The Global Mazda MX-5 Cup car is one of the most affordable, ready-to-race cars on the market today. The racer starts as a fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 and receives over 250 changes to become track ready. Mazda wanted the cars to be built to a single spec, so it tapped Long Road Racing to be the sole builder of the car.
I paid them a visit to see just what goes into building these race-ready roadsters.
Long Road Racing is situated in the middle of NASCAR country in Statesville, North Carolina, which provides them with unique access to parts and expertise. The shop is a family outfit run by Glen and Alana Long, and supported by a team of engineering and fabrication experts. The cars start out on the same assembly line in Hiroshima, Japan, as the street models, but head to LRR after arriving at the port of Jacksonville to be stripped and converted into race cars.
The Global MX-5 Cup is a professional spec car series that finds its roots in the Mazdaspeed Miata Cup, which started in 2003. It became a national series in 2006 using the newly introduced NC MX-5 as the car of choice. These cars were built to spec per Mazda but allowed anyone to build them — as long as they used the right parts. This allowed racers to build the cars on their own time and budget but also introduced the opportunity for teams to modify the cars (based on their interpretation of the specs) to be more competitive. As the introduction of the newest-generation MX-5 approached, Mazda wanted the new car to be truly built to a single spe, so decided all the cars would be built by one shop that could certify and source all of the parts.
LRR was known in the field for its expertise in building and maintaining the previous Cup car along with all generations of Spec Miata cars, so it was quickly chosen to produce the Global MX-5 Cup car. After months of planning, the wheels were put in motion to design the new car. The Longs, along with their engineering team, had a few key challenges ahead of them. The MX-5 Cup was not the only series considered during the design process, as Mazda wanted it to be certified to compete globally. That meant the design had to meet specs for domestic sanctioning bodies such as SCCA and NASA along with those of international sanctioning bodies like the FIA. Mazda also wanted the parts to fit right-hand-drive cars, so special considerations had to be taken for the rollcage and other safety items.
The planning and design of the cage required extensive research and testing. LRR’s VP of Engineering Chad Boyd explained his team sat down with the requirements for all of the largest sanctioning bodies and created a matrix to see which specs overlapped and which conflicted. With that matrix complete, the team reached out to each sanctioning body to see who would budge and work with them to create an overlap or modification. This effort aimed to make the design compatible with as many sanctioning-body regulations as possible. After choosing the appropriate steel to use for the cage, the final design was built and tested, and LRR set up an agreement with a company in Michigan to mandrel-bend and laser cut the pieces.
While the engineers continued working on the car’s overall design, Glenn stepped away to work with Mazda on logistics. He flew to Japan to discuss building a stripped-down run of MX-5s, but it was ultimately decided the task would be too large an interruption for the factory. LRR ended up with fully built cars instead.
LRR is set up similar to a Mazda dealer and receives cars in the same manner. In its testing, LRR found the single-stage white cars were 15-pounds lighter than the multi-stage colors, so it decide to use only white cars. These cars were also slightly cheaper, which helped keep the overall price down.
Hundreds of hours of research and testing were put into the cars and they were subjected to many of the same kinematics and compliance testing rigs used by other professional race shops to test for rigidity and other factors that may impact vehicle handling.
LRR used this data to work with Multimatic to design a set of its DSSV dampers, which are two-way adjustable and offer predictable handling when set up properly. The rest of the suspension, including sway bars and strut bar, were designed and built in house at LRR. LRR decided to take this route as it could not find a supplier who could promise not to update a part in a way that could change the part’s weight or consistency. Once the test cars were built, LRR spent over 6,000 miles on track to make sure that all the components worked together.
As detailed by Glenn in the video above, over 250 parts are changed on the MX-5 as it transformed from street car to race car, the vast majority of those built and designed at LLR. The rest of the parts come from local NASCAR suppliers, such as Kooks for the custom long tube headers and stainless exhaust and C&R racing for the upgraded aluminum radiator. It also called on national and international brands where appropriate, such as Setrab for transmission and differential coolers and Rays for the forged aluminum wheels.
Starting with the MX-5 Club would seem to make sense at first glance, as it already comes with a limited-slip differential and other track focused parts, but LRR found it would end up removing too many extraneous parts to justify the increased price. The more cost-effective method was to start with a base Sport MX-5 and buy the upgraded parts, such as the limited-slip differential and Brembo calipers, from Mazda.
Once one of these Sport trim cars arrives at LRR from Jacksonville, the technicians start dismantling it — removing the interior, wiring, sound deadening — to create a bare shell. All parts are tagged to each specific car, meaning each part is true to the VIN with which it was born. Once the interior is removed, the car moves to the weld area where the roll cage is installed and the interior is painted and seam-sealed. Japanese buyers decided to forgo the right-hand-drive option, so all Cup cars are left-hand drive. But since LRR had already invested time in developing a cage safe for both configurations, LRR decided to continue on with the work as many of these cars will be used for instruction. This makes the cars safer for instructors riding in the passenger seat.
On the fabrication side, cars go up on the lift so the team can install the limited-slip differential and cooler. Other underbody work is also completed at this time, including swapping out the transmission and adding a transmission cooler and pump. The transmission change is new for this year and part of the upgrade program. LRR found third and fourth gear weren’t holding up to its standards, so it worked with a transmission builder to design a motorsports gear-set that could hold up to more abuse. This upgraded gear-set was installed in all the previously built cars and is standard on new cars going forward.
After the underbody changes are completed, the entire wiring harness is installed back into the car, along with a new auxiliary harness and fuse box in the rear of the car. A fire suppression system is added, after which the dash and steering column go back into the car.
The suspension and brake upgrades are completed next and the car proceeds to the assembly room where many of the OEM components are re-installed and the remaining performance components are added. Quality control is very important, so each technician at LRR is assigned a unique paint pen. As they torque down each component, they mark it with their pen. Once the car is assembled, all nuts and bolts are checked by a quality control technician and marked once more with their color.
During the final assembly, a sealed ECU by GEMS is installed to take advantage of the performance modifications. Like the rest of the components, the ECU and the engine are marked with the paint pen and cannot be unsealed by the teams other than a few places for maintenance. All cars are weighed and dyno tested since they require them to be within a specific range for horsepower and torque. The minimum weight for the series is 2,415 pounds and the equalization is accomplished by installing a ballast box in the passenger floor where weight can be added for lighter drivers.
The list of other installed and modified components is too long to detail here, but most of them can be found on the LRR web page along with upgrades and technical service bulletins they have issued since it started building the car. The TSB’s are just one of the many jobs LRR handles once the car leaves its possession. It’s continually testing parts and monitoring wear at races to see if changes need to be made. It also attends every race with a trailer full of parts and at least two technicians to assist teams with questions and track-side repairs. This is an invaluable benefit to have for the racers since carrying a full set of spares is costly and space-consuming. The LRR team also assists the race officials for technical inspections and checks over parts if protests are made.
During peak production last year, LRR was cranking out four cars a week and managed to build 120 cars in 2016. It performed upgrades and repairs on many of these cars in the off-season and has built another 16 new cars so far in 2017. Most of the cars end up going to compete in the Global MX-5 Cup series, but many are shipped to private owners the world over who use them for other forms of competition or instruction. All this development resulted in the well-prepped race car debuting at a price $53,000 in 2016. The only additional purchase required is a driver’s seat, as there is no one-size-fits-all option.
Since 2016, many upgrades — such as the motorsports gear-set and improved motor mounts — have been made, which has resulted in the price being raised to $58,900 for 2017. Although it’s more expensive this year, it’s still an absolute bargain for a race car when you consider the R&D and components behind it.
Check out the latest Global MX-5 Cup cars as they battle in the series opener at Barber Motorsports Park on April 21st.