Technical Analysis – Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Racing Schools

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Monday, February 04, 2008 In Part One of this three part Technical Analysis of Skip Barber’s new MAZDASPEED Racing School and MAZDASPEED Challenge race series, Art Michalik, Vice President & General Manager, Western Region, discusses the conversion of regular production Mazda MX-5 roadsters into purpose built MX-5 Cup cars. Part Two will touch on the MAZDASPEED Racing School experience and Part Three will delve into the new MAZDZSPEED Challenge race series.

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Part One – The making of a MX-5 Cup racecar
There are few production passenger cars that it can be said of that they make an ideal platform for a racing car. The Mazda MX-5 is one of them. The body/frame structure is of monocoque construction, with a unique Power Plant Frame (PPF) that connects the engine, transmission and rear differential for a tight, responsive feel. With a front/rear weight balance very close to a perfect 50:50 split, the MX-5 has very desirable neutral handling characteristics — all the makings for a great start when converting an MX-5 street car into an MX-5 Cup racecar.

Every Mazda MX-5 Cup racecar in the Skip Barber Racing School fleet starts life the same way: as a standard production car coming off the line at Mazda’s Ujina Number 1 assembly plant in Hiroshima, Japan. After a multi-week cruise across the Pacific, the cars are directed from the port to one of two Skip Barber race shops: either at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California or at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. There the cars are driven for 600 gentle street miles to break them in and, once the miles are logged, the process of conversion begins.

Conversion begins with each car subjected to a treatment usually reserved for vehicles parked on the wrong street in the wrong neighborhood. The convertible top is removed, seats are pulled out and all the carpets, door panels and trim pieces are all stripped away. The interior is all but completely gutted.

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Now the certified welder comes in and installs the roll cage that’s been preassembled by Racing Cages in Vista, Calif. The six-point cage not only helps protect the driver in a collision, but adds significant strength to the chassis of the car. This helps the chassis better cope with the heavy braking and cornering forces generated in racing.

New interior panels are fitted inside the car – custom panels made out of lightweight fiberglass are fastened inside the doors (allowing for room for the roll cage’s protective side bars), and a fiberglass panel covers the driveshaft tunnel. Aluminum panels are fitted in the rear of the interior to separate the passenger compartment from the trunk area.

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Each Mazda MX-5 is then raised on a lift while the crew removes the transmission and if needed, the differential. All Skip Barber Mazda MX-5 Cup cars utilize Mazda’s 5-speed transmission and limited-slip differential. The clutch is replaced with a racing-type unit manufactured by ACT.

Work then moves to the front of the car, where the bumper is removed to facilitate the installation of an AEM cold air intake system. An engine oil cooler is fitted and a complete racing exhaust system from DC Sports is installed.

Brakes are upgraded to Hawk racing brake pads, stainless steel braided brake lines, and high-temperature racing fluid. Special ducts are fitted to the fog light cut-outs in the front bumper which direct cooling air back to the brakes.

The car’s suspension is significantly upgraded via Mazdaspeed racing springs and shocks, along with stiffer anti-roll bars front and rear. BFGoodrich g-Force Sport tires in size 215/45ZR17 are then fitted onto 17” x 7” Mazda aluminum alloy wheels to provide the best balance of grip, predictability and durability in a racing school environment.

Work then moves to the interior. Custom fabricated seat brackets allow the Sparco Evo 2 seats a wide range of movement to accommodate drivers of different sizes. Sparco 6-point harnesses, a Sparco racing steering wheel with quick-release hub, window nets and roll cage padding complete the conversion process.

All that’s left is to add the requisite sponsor and number decals and set off to the track for a shakedown run by one of the Skip Barber test drivers and a new Mazda MX-5 Cup car is ready for its first student.

Coming soon to a track near you
Skip Barber currently offers a variety of MAZDASPEED Racing Schools at Sebring International Raceway and Moroso Motorsports Park in Florida, Road Atlanta in Georgia, and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California. This spring our schedule will expand to include Wisconsin’s Road America and Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park.

For the casual racing fan who wants to experience the thrill of driving a race car on-track, we offer the three-hour Introduction to Racing. The One-Day MX-5 Combo adds a half day of Driving School activities to 60 minutes of on-track time in the MX-5 Cup racecar. For those looking for something more comprehensive, the MX-5 Cup Racing School is three days of intensive instruction on the fundamentals of road racing combined with over eight hours of on-track driving. MX-5 Cup Lapping gets Three Day grads out on the track for 80-100 miles of track time along with individual driver coaching.

For the first time, Skip Barber will apply its 30+ years of racing experience to a production sports car-based race series. The MAZDASPEED Challenge will begin its first season in April at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and will visit many of North America’s great road courses. The schedule for the six-round, 12 race Series will be announced shortly.

NEXT
Part 2 – Learning the ropes in the MX-5 Cup racecar

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