With the release of the ND Miata earlier this year, and a handful of shops already getting their hands on the chassis, the question is how many ND’s are going campaign in the SCCA’s highly contested CS class. CS is one of the most popular classes in the SCCA’s Solo program. In fact at the 2015 SCCA Solo Nationals, CS was a staggering 63 drivers deep. In a class that’s crowded with the Scion FRS armed with the TRD Lowering Spring and Sway Bar allowance and the ever hard-to-beat NC Miatas, we wanted to focus on one man’s unyielding dedication to the RX8 chassis. Meet Arvind, Senior Engineer at a tech giant, fastidious believer that RX8 isn’t dead in CS, and the December 2015 Featured Import for the apexjunky Garage Files.
What type of car do you have?
It’s a 2006 Mazda RX8 Touring!
A lot of people give their cars nicknames/actual names. Do you have one for your RX8?
It’s had other names but these days I just call it the “Eight”.
Is this car your daily driver? If not what is your everyday car?
It is my daily driver – one with a real thirst for gasoline 🙂
Mod List! Let’s have it!
The list is fairly minimal because it is primarily a CS car:
- Koni Sport adjustable shocks
- Hotchkis RX8 front sway bar
- Single-exit Borla cat-back exhaust
- Porterfield R4S brake pads which have great pedal feel and modulation – however I feel the new class of street tires (e.g. RE71Rs), need more aggressive pads (Porterfield R4 pads are going to be next)
Side Note: After a year of driving on them, I think the Hotchkis RX8 front sway bar is too stiff (even in the softest setting) and I am going to try a Hotchkis MX5 sway bar instead.
The RX8 remains even today as a great looking car even though your particular RX8 is almost 10 years old. What in your opinion makes the car still feel modern today?
One of the greatest joys I get to experience, is looking at my car in the parking lot and ogling at it – it still sets my pulse racing and I’m more excited than ever to drive it!
Even by today’s standards it is a very good sports car – the suspension configuration; with a classic double wishbone suspension up front and multi-link rear is setup to perfection. The rotary engine placed front mid-ship (as well as the fuel tank which is ahead of the rear axle) contribute to a car with a low polar moment of inertia – which means it changes directions very well for a car its size. Feeling it rotate around the driver is one of the great joys of owning the car. The low torque, high revving engine means working the transmission a lot – one of the very best shifters I’ve ever experienced. I change gears far more than necessary just to feel the satisfying shift 🙂
It’s also amazing that the car only weighs close to 2900lb (for the Sport) version – mine unfortunately has a sun-roof and weights close to 2960 lbs.
Have you always wanted to build a RX8? If not what other cars have you built/modified?
My first sports car was a 2007 Civic Si – I had a HFP suspension on it and drove it for 2 years. While I loved the engine, I did not like the high seating position and numb steering, especially after I drove a friends’ RX8.
In the sea of recent classing changes and accessories allowances (namely the TRD allowance of lowering springs and sway bars), how do you feel RX8 fares in CS?
I believe the RX8 is a very competitive car in its class and will thrive on classic national’s style courses – basically good, flowing courses. It is an easy car to drive – a classic momentum car which rewards good driving (something I am yet to grasp completely). However the lack of low-end torque means that it struggles a bit on power courses (i.e. courses which have slow corners or other pinch points).
Let’s talk suspension. Given the geometry what do you think is one thing the car could do better (i.e. sweepers, hairpins, transients)?
The suspension is indeed the major strength of the car. It does tend to struggle a bit on tight corners – which can result in a lot of understeer – the key is to brake early and keep the front-end loaded until the corner entry is complete. Still painful, however. Toe-out in the front should help a bit but I’m fond of 0 toe though.
Lack of steering feel is the only thing I dislike about the RX8 – even with maximum caster, the electric steering does not quite provide the feel of a FRS/BRZ for example. This means I often end up feeding too much steering – going beyond the optimum slip angle for the tires. However this is something which gets less frustrating over time and getting to know the car better.
What would you say the car’s primary strength is?
The key strength with respect to other CS cars is its top speed in second gear – even with 245/40/17 tires paired with a light weight 17″ wheel, the max speed is around 67MPH. This can end up saving a shift or two – which is a significant amount of time.
The sophisticated suspension geometry and having control over caster, camber and toe (camber and toe for the rear) is a strength too – allowing customization via alignment settings. The car excels at high speed transients as well as long sweepers.
Having driven a fully sorted FRS at a local event, what’s the one thing that the FRS/BRZ can do better than the RX8? What do you feel is the advantage of your RX8 to a twin?
The FRS/BRZ cars have tremendous steering feel, which is a great advantage – I can always feel what the front wheels are doing and can stay within good slip angles – this is my favorite part of the Twins.
The RX8’s advantage over the twins would be a combination of the higher top speed in 2nd gear as well as better performing suspension – but this is dependent on the kind of elements on course.
Rotaries are categorically placed under the “horrendously unreliable” column when it comes to engines. Describe the ownership experience of a hard driven RX8. How reliable have you found the Rotary to be given that you race your car often?
I think the key challenge of racing a RX8 is engine health – my engine is at the low end of its compression range and loses some power when hot. I had to replace my catalytic converter at 58k miles – which lead to a huge reduction in coolant temperatures. I use pre-mix oil and am very prompt with oil changes – seems to be working well enough so far.
However the car has never left me stranded anywhere and I’ve driven it in extreme temperature conditions (Death Valley in summer and Michigan in winter). I do keep a close watch on the car and know most of its sounds!
With the ND out to be the new media darling of C-Street, how do you feel that the RX8 will fare in comparison to the new Miata? Does the lack of torque and larger footprint cause concern?
Having watched the ND Miata on course – it does seem like a very fast car in CS (I also looked at the Grassroots Motorsports tests). The way it pulls out of corners is noticeably faster than a lot of other cars out there. However, the low top speed in 2nd gear (55MPH) and the rev-limiter behavior could be a cause for concern on larger courses. I have no doubt that the ND will dominate on any course which runs lower than 55 MPH. It remains to be seen how it will perform on larger, faster courses.
Given the potential disadvantage of the RX8 amongst the cars such as the FRS with the TRD allowances, does this tempt you to build the car out for the bump class (STX) to fully address the car’s shortcomings?
I’m tempted, but don’t believe it is a wise choice. The twins in STX form are formidable because it eliminates all their stock weaknesses (suspension, torque dip etc.) and I don’t believe the RX8 compares favorably. Much as I love the car I don’t feel like investing money in a class where it is not likely to be competitive. Maybe I’ll be able to turn it into a track toy/ STX car someday.
Are there any sponsors you would like to acknowledge for their assistance in getting your car to the way that it is?
I wish! I really like the Mazda Motorsports program – I’ve used it to buy numerous parts at great prices. It’s one of the nicest perks of owning a Mazda.
As most raced cars undergo continuous changes, what are the next plans for the car?
Short term goal is to make it more competitive in CS – a custom valved shock setup is first on my list. An engine rebuild is not very far away. When it retires from active C-Street duty, I want to build it out as a track toy which is STX legal. Some items from my wish-list: Sparco Evo III racing seats, custom shocks from Fat Cat Motorsports, a custom tuned LSD….