Review: the Mazda MX-5 Global Cup racer

Ha, a racing MX-5. Is that a real thing?

It certainly is. OK, it’s mostly for the Americans at this stage, but the idea is that one-make championships will spring up around the globe, providing close racing and driving amusement wherever they appear. So far Mazda has sold 90 cars at $53,000 each (that’s £37,300).

Quite a bit more than the standard road car. Must sport more poke…

Er, no. The Cup cars uses the standard 2.0-litre four cylinder engine, just with a bespoke racing ECU plus full stainless steel exhaust. Power and torque have barely changed from the road car’s 158bhp and 147lb ft.

I reckon it’s heavier, too. The roof, radio and a fair few other everyday components may have been ditched, but that rollcage is surely chunky enough to have bumped the standard 975kg kerbweight up to over a tonne. And that’s before we consider the extra oil coolers, heavy-duty radiator, extra bracing, fire extinguisher and other measures that enable the MX-5 to cope with the strains of racing.

What about tyres?

Slicks. Which is good for cornering speed, but also presents the key issue around driving this car. It’s got way more grip than power.

As a result it doesn’t dance about like the standard MX-5. Together with the stiffer, more locked down suspension, the tyres mean you can’t unsettle the rear under braking, get it to start sliding and then allow the modest power to j-u-s-t overwhelm the even more modest grip and powerslide daintily out of the corner.

No, this is a racing car, it’s a bit less playful. Also a bit less wayward.

But that’s only right – you wouldn’t want a racing car to slide about.

Of course you wouldn’t, it’s just that the MX-5’s new found beady-eyed steeliness takes a bit of getting used to. Once you do though, you start to relish it. This is still a light car so it changes direction with real alacrity, corners much more flatly (although the level of roll is of course adjustable via the two-way adjustable dampers and anti-roll bar) and comes across as quick-witted.

It deals with the hairier bits of the epic Laguna Seca track with real aplomb, can seemingly always carry more speed than I expect and pops out of the compressions with good control.

However?

To genuinely be fun to drive it needs more power. The brakes are up to the task (it uses the standard calipers but with uprated discs, pads and lines), so you can haul the speed off fast, and I really enjoyed the way it turned in and gripped. However, when you get back on the power…

Not much happens?

You got it. On the (admittedly quite uphill) Rahal Straight after turn six, the MX-5 only just topped 90mph before braking for the Corkscrew. It was probably a bit quicker on the main straight, but the Rahal Straight was the only place I managed to look at the speedo – I was a bit occupied the rest of the time. Laguna Seca keeps you busy, even in a comparatively slow car.

In case you’re interested, the MX-5 laps here in around 1 minute 41 or 42 seconds. The lap record, held by Marc Gene in a Ferrari F2003-GA F1 car, stands at 1.05.786.

But that’s OK, because there’s something cool about driving the knackers off a car that isn’t also in the process of scaring you half to death. You’re always its master, rather than the other way round. Which is better for your health, and potential repair bills.

So it’s an affordable, amusing baby racer?

That’s about it. It’s got a sweet gearchange, the exhaust is surprisingly parpy (much better from outside though) and, in a race, where the grids are 40 strong, it must be a proper hoot. The Series is only confirmed for America at the moment, but if you’re a racer competing in the UK MX-5 Championship, MX-5 Cup or MX-5 Supercup you can win a race in one of these at Laguna Seca this September. Promise you that it beats Snetterton.

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