On any given weekend, at SCCA events across the country, you'll find more Mazdas racing than every other manufacturer combined. After driving the latest version of the company’s Global MX-5 Cup car, we can see why. Most race cars are scary when you get strapped into the driver’s seat: You can barely move, and there are a couple thousand buttons and switches on the dash. Comparatively, the MX-5 Cup is simple. The suede racing wheel twists on, the seat is fixed, and there are only handful of switches in your field of vision to worry about. In the hands of professional drivers like Mazda’s IMSA team, on hand at M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan, before the IndyCar Dual in Detroit to take us on hot laps, it’s positively awesome.
The $59,000 turnkey race car doesn’t look or feel intimidating — unless, of course, you’re in the passenger seat with an expert hot shoe behind the wheel. In that case, it’s both scary and intimidating, especially when you’re flat-out, inches away from an identical car dead in front, closing one eye when the brake lights flicker at the end of a long straight.
“You guys choreographed this, right,” I asked Tristan Nunez, Mazda’s IMSA prototype driver after the thrill ride.
“Nah, we were just messing around!” said Nunez.
If that’s what one of these cars feels like “just messing around,” then we’re in, all the way.
Mazda builds a car for nearly every type of racer. The company has two ladder systems, one that leads to IndyCar and one that leads to IMSA/prototype racing. Get in on the ground floor in one of these MX-5 Cup cars and Mazda will pay much of your way to the top. At M1, the company brought out its Indy Lights car, its IMSA prototype, the Cup car (used in its Global MX-5 Cup one-make series) and every one of its street cars. We could take any of them, besides the Indy Lights and the IMSA car, for laps on the 1.5-mile track.
“How many manufacturers would let you take their entire fleet on the track?” asked Mazda rep Tom McDonald. Hard to argue with that.
Long Road Racing joined us at the track to keep an eye on its creations. North Carolina-based LRR builds every MX-5 Cup car, as well as the Long Road Racing street Miata, which features many of the Cup parts in a streetable package. It couldn’t keep up with the Cup cars, but it still looked two steps ahead of the standard MX-5.
Eventually it was my turn behind the wheel of the stickered-up Mazda and, as mentioned, it didn’t disappoint. This is an all-out race car, remember, meaning a welded roll cage, shelled seats, window nets and racing tires.
The first thing you notice is the steering. It’s quick — really quick — but also light to the touch. This is for two reasons: One, if you’re in a race for two hours, or six or 12, you don’t want a super weighty steering wheel around every turn. Two, pro drivers use their guts and butts to know when a car is going to get loose. They don’t need steering wheel feel like us amateurs.
So, light steering, but a lot more communicative than expected because of the BFGoodrich race tires. And, as someone who spends a lot of time at the track on street tires, I realize I should have made that upgrade years ago. The slick tires sing a tune near the limit, which is easy to hear, and as you adjust the wheel, the sound changes noticeably. There’s a particular sound when the car is about to come around; once you listen for that, everything just falls into place. The laps were lead-follow, so I didn’t get to go too fast, but the control was perception shattering. Imagine a car that weighs less than a Miata and handles five times better. You’d want one for the street, you’d want one for the track — you’d just want one.
And Long Road Racing can provide. It's sold about 140 Global MX-5 Cup examples so far, 50 of which went in the first 24 hours. Additionally, Mazda sold 3,000 kits for other Spec Miatas, too. That package turns your personal MX-5 into a formidable race car. And if neither of those strikes your fancy, go out to an SCCA race this weekend — you’re sure to see a few other Mazdas in the heat of battle. With the right tires, the small Mazda 3 can hold its own; the RX-7 and RX-8 have plenty of laps under their belt, the Mazda 6 handles like a sports car and the CX-3 isn’t a bore to drive either.
Mazda knows racing, and thankfully, the company is happy to share.