Long Road Racing started life in 2001 as a race preparation shop specializing in Spec Miatas. The company and its cars performed well enough to capture the attention of Continential Tire Sports Car Challenge series team Freedom Autosport, which hired Long Road Racing to build and prep its cars. Those cars — and their level of preparation — in turn captured the attention of Mazda North American Operations, which has charged Long Road Racing with developing the new 2016 Global MX-5 Cup car.
Mazda sent chassis numbers 11, 12 and 13 from initial production to Long Road Racing for them to be test mules for development of the new global platform for MX-5 Cup. Long Road Racing brought those cars to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May for their first public testing during the Mazda Race of NASA Champions.
“It’s a homologated car. It will be fully developed,” said Glenn Long, owner of Long Road Racing. “The intent is that the cars be identical from one to two to three 15, 30. They’re all the same spec. They’ll all be built at Long Road Racing.
“Our intent is to give customers all the build specs on the car, so not only will they have serial numbers on the car, but they’ll have the damper curves, horsepower curves and their chassis numbers. So everybody will be able to look at their own car as well as against the norm, if you average all the other data together, to see where their car is, and we have a very tight tolerance for that — so that every car is virtually identical — and then it truly becomes a driver’s series.”
Gathering all that data and developing the car has been a fascinating and comprehensive process. Long started by placing chassis No. 11 on a kinematics and compliance machine, which measures chassis twist longitudinally and diagonally. The goal was to learn the car’s normal amount of chassis flex. They also measured all of the suspension, the travel and movements so they would know all the geometry numbers on the car. Long Road Racing then installed a roll cage and ran all those same tests again to see what the effects of the cage are, and to ensure they were maximizing the effect of the cage to the natural chassis twist.
Because the car will compete across all continents, the cage had to be designed to meet FIA requirements. What’s more, it also had to be designed to accommodate right-hand and left-hand drive cars. Another design parameter was that a finished car would accommodate a 6-foot, 4-inch driver and still have 2 inches of clearance. In the end, the cages for RHD and LHD cars are identical. The only difference is the orientation of the diagonal bar across the top of the cage.
“The main hoop goes on top of the parcel tray, and the parcel tray, if you were to section the car in half, is one of the strongest components of the car,” Long said. “That’s why you can put the cage on the parcel shelf, not down on the floor. You’ve been able to do that with every series of Miata.”
Once the cage was sorted, Long Road Racing had the car fitted to a multipost rig to get all the mathematical figures to be able to model the car and perform the majority of the development work virtually rather than at a race track.
“We have over 10 different tire companies we’re working with and five or six shock companies,” Long said. “We can now enter that into the model and be able to test — truly test — shock A with tire A,B,C,DE,F,G, shock B with tire A,B,C,DE,F,G, and not have the variable of track temperatures and track conditions. We can model it. Once we come up with the appropriate models, the ones that appear to be the most productive, we then take the product and put it on the car and do real-world testing.”
At Mazda Raceway, the cars were fitted with test gear measuring some 35 channels of data in addition to what the car delivers through CAN. Engineers were gathering data on shock travel and rate. The No. 5 car was fitted with one setup and the No. 55 car was fitted with a different setup. They also were measuring temperatures throughout the car, including, according to Long, “anything that rotates.” That includes wheel hubs, which have been known to fail on Miatas and MX-5s.
One area that has gone largely untouched, perhaps for now, is the steering rack, which is electrically assisted. The feedback from test drivers Tom Long (Glenn’s son) Andrew Carbonell and Kenton Koch is that the steering seems to work well enough straight out of the factory.
“When we first drove the car, it was clear that this isn’t something that needs attention immediately,” Long said. “It’s a very well tuned electronic power steering that gives great feedback to the driver. It works that well.”
In terms of powertrain development, the engine remains untouched internally. Long admitted he didn’t know if it had a timing belt or a timing chain. They will be sealing the engines for competition, with seals for the cam cover, cam timing controller, intake manifold and oil pan.
Long reported they are still searching for the right header and cold air intake. They have dyno tested the car with many different tube diameters and lengths and styles of collectors. They also are sourcing an aftermarket ECU.
“The idea is that I have the ability to tune as well as keep others out,” Long said. “In today’s electronic world, there’s a lot of available opportunity internal to the ECU, so we will make the ECU so that once it is flashed, if somebody attempts to enter the ECU without the appropriate information, the ECU will shut off. So that will be very easy to identify if it’s been tampered with.”
Miata transmissions and differentials always have been good, but another of processes Long Road Racing underwent was disassembling the transmission and differential to measure and document the part dimensions so they could monitor wear rates. Long noted that the new transmission linkage has no plastic bushings, which they replaced with metal in previous MX-5 racecars. The shifter is connected directly to a rail with shift forks on it. Thanks to an adjustment in the final drive ratio and the ratios inside the gearbox, the actual gears are larger, too, so they’re stronger. The feel is much more positive than the model it replaces.
“If you think it was good before, wait till you try this one,” he said. “It’s oohh to aahh.”
Long also created a unit for cooling the differential and the transmission. It’s essentially two coolers side by side with a thermostatically controlled fan and pumps for the transmission and differential. The unit mounts beneath the trunk where the production muffler would be located.
As fascinating as the development process has been, one of the more frequent questions, something every Miata racer wants to know, is whether it’s possible to bump draft with the new MX-5.
“Absolutely. How could you not?” Long said. “The nose is a little bit longer and we’ve gone with a little bit thicker core radiator for this for heat dissipation. The radiator is vertical as opposed to laid down as with the NCs. The front bump structure is an extruded piece of aluminum, so I think it will be very bump-draft-able.”
Pricing information for the Global MX-5 Cup Car was not available at press time. Look for it to be released sometime in June 2015.