2016 Mazda MX-5 Cup Car Review

Rating: 9.0
$18,040 $21,450 Dealer
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The Mazda MX-5 Cup car is the first full-blown MX-5 race car built from the ground-up, although it isn't prepped by Mazda but by Long Road Racing in the United States. For now, it's only produced in left-hand drive, though RHD versions may well follow.
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Okay, so this is not quite Mazda’s latest generation MX-5 – it’s actually the all-new MX-5 Cup Car, which means it’s a full-blown, left-hand-drive race car complete with racing slicks, FIA approved roll cage and a raft of other race-spec componentry.

The extra kit is to ensure this car is race ready for this weekend’s first ever Global MX-5 Cup Invitational race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California.

Not only is the Mazda MX-5 the best-selling sports car of all time, it’s also the most road-raced production car in the world. Every weekend, thousands of racers from all around the globe line on grids ready to compete in some of the closest racing on the planet.

One such series is the 2016 Global MX-5 Cup Series in the United States, which features the latest fourth-generation MX-5. Unlike previous generations, the new ND series car is the first racer offered as a fully commissioned turnkey race car, which ensures all the cars are as close to identical as possible, thus bringing driver ability to the forefront.

It’s also cheap. Initial orders were being accepted for a ready-to-race price of US$53,000 (around $69,000) as an introductory offer, though the price has now risen to $55,000. That’s still relatively inexpensive for a brand new racing car, particularly when you factor in the build process.

The MX-5 Cup Car was jointly developed by Mazda Motorsports and Long Road Racing in Statesville, North Carolina. The LRR team did countless hours of testing and evaluating a whole range of key racing components before coming up with a final spec that includes grooved rotors by Brembo, Pagid brake pads, coil over two-way adjustable dampers, race springs, limited-slip differential with Setrab cooler and thermo controller and lightweight forged aluminium 17-inch x 7.5-inch wheels by Rays Wheels.

While the race car borrows the same 2.0-litre Skyactive-G four-cylinder engine from the road car (though this time it’s sealed), it’s a special tune for the race-specification ECU by General Engine Management Systems in the UK. The engine is also mated to the stock six-speed manual transmission, but with pump and cooler from Setrab Oil Coolers.

There’s also a stainless steel race exhaust header and full exhaust system with muffler designed and manufactured by Kooks Headers and Exhaust. The Cross brace upper strut bar is designed and built by Long Road Racing.

Engine cooling is courtesy of an oil cooler and a large racing spec radiator, designed to withstand multiple drafting opportunities throughout the race. Differential and transmission cooling are managed via separate pumps and coolers, controlled by the AiM data system.

Inside, there’s a single racing seat of the driver’s choice, AiM Data system, and a customised Max Papis Innovations steering wheel complete with Mazda logo and chassis number. Electrical power comes from a lightweight Lithium Ion battery pack mounted in the boot.

The spec tyre for the series (dry) is a US manufactured BFGoodrich g-Force slick 215/610R17 race tyre designed specifically for the new MX-5 race car. The wet version, also supplied by BFGoodrich is a g-Force P2G 20/61-17 bespoke competition tyre.

In addition to the roll cage, safety is well catered for with full NASCAR style door bars on both sides, including door cut outs. There’s also an FIA approved racing harness, along with left and right window nets with arm restraints and a Lifeline electronic FIA approved fire extinguisher system.

CarAdvice is one of only two media outlets lucky enough to be racing at this weekend’s global invitational, but with no previous time in the car and very few laps of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca under our belt, it was imperative that we got behind the wheel before jetting off to California this week for the race weekend.

Victoria’s tight and technical Winton Raceway provided the venue for what was to prove an invaluable opportunity to at least get to know the car we would be soon be racing at the circuit in Monterey, renowned for its ‘corkscrew’.

If you think it’s easy to climb into the cockpit with your helmet and HANS neck restraint device, think again. It’s simply impossible – I tried and failed. You can leave the HANS on, but even then, you’ll be wishing like crazy that you had joined the light and easy program, such is the degree of difficulty.

Lower yourself into the ‘winged’ racing pew, and only then will you be able to don your helmet, but not before you buckle up all five points of the racing harness. Don’t forget those arm restraints either, as well as the securing the HANS device, but only after you roll your head forward and lever squeeze on your helmet, slip on the gloves and click the steering wheel onto the steering column.

If that all sounds difficult, I can assure you, it truly is.

Despite the race-spec cockpit, it’s all still quite similar to the MX-5 road car. You’ll still need to flip the ignition switch, but to start the car you simply hit the starter button just like the road-going version.

The set-up for the car for our shakedown at Winton was initially straight out of the box, though PPE (Performance Parts Engineering) – the local race engineering group were fine tuning the rear suspension throughout the day’s testing, which also allowed us to find the optimum track setting, at least for Winton.

Right from the outset, it’s much louder, thanks to the race-spec exhaust header and unique muffler system. That’s especially so, once you’re on track and milking the revs in each and every gear ratio.

It’s also beautifully responsive to throttle inputs, much more so than the road car. While we don’t yet have the official performance data from the Meathead Racing team that we’ll be running with in the US, there might be some small gains from the ECU tune and exhaust system.

The steering, too, is wonderfully light and super direct – again, significantly sharper than the production car. That means less work and effort from the driver, which should prove hugely beneficial during the two 45 minute races at Mazda Raceway.

Agility, a hallmark of the MX-5 road car, is further enhanced in the Cup Car, with pin-point accuracy on turn-in and plenty of driver confidence when pushing through some of the more technical corners at Winton. It reminds me of the first-generation ‘NA’ series, which gave new meaning to the modern sports car with its nimble behaviour and ability to change direction with cat-like speed and precision.

The car’s balance through corners is superb, and the BFGoodrich slicks provide uncanny levels of grip to boot – I only wish I’d pushed harder through the faster-flowing bends, because the car is just a joy to drive when you’re pushing.

Stopping power is as good as it gets, thanks to an upgrade to the optional Brembo brake package available in the United States. Along with the grooved rotors and Pagid brake pads, the Cup car gets stainless braided and shielded brake lines. Long Road Racing also fits brake cooling ducts and Castrol supplies SRF brake fluid.

It’s hard not to rave about Mazda’s latest MX-5 Cup Car, given how fantastic this car feels behind the wheel. It can carry good speed through corners, has loads of mechanical grip, is beautifully agile and pulls up with the kind of sure-footedness to get in and out of corners in with plenty of confidence.

Qualifying is next Friday, with racing on Saturday and Sunday. CarAdvice will provide live stream links to the races – so stay tuned.