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2014 Best Driver's Car Bonus: First-Gen Mazda MX-5 Miata, Porsche 918 Spyder

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 9/24/2014 Scott Evans, Motor Trend Staff, Randy Pobst

Mazda Miata

25 Years and Going Strong
By: Randy Pobst

Research

First Generation Mazda MX 5 Miata© Provided by MotorTrend First Generation Mazda MX 5 Miata As I dropped down behind the wheel of the pristine white first-gen, first-year Miata on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca's pit lane, a tsunami of memories rushed in. First and foremost, the view of that retro-classic dash (retro even in 1990) took me to the front straight at the Mid-Ohio SCCA Runoffs in 1994. Someone crashed hard in Thunder Valley on the first lap, and we were parked on track under a red flag. My beloved mom had died just a week before, and her sweet spirit had swept over me then, bringing tears to my eyes, just like right now.

I gazed upon the 7000 rpm tach and the stubby black shifter, and heard the friendly four-cylinder thrum as I turned the key. Back to my roots. But, having just stepped from a new Z/28, my expectations were low. It's been a long time since I drove a dead-stock Miata; I doubted any were left! The 1.6 revved willingly, if a little lazily, as I left pit lane. Its 116 hp was about normal for the smaller sporty cars of the day, and though it's pulling just over half the heft of today's average hulk, it takes a little time to redline a gear. The shifts to third and fourth on the way to Turn 2 were mechanically direct, and brought to mind the meaning of Miata, taken from a High German word for reward.

And reward is what I got as I turned for the corner. This is the magic. Light, quick, agile, free. A sense of low mass, like when you put down your luggage or three bags of groceries. Feathery, by today's large and luxurious standards. The Japanese Elan rolls in the corner, but the multilink geometry is spot-on and so well-balanced, with front and rear in perfect harmony.

First Generation Mazda MX 5 Miata© Provided by MotorTrend First Generation Mazda MX 5 Miata I remember the showroom stock Miata race car could almost beat the twice-as-powerful Mitsubishi Eclipse Turbo at a track like Roebling Road, with long, contiguous sweepers. The Miata doesn't scrub speed. It's like the wheels steer themselves to just rail around at the perfect angle. Steering response dominates the experience. It has a strong front. For Turn 3, I barely had to brake; for Turn 4, I barely had to lift! The greatest challenge with a Miata is to release the brake and not slow down too much, and it is still that way in my Freedom Autosport MX-5 IMSA race car.

In the early '90s, racers were slow to adopt the little roadster. I ran one only for the generous contingency, 10 grand, when we won at the Runoffs in '92. But we all learned quickly, and soon the Miata dominated the SSC class, all due to its astonishing ability to carry speed through an apex, combined with immediate and never-say-die brakes. The brakes drop the nose instantly, with a fingertip feel of tires on pavement -- no ABS necessary. And that's the case at the Corkscrew, knifing through like it's a sweeper. I do two extra laps, just because this classic scratches my deep-seated driving itch so well that I don't want to stop!


Porsche 918 Spyder

Powered by Track Records
By: Scott Evans

2015 Porsche 918 Spyder© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder We all knew it was special.

Shoot, anyone with a pulse can see the Porsche 918 Spyder is special without knowing a thing about it. But we knew better. We knew it was a hybrid mid-engine supercar with 887 combined horsepower, one of the world's best dual-clutch transmissions, and 16-inch carbon-ceramic front brakes. We knew it would do amazing things. And back in April, it did. Randy pulled back into our makeshift pit stall at Willow Springs International Raceway with a new production-car track record.

He grumbled about hybrid brakes, depleted batteries, and worn tires. There was nothing we could do about the first bit, but the second and third were rectified with strategy and fresh rubber. Then he went out and broke his own record.

You can imagine, then, that we had high expectations when the deep blue 918 Spyder rolled off the trailer. Porsche wasn't able to provide a 918 for the full week, but it had managed to shake one loose for a day to take on the track record, and no one doubted the 918 could do it. There was a king-slayer in our midst. The Porsche was there, ready to strike. This car had a few more months of last-minute development work than the car that shattered the Willow Springs record.

Early indicators were good. As the 918 ripped past us on a straightaway, flat-plane crankshaft screaming its 608 hp to the heavens, we knew it was truly fast. The GT-R Nismo didn't look that fast. Not the 911 Turbo either.

2015 Porsche 918 Spyder© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder Randy seemed convinced as well. "Fantastic! Oh my god, good job. Way better than the last one," were the first words out of his mouth when the door swung open. They were followed by, "I turned everything off and just drove." No safety net in a nearly 900-horsepower car? Well, "It scared me once or twice, but just keep pushing hard and it comes right down. I had everything off and I wasn't worried. I just manned up. I said, 'Screw it. I can drive this thing.' This car just works. It's a sweetheart to drive."

No one's sweetheart is perfect. Randy didn't love the braking, which he found more predictable than at Willow Springs, but griped that it still didn't feel "organic." Rather, it felt as if the regenerative brakes were switching on and off. It also displayed a tendency to get sideways during turn-in at the slowest corners.

To the data we went, and the results were more impressive than we could've guessed: 1:30.97. Randy had taken 2.65 seconds off the production-car track record. And he'd done it on his first hot lap. Never mind that both subsequent laps, when the battery was depleted, each broke the record by more than a second.

How does one beat a record-setting, 640-hp SRT Viper T/A around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca? Big brakes and bigger power. The 918 reached substantially higher speeds than the Viper on every straight and braked later into nearly every corner. Actual cornering speeds were fairly close, but even the mighty Viper didn't have the raw power or braking force to catch the 918 as it exited each corner, rocketed to the next, and carried its speed longer before braking.

And you thought hybrids were boring.



2014 Motor Trend Best Drivers Car© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Motor Trend Best Drivers Car
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