Carlypso Buyer’s Guide: Trackday Miata

January 28, 2016

From time-to-time, we’ll publish Buyer’s Guides to share some of our wisdom gained from helping thousands into their perfect ride. Now, the Carlypso team is made up of automotive enthusiasts of all kinds. Some of our team bikes to work every day, while others take their cars to the track on the weekends. This Buyer’s Guide will resonate with that second group. Racing is a hobby and passion for many car enthusiasts, and the Mazda Miata is often the unanimous choice among the grassroots motorsports community. If you are interested in picking up an inexpensive car for weekend track duty, here’s a guide to get you started:

The Mazda MX-5 / Miata is the best selling convertible in history, and a fantastic platform to start with for perusing the motorsport dreams you’ve always had. Its availability, affordable cost, reliability, and wide aftermarket support make the Mazda a winner. The first step is to find a solid base car, and while there is really no such thing as a bad Miata to start with for motorsport, there are a few models and trims that stand out.

First Generation – NA: $3-5k

Amongst the first generation, or ‘NA’ as they are referred to amongst the Miata stronghold, pick a ‘94 or ’95 model year, as they were equipped with the larger 1.8L motors (up from the 1.6L of earlier models) and better brakes. You typically want to look for one with the optional Torsen Limited Slip Differential, and extra points if you pick up the R-package, which came standard with a Torsen LSD, beefier sway bars and spoilers. Typically, most drivers who choose to use their Miatas for autocross or track use tend to avoid the M-editions as their extra luxuries and features add unnecessary weight.

Second Generation – NB: $3-13k

If you’re scouting a second-gen car, or ‘NB,’ the ’01-’05 cars carry slightly more torque thanks to the upgraded Variable Valve Timing motor and revised intake and exhaust. If you want the fan favorite amongst the Mazda crowd though, the Mazdaspeed Miata (2004 and 2005) is the car to buy, with its factory turbocharger, upgraded suspension and drivetrain, as well as larger 17 inch Racing Hart wheels on wider tires, providing higher levels of grip than its counterparts.

Third Generation – NC: $9-18K

The third-gen MX-5 (NC) is the most controversial amongst purists, some enjoying the fact that it provides a little more grunt and better brakes than prior generations, while others dislike it for the fact that it’s the largest and heaviest of the bunch. If you want an NC for sporting around in however, opt for one with a soft top and not the automatic folding metal roof. As always with a roadster: lighter is better.

Fourth Generation – ND: Starting at $24,915

For those looking to hop into the latest (ND) MX-5, you’ll be pleased that the new car weighs in extremely close to the original, making it a very worthy light weight successor. The Club trim is currently the one best suited for track going owners, with its sportier Bilstein shocks, a Limited Slip Differential, and strut braces.

Getting Started on the Track

If you are totally new to motorsports, autocross is the cheapest and most casual point of entry, allowing total beginners to ease in, learn car control from the ground up, and enjoy pushing their car without big risk or compromise to their vehicle or schedule. At the very least you’ll need a DOT-approved helmet (some organizations have loaners on hand), and be able to help out for the day, be it with cone setup, teardown, or organization. Certain groups offer further discounts with an annual membership, such as SCCA. Autocross is also the sort of sport where you can go as deep and go as crazy as you’re willing (or your wallet is capable of), with novices and veterans alike boasting a wide variety of everyday commuter cars to complete race cars.

From here, if you’re looking to get deeper into the game, whether in autocross or track, it’s probably time to invest in some basic upgrades. Roll bars, a hardtop, lightweight wheels, grippier tires, higher performance brake pads, sway bars, a proper racing seat and suspension upgrades are all a great place to start. Expect to spend at least $4500 if you want to get good quality parts.

When it comes time to track the car, engine upgrades will help out, allowing your motor to breathe better and run more aggressively. Investing in a new intake, exhaust manifold, and a cat-back exhaust are musts, along with a programmable ECU to tune the car with. Many will also opt to go the route of forced induction, adding on a turbo or supercharger, along with upgrading the rear end of the car with a stronger differential, half shafts, and drive shafts to ensure better reliability when pushing the car hard for lengthy periods. All this does get pricey, and will put you minimally in the ballpark of at least another $7500 if you’re a DIY-er. Always keep in mind the added maintenance of a higher performance vehicle, labor rates for installers, and making sure you have a good tuner who can program your car to run at its best given the power modifications.

At the end of the day, while there is a lot to keep in mind while buying and building a car for racing, the Miata is an incredibly accessible and versatile car to start with, whether for just being an occasional weekend warrior or full-blown circuit champ. Furthermore, the wealth of aftermarket support, online communities, clubs, and even Spec racing sponsored by Mazda itself lends this convertible to being one of the best choices you can make if getting into motorsport. It really is as they say, “the answer is always Miata!”