With the new MX-5 Cup car, you really have no excuse to not own a race car.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
There are two kinds of people in this world: race car drivers and those who just talk about wanting to be race car drivers. OK, that may be a little broad, but Mazda is making it easier for those who just talk the talk to actually drive the drive with the new MX-5 Cup car.
For a mere $53,000, you too can have a turnkey race car. While not chump change, it's still far and away less expensive than most race cars, which can run into millions of dollars.
This ready-to-race MX-5 Cup car takes away the extra costs of engineering and fabricating a race car. Each car is identical so drivers are all on a level playing field. They are competing on skill, not the depth of their pocketbook or the their knowledge of fabrication.This makes for some exciting racing as drivers battle each other in the Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich, held around the country at some of the best road courses.
The Mazda MX-5 Cup is the first rung on the Mazda Road to 24 ladder. Racers start out at the grassroots level and Mazda gives winning racers from the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) or National Auto Sport Association (NASA) series a $100,000 scholarship to race in the MX-5 Cup. Even iRacing can lead to a spot in the Cup race. Internet racing champion Glenn McGee has transitioned from virtual racing to racing in real life with a spot on the grid in the no. 23 cup car. At his first race of the season -- or ever -- at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, McGee finished 9th out of 40 starters in the first race, but cut a tire in the infamous Corkscrew in the second race, finishing 27th.
The other scholarship winner is Robby Foley, driving the no. 63 car for Atlanta Motorsports Group did extremely well in the first race of the season, coming in third on day 1 and first on day 2 at Mazda Raceway. Other drivers to watch include last year's Cup champion John Dean in no. 16 and Patrick Gallagher, who took first on day one, in no. 72.
The champion of the MX-5 Cup gets $200,000 from Mazda to race their choice of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge or the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda. The final rung is the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, hosts of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
This year the MX-5 Cup race will take drivers across the country to Road America, Virginia International Raceway, and even north of the border to the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Each race weekend consists of a few practice sessions, a qualifying session and two 45-minute races.
The MX-5 Cup car is built by Long Road Racing in Statesville, North Carolina, based on the already competent 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Long Road Racing adds a roll cage and FIA-approved nets, five-point seat belts and a fire-suppression system. The battery is swapped out for something a bit smaller and lighter, and the car rolls on BFGoodrich G-Force racing slicks. Swapping in a different header and stainless steel performance exhaust eliminates the catalytic converter, which unfortunately keeps the MX-5 from being street legal.
The retuned ECU cannot be altered by race teams. The 2.0-liter engine gets reinforced motor mounts and the whole thing beats the heat with a C&R Racing aluminum radiator as well as coolers for the limited-slip differential and the transmission. Finally, Long Road Racing reinforces the suspension with a thicker 1.25-inch front sway bar, a strut tower brace, and racing shocks with adjustable rebound and compression, while the body is dropped 2.5-inches.
It's up to the driver to purchase and install a seat of their choice, but all engine components are the same as the production car. The stock Brembo brakes, aero package and cold air intake remain. Hell, racers can even live stream their laps with the USB port and 12V plug, also held-over from the production MX-5.
Long Road Racing currently has over 90 orders for MX-5 Cup cars and has delivered 65. They are currently backed up until July, but predict that race cars will go from orders to delivery in just two and a half weeks.
But hey, if you just want to battle your pals at your local race track, you can do that too. The Cup car is ready to go for local SCCA and NASA races, as well as track days. So really, there is no excuse to not go racing.
This weekend you can catch the MX-5 Cup race at Watkins Glen International Raceway in New York for the first time in its 10-year history. 42 Cup cars will take the grid in what promises to be an exciting weekend of racing. Drivers will battle for the pole position on Saturday, May 14 at 11:30 a.m. and the first race of the weekend starts at 4:35 p.m. Expect drivers to get more aggressive on day 2 of racing, Sunday, May 15 at 11 a.m. You can follow timing and scoring at www.mx-5cup.com.