28 October 2007

Grenade USA's 2004 Mazda RX-8

Naturally then, besides some driver skill (actually, quite a bit), a proper drift machine, which happens to match most of the characteristics of a good (RWD) sports car, is a must for proper sideways driving. Enter Mazda. With legendary sports cars like the Mazda Miata MX-5 and the Mazda RX-7 in its stable, Mazdas have been popular choices for Japanese drifters since the beginning. And now, even the four-seat, four-door Mazda RX-8 sports car is about to take the international drift stage. This month's Meet The Tuner feature, the Grenade Mazda RX-8, is slated for competition in the top North American drift series, Formula D, at the beginning of the 2006 season. A brainchild of Ken Kinoshita, a former Mazda motorsports manager who is currently an executive with The Great Co. (the Japanese parent company of Grenade USA- an aftermarket performance company that's currently making a U.S. entrance), the Mazda RX-8 won't be making headlines or carving wicked arcs just on its own merits - a legendary surname will be occupying the driver's seat when the RX-8 burns its first set of rubber.

Rod Millen is a name that few enthusiasts are not familiar with. The brother of another racing legend, Steve Millen, Rod created his legend in a 30+ year career in motorsports filled with rally, road, and off-road racing titles on two continents. The native Kiwi first got the racing bug in the 1970s and earned three consecutive New Zealand rally championships before he came to the U.S. to challenge America's best. While he may be best known for his record climbs up 14,110 ft. high Pikes Peak in 1,000 hp cars (he still owns the absolute fastest Pikes Peak climb record of 10 minutes, 4 seconds), Millen has also built a relationship with Mazda fans that goes back to his earliest U.S. rally days. In the late 70s, Millen campaigned factory-backed first generation Mazda RX-7s in rally competition to great success. Kinoshita made the easy connection to reunite Mazda and Millen when his drift project was born. While the fact that a rally legend such as Millen entering top drifting competition behind the wheel of a Mazda RX-8 is enough to stoke white hot fires in the hearts of any Mazda fan, when you throw into the mix the not so coincidental fact that Rod's son, Rhys Millen, is the current Formula Drift series champion, you have the makings of a spectacular and unique rivalry set to take place only a few months from now. Of course despite the all star cast of the Grenade Mazda RX-8 drift team, the car itself deserves its own spot light.

The RX-8 started out just as any ordinary production line RX-8. Shipped to RMR (Rhys Millen Racing) Products, the Renesis-powered sports car was stripped to bare metal promptly. RMR crafted a special cage that had dual roles of protection and chassis stiffening to meet the demands of top drift competition. Of all the pieces of the original well-appointed RX-8 interior, only the factory shift knob, e-brake handle, and dash (only the top portion) is reused. Even factory gauges are deleted in favor of a lighter, single Autometer Phantom tachometer. A pair of Sparco Pro 2000 competition seats and safety harnesses was added along with other matching Sparco driving accessories, including the steering wheel and pedal set. To contrast the almost plain, all business interior, the exterior of the Grenade Mazda RX-8 is used to showcase some of the latest, expressive Grenade performance products. The Grenade 4-piece body kit adds an aggressive edge to the RX-8's new-age shape and the resulting attitude adjustment is perfect for filling competitor's mirrors during tandem drifting runs. A Grenade carbon fiber hood also lends its help in creating the new image and also aids in ventilating the engine bay through several artfully crafted vents and scoops. A drift-spec adjustable carbon fiber rear spoiler sits high on the RX-8's trunklid and helps in creating downforce vital in high-speed drift control. Bronze GT-spec Grenade 18" six-spoke wheels wrapped with Yokohama 255/40 (front) and 255/35 (rear) rubber fill the carved wheel wells of the RX-8 and complete the exterior transformation.

While a factory spec RX-8 is probably driftable as is, competing against racers with 500-600 hp entries requires an equal attitude adjustment in the RX-8's hood compartment. To answer the challenge, Great shipped a fully-built turbocharged 13B (1.3 L two rotor) rotary engine from its Yokohama, Japan facility. The 13B is boosted with a huge HKS GT3040 turbine to make 400 hp - which combined with its light weight and inherently balanced structure, will be more than enough to compete with even higher horsepower competitors. The turbo system rids itself of extra boost between shifts through a SARD J Type wastegate mounted on a Great Co. exhaust manifold. Charge air is cooled via a horizontally mounted Blitz Type C intercooler and is then mixed with fuel courtesy of four SARD 850CC fuel injectors. Everything is then placed under the watchful electronic eye of an APEX-I Power FC engine management system. The job of managing physical power transmission though is relegated between an Ogura clutch, a stock Mazda 5-spd transmission, and a stock Mazda diff modified with a KAAZ limited slip differential. Beefing up the power train of a drift car without modifications to the suspension is akin to strapping a rocket pack to an ice skater, so Japanese suspension expert JIC Magic was enlisted to provide a custom solution. The JIC coilovers are mated with equally exquisite JIC lower tie bars, trailing arms and suspension rods for a fully adjustable suspension ready to meet the unique demands of any drift course.

To gauge an idea of the expected impact this RX-8 will make in the drift scene, you only have to note that the Grenade RX-8 has already been featured in Drifting Magazine and RX-7 Magazine and honored at events like the annual SevenStock gathering before it has even turned a wheel in competition. With Rod Millen in the driver's seat, an RMR-prepped chassis, and backing from Mazda, Yokohama, and JIC, the Grenade Mazda RX-8 is one drift-spec Mazda that is ready to, well… explode onto the drift scene.

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