Video: Who Needs Power? 128-HP Miata Rounds Laguna Seca In 1:42.8!

This ’95 M-Edition Miata may have an anemic 1.8-liter engine, but it still rounds Laguna Seca in an incredible time. What it lacks in power it compensates with grip—both mechanical and aerodynamic—as well as an inspiring balance.

For aerodynamic grip, it sports a Nine Lives Racing Swan Neck wing, an R Theory V2 diffuser, and a plywood front splitter; hood vents and augmented front fenders reduce lift and drag.

Photo credit: Sharplite Media

The aerodynamic stick is complemented by remarkable mechanical grip. This comes courtesy of non-adjustable Bilstein shocks, stock arms, polyurethane bushings, Bauer lower extended ball joints, an OS Giken 1.5-way differential, and 225-section Toyo RR tires. It’s a simple setup that works, provided the driver can get the most from it.

The Right Touch

With the handy Nik Romano at the wheel, we can see how it needs to be driven at the very edge—it requires a mix of assertion and restraint that not every driver has. Typically, Romano likes a car that understeers mildly to temper his trailbraking-induced rotation, but the setup of this car simply pushes mid-corner more than he’d prefer, which delays throttle application.

“With a low-power, high-grip car like this, I’m focused on a few things: carrying as much entry speed as possible, keeping the car from sliding much, using full width of the track, and softening the steering rate,” he says.

That much downforce at the rear means reassuring push at speed.

Easier Said Than Done

These four aims can be seen in Turns 4 through 6. Through Turn 4 (0:46), he lifts briefly on entry, then he’s flat again before the apex—aero helps catch it there. For Turn 5 (1:00), Romano applies a dab of the brake, plants the inside of the car on the curb, then does a curious thing. “At the apex, I back out of the throttle to stabilize the car a little over the curb,” he adds. Minimizing slides, especially when headed uphill, is his aim.

Photo credit: Sharplite Media

In Turn 6 (1:10), technique is especially important in a high-grip, low-power car. “I used to be too jerky with my inputs to cause rotation, but it could be too much. Sliding much in such a high grip, low power car, you stand to lose more than you gain,” he elucidates.

To keep the Miata from sliding excessively, he progressively blends in steering lock for an astonishing 95 mph into the semi-blind bend. Though he keeps it underneath him into the corner, the car begins hopping after the post-apex bump (1:12) in a “a brown pants moment.” Fortunately, his approach helped him maintain good speed through the middle of the corner, so that the snap after the exit doesn’t compromise speed up the hill much.

Photo credit: Sharplite Media

Through Turn 9 (1:32), we see how strong the car is when it’s pressed firmly into the circuit. As he gently feeds the steering in through the long corner, he lifts momentarily prior to the apex—at 90 mph—to mitigate understeer. “In most cars I’m fighting oversteer there, but this car has all the stability you could want!”

For all its stability, it still can be upset. In Turn 10 (1:38) . The car is already floating slightly before Romano tries a full stab of gas. “It can oversteer when you get a little too greedy with throttle,” he warns with a chuckle. It’s the only time we see him lose the Miata’s rear, albeit briefly, which only makes his disciplined, thoughtful balancing act all the more impressive. With all the grip, getting this time out of the Miata might look easy, but that’s only an illusion caused by Romano’s talent.

For more on Romano’s coaching services, please visit his site here

 

 

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About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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