READY TO TAKE ON THE WORLD
MAD MIKE’S BARBER SHOP IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS, AND READY TO DISH OUT SOME CUT-THROAT RAZOR SHAVES TO THE FORMULA DRIFT COMPETITION
It scares me” is not exactly the kind of response you’d expect from Mad Mike Whiddett when talking about his latest build, but then again, the Mazda MX-5 he is referring to isn’t exactly your average kind of car. It is, however, the kind of necessary evil needed if Mike is to be successful in his quest to take on the world’s best in the Formula D World Championship, and be competitive.
This was something his team learned first-hand in 2010, when he shipped his RX-8 — known as BADBUL — to the USA fresh from winning the NZ Drift Championship. Mike explained, “Having been up there a few times before, I knew that the development of not only the cars, but the drivers, was insane. We knew it was going to be a hard task, and the fact that Need For Speed came to us in February and asked if we wanted to run the entire Formula Drift programme … we literally had about two weeks before we had to have an RX-8 in a container to make round one. So while the budget was there to make everything happen, it was a steep learning curve, and to be aligned with crew who we found out weren’t really into drifting was challenging.”
Mike tells us that during that 2010 season he progressed more as a professional driver than all the other years put together. Each time they went to a new track his team was learning about setting up a car, with advice coming from the likes of ASD’s Ian Stewart, as Mike told NZPC. “We were on opposing teams, but being a fellow Kiwi he helped us out, just little things like running staggered offsets and staggered alignments. Taking an end cap off one side of your wing, all these little things that I thought wouldn’t have done anything just made such major changes to the car. Then going from Top 32 to Top 16 to Top 8, they would have set-ups for each as it just gets faster and faster and faster.”
That season five years ago Mike finished a credible 21st out of 49 drivers, and earned Formula D’s Most Improved Driver award. Ever since then it’s been Mike’s dream to return to Formula D and make his mark, as he explained. “Every year since we have had some amazing arrive-and-drive offers from teams, which included getting paid a good wage to turn up and drive the seven rounds.” Mike’s partner and team manager, Toni, said that Mike wanted to do it on his own terms, with his own team and behind the wheel of a Mazda. “Because as we all know Mike is a rotary guy through and through. To an extent Mike would have seen himself as a sellout going and driving for another manufacturer, when his heart wouldn’t have been in it. We wanted to get back there first and make sure we did it our way with our own team.”
That opportunity arose midway through 2014, when the team picked up an NC MX-5 shell, and Mike put it to his Facebook fans to decide whether it would become a pro car or a missile. With social media opting for a pro car, the team began putting together their Formula Drift programme.
To compete in a championship boasting the most advanced unibody race cars on the planet, vehicles with an average of 634kW (850hp), they needed to dream big, something they have never had a problem doing.
“On paper the MX-5 had everything to do the damage,” Mike said. “When you’re looking at the wheelbase, when you’re looking at the geometry, and when you’re looking at this firewall — there couldn’t be a better platform for my driving style. Of course lots of people are saying it’s going to be to snappy, and it’s too short, but that’s the way I drive, I like cars like that, the RX-7 is a perfect example of that. A real rapid switcher.”
The build began by dipping the shell in the biggest acid bath in New Zealand to remove any and all unnecessary underseal and sound deadening, and then the car was handed over to Warren Overton and the PPRE team.
Warren has been working with Mike since his burnout competition days, and crewing on the drift cars gave him a good insight into what was needed to make the MX-5 work. As he’s full
He signed with Red Bull in 2008, and Mike — who is a talented signwriter — has always incorporated his personal flair into each livery, and taken it about as far away from brand guidelines as he’s allowed. But this year sees the car go full brand image. “We are representing the best partners in the most elite drifting championship in the world, so I want to expose Red Bull as hard as I can. It’s a big thanks to them for all these years of insane projects and support”
time on the team he knows the car inside and out, useful when the team is at the track. Mike says the RX-7 and the RX-8 weren’t built with the knowledge the team now has. “Warren at that stage didn’t really know the sport of drifting and its structure, with the five-minute time outs, etc. All I wanted was crazy motors, big power and cool noise, I was not really chasing all this grip and performance. Now after all these years he’s been on the crew, he knows what bugs him at the track. So this car has been pieced together eliminating all the little things that bug him, and everything is as simple as possible,” Mike explained.
Originally the plan was for a single-turbo 20B power plant, but after Mazda came on board, and a moment of craziness at last year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, the team decided it had to have a four-rotor, and while they were at it, another Garrett turbo was added to the mix. Warren had built a turbo four-rotor on the Huijs Racing jet boat, so knew he could get the reliability.
The combination has proved its worth in testing. It makes over 745kW on low boost, with massive torque and plenty of power at basement revs, as Mike explained. “With this much power the car is easier to drive than say MADBUL, with that car as soon as you’re off that gas it’s out of the power band, and you’re screwed. Then it comes down to clutch kicking and gear changing. All of a sudden I’m having to do all this stuff, and keep the car fluid in its drift, so driver error comes in and then it’s hard on the drivetrain, ‘boof!’ there are broken axles, driveshafts, diffs and gearboxes. But with this car we have the power to let me just stay in the top gears and use the boost and torque. We were at Manfeild last week testing, and I’m telling myself ‘OK leave the shifter alone, just get it into top gear and just drive it.’ You can bring it down pretty much to idle and then just stand back on it and the power comes straight back on. We are stoked now that we have the power and torque we needed.”
Making four-digit power figures requires some serious firepower, which comes from a Haltech M&W CDI ignition system. This is packaged neatly under the dash with the Haltech ECU and all other electronic components. The factory dash, which is an FD requirement, can be removed in seconds as it’s held in by a few Dzus fasteners
PWR has come on board and built all-custom cooling components for the MX-5, including this unique water-to-oil heat exchanger located in the passenger footwell. That means no air-to-oil coolers are hanging out the front in harm’s way, which is great, as this is a component Mike has damaged countless times before on the RX-7 and RX-8 While putting the MX-5 together the team has endeavoured to use the best components available. They have always had issues with gearbox damage, and we aren’t talking about cheap OEM boxes. So they’ve opted for a Holinger RD6 six-speed sequential, which is widely acknowledged as the toughest box in the business, and one used by most of the high-power teams in drifting