NASA Great Lakes ST5 racer Ryan Power got his start in HPDE in the same car he’s racing now. As so often happens, that car is a Mazda MX-5, but his story is a little different in that he bought his 2019 Mazda MX-5 brand-new off the showroom floor. By the time he had 300 miles on his new “ND,” he peeled away enough of the interior to put in a roll bar, and he signed up for HPDE with NASA Great Lakes.
“I knew nothing about racing. I just knew that I wanted to get into racing, and I wanted to pick a chassis that I could make into a dedicated HPDE car, and go wheel-to-wheel with eventually,” Power said. “My whole goal was something that was small, light, cheap to maintain, easy to work on, relatively quick around a track, but if something happened and I crashed the car, the fastest that I would ever be going is like 110 miles an hour. So I didn’t want a super high-speed car, but I wanted something that was quick in the corners. So that’s why I ultimately, ended up on Miatas.”
Power used it for two years in HPDE while on the path to earning his competition license, a process that was drawn out because of COVID protocols during 2020 and 2021.
When he wanted to begin racing, he took the car to Piper Motorsport in Woodburn, Va., which was recommended to him by many other NASA Great Lakes members. It was a six-hour drive from his home in Buffalo, N.Y., but Piper was able to build a cage that let Power fit in the car properly, without having to install a dropped floor.
“I didn’t know anything about racing, but I’ve always been mechanically inclined. I’ve built road cars for years. So, I mean, I was pulling motors and transmissions and all that stuff for years before I even got into racing,” Power said. “I did everything on this car except for the roll cage. I can’t weld, and I didn’t do the livery because I don’t have nearly the patience to deal with vinyl.”
Power’s car was one of many NDs in HPDE nationwide, but is now one of only a few NDs in all of NASA sprint racing and obviously the only one in NASA Great Lakes. For Powers, he’s just developing the car he wanted, but he is in some sense — outside of MX-5 Cup — creating a new paradigm for preparing the current-generation Mazda MX-5 for racing.
To make it racy, he consulted online with a NASA Texas member who also was making an ND ready for racing. FLIS Performance, which builds the MX-5 Cup cars for Mazda, also is helpful on forums and social media for people modifying the ND for racing.
Power removed the factory Brembo calipers up front and added a StopTech kit. He also installed stiffer sway bars from Karcepts and coil-overs from MCS and springs from Hyperco. Naturally, he added a race exhaust.
The car slots well into ST5, and because he was using an aftermarket hardtop, he was able to install a rear wing without any points penalties according to the ST5 rules. The car doesn’t have a front splitter, but hood vents produce some downforce and help keep oil and coolant temperatures in check on all but the hottest days. Power has tested the car with and without the hardtop and the wing and found they were worthwhile modifications.
“I just kind of tuned the chassis to be a little bit front-heavy and just kind of dialed it in. So the wing just gives me that high-speed stability that you need, because this chassis, the ND in particular, has a tendency when it kicks out on you, to have a very small, marginal window to recover the car before you have to basically bail to save the car,” Power said. “It’s not a very confidence-inspiring car when it starts to actually slide and move around. It’s not intuitively “save-able.” It’s something I have actually been struggling with a little bit this year, but we’re making progress.”
Power said he found the ND’s brakes to be over-boosted in stock form. They run on vacuum from the engine and from a secondary vacuum pump, which can let the car get into antilock mode a bit too easily for racing, so he added a Sakebomb Garage vacuum controller for the brakes.
“It just limits the vacuum potential. So literally, all it can do is make my brakes worse, because the car will, if you get into threshold braking, even on slicks, you get into ABS,” Power said. “So I just turn it down a little bit just to make sure that if I’m going into threshold braking, I don’t want ABS to come on. So you do lose braking potential, but you get rid of the potential of going into ABS.”
Of course, that leaves the ND’s Achilles’ Heel, so to speak, and that’s the transmission. Early models were recalled and the MX-5 Cup cars now use a Sadev sequential gearbox. Mazda has since strengthened the design of its six-speed manual transmission and added a dual-mass flywheel to reduce driveline shock. Even so, Power is on his third transmission. Typically, the front seal has failed, and soaked the clutch, but he’s had the gear lube analyzed, which showed that the silicone sealant used on the transmissions is getting into the gear oil. Power also has logged temperatures of more than 260 degrees or more, so a cooler might be in the car’s future.
“I usually have to replace the transmission every season. The heat kills the sealant inside and then they start leaking,” Power said. “It’s not worth the cost of rebuilding now that you can get new ones with programs that are going on.”
Power has been buying new “take-out” transmissions from FLIS Performance in Daytona Beach, Fla., which removes the factory units and installs Sadev sequentials in the MX-5 Cup cars it builds. He also installed a CAE shifter to help lengthen the service life of the transmissions and minimize the reach to the lever.
“So that entire outfit down there at FLIS, they’re a huge help to the ND community. They’re on all the track pages, all the social media pages,” Power said. “If you got a question or you need a part that they’ve got tons of, they’re always willing to help people out. They’re really good guys down there.”
If one transmission per season sounds like a lot — and, if we’re being honest, it does — it’s important to note that between NASA and other racing organizations, Power does more than 35 days on track per season, with some six- and seven-hour enduros included in the mix. All totaled, he has been putting about 4,000 track miles on the car per year.
In terms of how the car is working for him as a driver, Power points out that he is currently leading regional points in ST5 this season, holds the ST5 track record at Mid-Ohio and National Corvette Museum, and has beaten the track record at other tracks during qualifying.
Power is currently battling defending regional champion Dariusz Koman for the NASA Great Lakes ST5 regional points championship. Koman’s Honda S2000 has a large horsepower edge over Power’s ND MX-5, as do the more torquey BMWs he races against.
“The only downside to the car that I’ve had to learn to deal with is that we’re going to lose places on the start. I think my statistic is 60 percent of the races that I’ve started this year, I’ve started on pole and within like the first two corners, I always end up like second or third, just because it’s one of the lowest horsepower car in ST5,” Power said. “Everything else just has more horsepower and they pull you on the start every time. So I’ve just gotten used to the fact that I start from pole, I end up third and I have 30 minutes to get back up there somehow.”
Power even has a PL Motorsports YouTube channel to broadcast his racing and some of the work he’s doing in the shop.
“I put my live streams up there every weekend, so people can go watch the live streams. I’ve noticed that, as far as race videos, people don’t really care to watch the race videos that much, to be honest with you,” he said, noting that the technical videos are more popular. “I don’t expect to have thousands of subscribers and 10,000 views. It’s more just something that I like to do for myself and it makes me happy. And if I can help someone along the way or answer someone’s question along the way, great.”
As more ND2s hit the used market, more people are going to be looking for a new paradigm in amateur sports car racing. It makes perfect sense that it might just be a newer version of the car that was, in many respects, the old paradigm.
|2,500 lbs. with driver
|Mazda SkyActiv G 2.0-liter four-cylinder/162 whp
|Mazda six-speed manual
|MCS two-way, nonremote, 700 Hyperco
|MCS two-way, nonremote, 350 Hyperco
|Hoosier R7 225-45-15
|Hoosier R7 225-45-15
|StopTech STR42, PFC11, PFC two-piece rotors
|Factory, PFC11, PFC two-piece rotors
|AiM MXS 1.2, Smarty Cam, Garmin Catalyst, Apex Pro, Sentinel video streaming system with three cameras.
|PL Motorsports, Exact Medical Manufacturing