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.
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.
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.
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.
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.