Mazda MX-5 Cup

Global racer touches down on local soil

by LOUIS CORDONY

ENGINE 1998cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v / POWER 118kW @ 6000rpm / TORQUE 200Nm @ 4600rpm / WEIGHT 955kg / 0-100KM/H 6.5sec (estimated) / PRICE US$59,000

STAR RATING 4.5

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DSSV dampers; hilariously fun

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Hard to get into; not overly fast in a straight line; err, canít register it RACK days are fun. But thereís one sure way to inject more thrills into the experience. And thatís to add competition.

This brings us to what Mazdaís dusted off for us at TAFE Wodongaís race track. Itís a Mazda MX-5, but a little different from our long-termer.

Itís lower, stiffer and lighter. It has numbers slapped on its sides and a monkey-cage approved by every race sanctioning body in the known universe, while peeking from behind its wheel guards are smooth sticky strips of race rubber. This, folks, is a race car.

Itís standard issue for American drivers looking to carve a name for themselves in Mazdaís onemake series known as the Global MX-5 Cup. But while itís called a Ďglobalí series, at the moment itís held entirely in the United States.

So Mazda Australia shipped a few here to sniff out interest in perhaps a local run of the game.

The Cup cars are native to the seriesí origin. An outfit known as Long Road Racing in Virginia takes a factory fresh ĎMiataí and bins the factory seats, strips it of all plastics except for the centre console and dash, plugs it with said roll-cage then swaps in an Alcantara racing wheel and AIM dash display.

Finding your way in seems like a commando exercise. You hang onto the top-bar and clear the cageís NASCAR-style door braces, while simultaneously keeping your head clear of the bars. Itís tight once inside and you wonít be able to put on a helmet until youíre settled in.

But Mazda counters this by leaving the seat choice up to you. Go for the lowest seat rails possible, we say.

But while the interiorís been T radically transformed, the Cup recipe isnít so hardcore elsewhere.

Outputs have barely changed, with the focus more on reliability and parity. There are more oil radiators, while all drivetrain parts and the race ECU are sealed. There is a full race exhaust system installed, but the biggest difference doesnít hit you in the back as much as it tickles your ears.

Once clear of the pits the car fills the air with a fizzing shrill, like itís trying on its best Cosworth BDA impersonation. The display lights up as the engine calls for the next gear, which is snatched easily enough with your right hand.

Downshifts on a left-hooker are the tricky part, but can be mastered with practice.

Itís not all that fast on the straight stuff, though. But then again, MX-5s never really have been. The biggest difference comes from whatís tucked underneath each wheel well. Multimatic DSSV dampers (yes, like the ones in the Ford GT supercar) banish body-roll but keep the carís famous balance. The brakes, Brembo units lifted from the American Club edition, arenít hugely powerful, but still have precise feel.

Meanwhile, those BF Goodrich slicks lift grip levels far beyond its grunt. Steering assistance has been wound back, too, which meters even higher levels of feedback through the tiller.

It all equates to the car feeling so tied down that you can stick it into corners with huge levels of confidence, knowing that more assertive inputs wonít end up in a tail-swapping spin like the road car.

Itís laugh-out-loud fun as it encourages you pick up the throttle earlier, brake later, and throw it into bends with more speed. By the first curve you forget a Golf GTI would pull away from it on the straight.

What soon dawns on you after a couple of laps is how much youíd like to try swapping paint with others. Say, 40 others. Thatís how large grids swell to in the States.

Racers will need US$59K (AU$79K) for the pleasure, thanks to the car being updated with new tweaks to further improve reliability. Thatís roughly equivalent to the Toyota 86 one-make cars we have here, but comes with the chance of a ticket to a factory drive at the end of it.

The 86 series has been off to a flying start in its debut season Down Under. And judging by a sample of Mazdaís racer, thereís no reason why a Global Cup visit Down Under wouldnít do the same. M

You can stick it into corners knowing that more assertive inputs wonít end up in a tail-swapping spin