Do you know these people? I have met them now, and came back with some interesting quotes.
Mazda of Europe got some strange ideas to get closer to present and perspective MX-5 owners, a program which they call “Friends of MX-5". Don’t need to go into this deeper here, as this doesn’t concern you American folks, however, the press launch featured a drive in the brand new, ND-gen Miata Global Cup car, and wonderful interviews and discussions.
Johnny Herbert for instance turned out to be a fun guy to talk to, who at one point tried to show us the difference between the 787b and the prototypes of today by imitating their engine noises through the Porsche curves at Le Mans. Sounds like a joke, but you know what? He pulled it off, we really felt what he meant.
We also got to talk to Chad Boyd, the engineer behind the Miata Cup Car, and Tom Long, the works driver helping development. Both Americans, and both fascinating sources of insight. Chad told us that the ND is built with much stronger elements, than the NC, meaning they could leave more as-is, when creating the race car. Two examples are the factory option Brembo brakes, that only needed a cooling duct and aggressive pads to turn race-ready, and the wheel bearings, that became much stronger for this generation, and also easier to replace, if they would fail. Engine, gearbox and diff’ are all sealed factory items in the cup car, only additions are a written ECU that doesn’t include the ESP system, and racing-spec exhaust. There are of course coil-overs and racing stabilizers in the suspension, and the cup car gets special wheels and tires. Tom told us, that building the car starts with disassembly, as they get fully finished Miatas from Hiroshima. The first batch included 50 cars, so now they have 50 soft tops, 50 complete exhaust systems and 50 pair of seats they don’t know what to do with. On the plus side, the new wheels fit the NA and NB generations perfectly, so they already sold most of those to owners of older Miatas....
Tom also told us, that when owners of the previous cup car first tried the new one, they returned underwhelmed, as this is a softer-sprung, less tail-happy vehicle. However, it also turned out to be 2 sec quicker around a 2-minute race track, thanks not least to the higher torque of the Skyactive engine. So they already sold ~90, with 50 built, and roughly 45 of those will compete in the US spec race series. Price is around $55.000 American, if you’re interested.
We got two laps in the new cup car around the lesser-known Castellolí track, that’s nestled among the mountains, not far from Barcelona. Incidentally I have been there before, to drive the GT86, but that doesn’t mean I remembered anything much about the layout. Whatever, we weren’t racing, and the cup cars we drove were pre-production examples still using the factory ECU, and therefore having the ESP on. Not that I wanted a car featuring slick tires to step out on me in the fast, 3rd gear bends of this delightful track, so no problems with that, and I got to tell you, I loved every second of the drive. We also got a passenger ride with Mr. Herbert, who of course braked harder than I did, but who also might have had the ESP off, because my butts told me the car is slipping-dancing on all four wheels in the fast corners - a sign of a balanced chassis. Lovely.
But now over to Yamamoto-san, the gentleman on the left of the lead picture, who is the current Miata program manager, and also a lifelong rotary engine enthusiast. I thought there’s no better person to ask if Mazda would put a small and revvy rotary engine in the Miata ND, so I did. I understood before, that because a rotary is expensive to produce and maintain today, that would be the most expensive MX-5, and therefore might imbalance the package, which is based on the smiles-per-buck value being off the chart. But I still thought maybe the RF could use an exclusive, high-end variant, like the limited-edition turbo and Mazdaspeed versions in days of yore. The answer however was a resounding no.
Yamamoto-san drives a 1.5 MX-5 that has the factory LSD, an option in Japan, but not on that engine in Europe, sadly. He said the Wankel motor has a place at Mazda, of course it does, but it has to come in its own, exclusive package, that’s higher-end than the cost-effective MX-5. And when I tried to force the issue, recalling the lovely RX-3, he even went on to tell me, that it was a mistake to sell the rotary engine in volume-oriented products like that. And this coming from a man, who started at the Mazda Research Department in 1973, so must know all about the RX-3. Maybe a bit unusual from a factory man to strike such a firm stance on one of their models, but refreshing non-the-less.
So there you have it. The ND Mazda MX-5 comes in a few forms now, up to the factory-backed race car, but a rotary engine is definitely not on the cards. As for a bespoke RX sports coupe, well, one can still dream, if the smile on the face of Yamamoto-san can be believed.