26 October 2007

Mazda RX-8 by SpeedSource

The Mazda RX-8 has already received numerous accolades from the automotive press since its introduction three years ago. Most of the time, drivers and writers are enamored with the keen handling offered by the car's perfect 50/50 weight distribution. It's this even spread of weight that makes the car easy to drive fast and predictable when it's being pushed - even when a little bit too hard.

The perfect weight distribution is a boon on the street but it's even more beneficial on the racetrack; the great handling characteristics that perfect weight distribution helps impart is one of the reasons why the Mazda RX-8 seen here won back to back Grand-Am Cup championships. More impressively though, the No. 67 SpeedSource Engineering Mazda RX-8, with drivers Sylvain Tremblay and David Haskell behind the wheel, captured the ST Category title in its debut season in 2004 and then repeated the feat in 2005 in the face of even stiffer competition.

Of course, a great car is only half of the equation of any successful racing operation. The other fifty percent is a combination of proper preparation, teamwork, race strategy, and ultimately - the driver behind the wheel. SpeedSource Engineering had all these bases covered in their championship campaigns.

Established in 1995 by a man that has had racing in his blood since the day he won his first race at age 16, SpeedSource Engineering offers race-prepped cars and custom fabrication to any team in need.

It wasn't long before owner Sylvain Tremblay wanted back on the track. His opportunity came in the form of a Mazda RX-7 twin turbo (FD3S) prepped, of course, by his own SpeedSource Engineering. He quickly went on to nail two wins in the IMSA Endurance Championship and place 2nd in the driver championship. The RX-7s were finally retired after netting SpeedSource the team championship in 1998, and the company once again turned its attention to building race cars.

Fast-forward three years to 2001. SpeedSource added another successful chapter to its racing endeavors with a Porsche-based program comprised of Porsche Boxsters and 911s that delivers multiple championships. Despite their winning ways, Sylvain and SpeedSource never lost their affinity for racing fast and reliable rotary-powered Mazdas.

So, when the all-new Renesis-powered Mazda RX-8 was introduced in 2004, SpeedSource wasted little time in signing up as one of first professional Mazda RX-8-based teams. It came right from the factory with a 9000-rpm rotary engine and a remarkably stiff chassis that would need little modification before hitting the track. The obvious similarities between the SpeedSource RX-8 and a roadgoing RX-8 are evidence of the relatively easy process takes place to transform a factory-spec Mazda RX-8 to the Grand-Am competition-spec SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 highlighted in this month's Meet The Tuners feature.

First, the right RX-8 is necessary. To SpeedSource, that means a car without a sunroof and with a six-speed transmission. The sunroof that came on most RX-8's sold for street use adds extra weight exactly where it hurts the most - the highest point possible. And the six-speed transmission is a no-brainer for race use (if you can guess the one team that's tried an automatic in Grand Am, you get extra points).

The car is immediately stripped of all comfort and luxury features, along with anything else that isn't absolutely necessary to lap the race track. Kiss that six-disc goodbye along with all the cool rotor-themed details as well, because they'll be replaced with a rough carbon fiber board that houses essential switches and controls. Next, a roll cage with enough bracing to build two jungle gyms is welded into the car with additional bracing and supports. Finally, the relaxing factory air conditioning is replaced with a three-nozzle, 10lb. fire suppression system.

The RX-8's elaborate instrument panel is replaced with a simple Motec Digital Dash with built-in lap timer. Crowning the new, purpose built instrumentation are Motec's sequential shift lights. The heavy, airbag-equipped Mazda steering wheel is replaced with a suede unit courtesy of Sparco, which is a better match for racing gloves. The comfortable bucket seats are also ditched in favor of a singular Sparco EVO race seat, which is welded into place to match the driver's height and reinforced with a 3" x 4" steel plate back brace. While we're on the topic of Sparco, we should mention that it's their 3-inch, six-point racing harnesses that replace the stock seatbelts.

The cage is designed to work around the interior compartment - maximizing the driver's operating area while still providing a substantial safety cage to reduce the dangers of door to door competition. The intricate network of tubing even cuts a path through the space door panels would occupy in your RX-8; like everything else, the doors are lightened through stripping and cutting to a basic shell and skin structure. It's safe to say that the drivers of these cars are in a cozy little cocoon of safety when SpeedSource's work is done. After driver safety is addressed, the entire interior is painted to match the lightweight, one-stage paint found on the exterior of the car.

Outside, things may look roughly like your roadgoing RX-8, but looks are deceiving. A subtle MAZDASPEED fascia (the car uses same MAZDASPEED accessory pieces available to all RX-8 owners at Mazda dealerships) lowers the front air dam enough to provide more air into the hot engine bay. Out back, a MAZDASPEED wing and rear valance create downforce while matching MAZDASPEED sideskirts ensure lateral turbulence is kept to a minimum.

You'll probably also notice the aggressive stance of the racecar - it rides quite a bit lower than stock, thanks to a custom built suspension from Dynamic Suspension. Behind the Racing Hart wheels sit very capable factory stock brakes, equipped with competition-type Hawk brake pads.

Perhaps the most surprising fact to some race fans is that the engine is essentially stock, except being balanced and blueprinted. While Grand-Am rules don't allow extensive modification of the engine, the high-performance-from-the-factory nature of the Renesis rotary engine makes it an obvious track candidate. The short list of modifications in the engine bay includes a Motec engine management system, a SpeedSource cold air intake, and a racing radiator.

There are many other details in preparing a factory RX-8 into the championship-winning No. 67 car seen here, but the aforementioned changes represent the bulk of the process. Besides netting drivers Tremblay and Haskell the ST driver's championship in 2004 and 2005, the No. 67 SpeedSource RX-8, with support of several other identically prepared RX-8s campaigned by the team, delivered the Team championship to SpeedSource and the manufacturer's cup to Mazda in 2005 - more accolades to an already impressive list.

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