go, drivers will mash the throttle and weave through the kidney shaped course, a quick combination of increasingly tight turns capped by a deceptive 180-degree uphill-to-downhill right-hander that could send sliding even the stickiest of Stewarts.

Returning to level ground, we bring the car screeching to a halt then scramble the 30 yards or so to the firing line. They’ll load a single round of bird shot, yell "Pull!" and, hopefully, blow the shit out of a clay pigeon. They’ll repeat the action five times, with each miss accruing a penalty lap around a tiny, drifty oval. Having spent five rounds successfully, the competitor returns to the car and finishes with a smoky-sideways lap of the kidney.

Fastest time’s the winner.

Still with us? For the first installment of the Automotive Biathlon, we present the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Our competitors are the woodsy and eagle-eyed editor of The Drive, Mike Guy, who faces off against talented and teenaged Spec Miata racer Natalie Fenaroli, who was by some miracle both game and available on a Monday afternoon. Will experience win out over fresh talent? Will Guy’s childhood pheasant hunting trump Fenaroli’s Scandinavian Flick? We’re determined to find out, and keeping things honest will be the world’s worst chronometer, The Drive's chief auto critic, Lawrence Ulrich.