B-Spec Wannabe

Update by Tom Heath to the Mazda Mazda2 project car
Sep 1, 2011

The wheels looked great on the Mazda, especially with the chunky-looking Dunlop tires.
While the car is happy to go in whatever direction we point it, we could use a little more roll stiffness.
We were able to catch this G8 a few times during our session, but he absolutely left us for dead in the straights.
13 pounds + $112 + 15x7-inches + 30mm offset = perfect!

Our Mazda2 (we’re affectionately calling it “The Deuce” after our on-track antics) is already much more fun than the price tag would suggest, and we plan to continue harassing more capable and more powerful machinery at other tracks in the near future.

Aside from being a fantastic commuter machine, our plucky little Mazda2 has proved to be surprisingly enjoyable from the driver’s seat. After carefully following the manufacturer’s break-in procedures over the first 5000 miles of ownership, we were ready to evaluate the car’s enthusiast potential.

We attended a local SCCA event that was held at the historic Daytona International Speedway. Well, sort of. The autocross took place on an infield kart track during a club race weekend at the Speedway. Our little Mazda2 entered in as-delivered, dealer-stock condition, and we did no prep work aside from removing the hubcaps and adding some air pressure to the rear tires. Even with the commuter-grade, low-rolling-resistance tires, the car was fun to drive and rotated through the corners surprisingly well if we were careful at turn-in.

Overall, though, the car was pretty soft and prone to understeer. Surely the factory-stock Yokohama tires could be improved upon, and while we’re at it let’s ditch the ugly hubcaps. To that end, we worked with D-Force Wheels to try a set of their D-Force 5 wheels. While these were intended to be used on a Spec Miata, their 4x100 bolt pattern and 30mm offset works well on our Mazda2 (and will make a great set of backup wheels for our turbo Miata.) For just over $100 each, they’re also a great bargain. We didn’t even have to shop for tires, as a set of used but serviceable Dunlop Z1 Star Spec tires from the Sunbeam Tiger project over at Classic Motorsports were available for us to, uhh, “borrow.” The 195/55R15 size works great for our needs and offers way more grip than the OEM tires ever did. We were thrilled with the way the new rolling stock looked on our Mazda2, but the real proof of improvement would be revealed with some track time. Luckily, during our trip to Virginia International Raceway for the Pirelli Ultimate Track Car Challenge, we convinced the staff of NASA Mid-Atlantic to allow us on track during one of their Hyperdrive sessions. A Hyperdrive session is like preschool for the region’s HPDE programs: a 20-minute sampler platter of on-track action, with a qualified NASA instructor on board to keep novice drivers out of the weeds. We were glad to have NASA registrar and all-around nice guy Sean Thompson ride along as our instructor. While we felt confident in our ability to drive the session safely, having another set of eyes and ears—ones that were extremely familiar with the track—was a great way to shave a little more from our lap times.

Unfortunately, the Hyperdrive sessions are untimed, so we didn’t gather any solid data on our performance. We do, however, have some on-board footage from the session. The new wheel-and-tire package offered much more grip and really highlighted the fun of driving the wheels of an underpowered car. We’re pretty happy with the result; we were able to mix it up with some much more capable machinery. The only downside to our wheel-and-tire upgrade is the unsightly gap between the fender and wheel; we’re now convinced that some lower, stiffer springs are the next step to making this car the best it can be. Although the Mazda2 (and its blue oval-badged sibling, the Ford Fiesta) is pretty new to the U.S., the aftermarket is already stirring to offer suspension upgrades. We’ve got our eyes on a few options.

Option 1: Bilstein PSS Coilovers We’ve had great success with Bilsteins in other applications, and they’re likely to be the allowed option under the B-spec rule set. Option 2: KW Suspensions Variant 1 Coilovers The KW Variant 1 coil-overs are available for our car as well—in Europe. The KWs have a fantastic reputation, so we’d like to try them if we can get our hands on a set. Our car isn’t restricted by the B-spec rules, so why limit our options? Option 3: Ford Racing Fiesta Handling Pack
Since the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 share many of their underpinnings, we’re told this budget-friendly handling package will work for our car. The kit is downright economical at less than $300, but it lacks the adjustability and real sporting focus of the genuine coil-over kits. In any case, we’re very happy with the upgrades so far. Our Mazda2 (we’re affectionately calling it “The Deuce” after our on-track antics) is already much more fun than the price tag would suggest, and we plan to continue harassing more capable and more powerful machinery at other tracks in the near future.

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