Mazda MX-5 Cup Review

Track days are fun. But there’s one sure way to inject more thrills into the experience. And that’s to add competition.

This brings us to what Mazda’s dusted off for us at TAFE Wodonga’s race track. It’s a Mazda MX-5, but a little different from our long-termer.

It’s 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.

It’s standard issue for American drivers looking to carve a name for themselves in Mazda’s one-make series known as the Global MX-5 Cup. But while it’s called a ‘global’ series, at the moment it’s 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 series’ origin. An outfit known as Long Road Racing in Virginia takes a factory fresh ‘Miata’ 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 cage’s NASCAR-style door braces, while simultaneously keeping your head clear of the bars. It’s tight once inside and you won’t be able to put on a helmet until you’re 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 interior’s been radically transformed, the Cup recipe isn’t 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 doesn’t 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 it’s 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.

It’s not all that fast on the straight stuff, though. But then again, MX-5s never really have been. The biggest difference comes from what’s tucked underneath each wheel well. Multimatic DSSV dampers (yes, like the ones in the Ford GT supercar) banish body-roll but keep the car’s famous balance. The brakes, Brembo units lifted from the American Club edition, aren’t 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 won’t end up in a tail-swapping spin like the road car.

It’s 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 you’d like to try swapping paint with others. Say, 40 others. That’s 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. That’s 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 Mazda’s racer, there’s no reason why a Global Cup visit Down Under wouldn’t do the same.

Read our Mazda MX-5 long term review

Engine: 1998cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v
Power: 118kW
Torque: 200Nm @ 4600rpm
Weight: 955kg
0-100km/h: 6.5sec (estimated)
Price: US $59,000
Star Rating: 4.5/5
LIKE: DSSV dampers; hilariously fun
DISLIKE: Hard to get into; not overly fast in a straight line; err, can’t register it

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