1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long Term Road Test

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Beauty Of Dual-Purpose Cars

July 12, 2011

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata 

It was one of those trips I used to take monthly. My friends and I would pack up our cars with tools, various spares, a helmet and a set of R-compound tires and then hit some of the best driving roads in California on our way to a track day. Being in southern California, we're blessed to have several road courses within easy striking distance.

We'd drive hard, compare notes, tell lies, talk smack, joke around, eat bad track food, discuss the nuances of our digestive tracts. Sometimes there would be mechanical drama along the way. But it was always fun.

Somehow along the way these trips dwindled into annual events, maybe. Life got in the way. Racing, too, as competing in a half-dozen or more crapcan endurance races a year leaves little time (or desire) for hotlapping days.

When the last-minute call for a track day at Laguna Seca came in, my gang of fools decided we were long overdue for such a trip. The road beckoned.

We mapped out a route that had us taking 101 North and then picking up Route 33 in Ojai, across Route 58 back to Highway 101, and then jumping off at Carmel Valley Road, which spits us out nearly at Laguna Seca's front gate. If you've ever driven these roads, you know how badass they are. If not, well, they're badass.

Mike has his '99 Miata, and Dan's got a Lotus Exige that wears R-compounds exclusively. As for me, Project Miata's dual-purpose intent makes it ideal for such badassery. It's got the right balance of compliance and control and comfort and capability to swallow bumpy, broken roads and smooth track tarmac in equal measure. With only some minor wrench-turning before the trip, I could roll up to the track and not have to change a single tire or brake pad the entire time.

First a brake bleed, then pads. Its Stoptech 309 brake pads are some of the best pads I've encountered for hard street driving and day-to-day livability. I even use them on our championship-winning Eyesore Racing FrankenMiata LeMons race car, where they've shone.

Our green wine-and-cheese-mobile is heavier than the FrankenMiata, though, and doesn't have anything approaching that car's advanced brake cooling scheme which consists of deleted bodywork. For Project Miata I wanted pads with a higher maximum operating temperature to withstand track use, but still have enough thermal range to work on the road to and from the track.

A last-minute call to Cobalt Friction Technologies landed a pair of XR3 front pads on my doorstep. Normally they'd match these with XR5 rear pads on a Miata such as this, but they were fresh out of XR5s. Still, the XR3s have similar-enough torque output to the existing rear pads that there won't be any brake bias issues.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata  

Are you a brake dork? Okay, read on. It's hard to tell from the photo, but Cobalt has put the maximum possible pad volume on the XR3's backing plate (top). It uses even more of the available real estate than the stock pad, as this variant of the XR3 is designed for Spec Miata guys that have to use stock brake hardware. More pad volume is key to squeezing the most heat tolerance out of a pad. In this case it's only a millimeter here and there, but every little bit helps.

Once the fresh pads were in, were ready to rock. The three of us left the driveway an hour after our planned departure time -- just like the old days -- and were immediately thwarted by a road closure in Long Beach that had traffic swarming, just like every day. A bit of threading around side streets and we hit the 710 freeway just to be stuck in traffic again on the 405 (what else is new). Eventually things cleared up, until signs for Route 101 loomed. The lanes for the 101 were backed up for as far as the eye could see. It was a freakin' disaster area.

Change of plans. We'd instead shoot up I-5 North and peel off at Frazier Park to take Cerro Noroeste up to Route 33. A minor diversion but one I have no problem accepting, as Cerro Noroeste is a real-deal drivers' road of the first order.

At this point in the trip, Project Miata began to hint at what was to come. I'll get to that in a follow-up post.

--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor 

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