EN­DUR­ING WON­DER

MAD MIKE’S RX-8 RE­DE­FINED

NZ Performance Car - - Con­tents - WORDS: MAR­CUS GIB­SON PHO­TOS: ADAM CROY

he mid­dle child of any fam­ily of­ten gets the short end of the stick. Nei­ther the cap­tain of the ship nor the young one who gets all the lime­light, they are of­ten just left to their own de­vices, fend­ing for them­selves in the shadow of their other sib­lings, re­gard­less of their achieve­ments.

In the sta­bles of drifter ‘Mad Mike’ Whid­dett, that po­si­tion is, with­out a doubt, held by the RX-8 dubbed ‘BAD­BUL’. It’s not the most in­sane and lat­est BUL (that’s ‘RAD­BUL’, the MX-5), and it’s not the crowd favourite ‘MAD­BUL’, the RX-7, but the fact of the mat­ter is that, from the day it rolled out of the work­shop, the RX-8 has been a solid per­former for Mike, and it’s the car in which he feels the most com­pet­i­tive be­hind the wheel, as ev­i­denced by the long list of podi­ums, in­clud­ing win­ning the NZ Drift Na­tion­als in its de­but sea­son.

The jour­ney kicked off in 2009, just after Mike signed with Red Bull, and be­gan his climb to be­com­ing the world’s best-known drifter. Op­por­tu­ni­ties started rolling in thick and fast, but there was a prob­lem. Ship­ping the FD all around the globe took time, time that Mike didn’t have, as he was still con­test­ing two na­tional drift­ing cham­pi­onships here in New Zealand. A sec­ond car was needed, and needed fast, and while a sis­ter RX-7 to MAD­BUL would have been the easy route, Mike — be­ing Mike — wanted to push the boundaries and build some­thing that many con­sid­ered ugly at the time, in­clud­ing him­self — the SP3 RX-8.

The an­swer came in the form of a Pro­duc­tion Se­ries com­pe­ti­tion chas­sis that just hap­pened to be for sale at the right time. It was es­sen­tially a stock RX-8 with a roll cage, and Mike even hit Pukekohe with it in this form be­fore it went un­der the knife to emerge on the cover of NZ Per­for­mance Car Issue No. 153 as ‘Fursty’, aka BAD­BUL. At the time, no one was mak­ing kits for the RX-8, and a lo­cal bodykit maker, Lowkey, came up with a highly mod­i­fied BN Sports kit us­ing parts from the FD kit. Un­der the hood was a Pulse Per­for­mance Race En­gi­neer­ing (PPRE)–built 20B bridge­port.

“The RX-8 was in­stantly easy to drive and com­pet­i­tive, con­sid­er­ing that (like the MX-5) we had no data to go off. There were no off-the-shelf parts avail­able for the chas­sis, so we had to build ev­ery­thing. But that’s just what we like to do as a team, be­ing the first to do some­thing and just fig­ur­ing it out. With drift­ing, ev­ery­one has their own drift­ing style, their own per­son­al­ity, and it all shows through the builds, that’s why I like to do ev­ery­thing our­selves and that leads to my own style out on track,” says Mike. That style was per­son­i­fied by the look of the car. It’s al­ways been low, ex­tremely wide, and re­ally looked like no other RX-8 on the planet. And, de­spite its form, the func­tion was there, enough to podium ev­ery round of its de­but sea­son in the NZ Drift Se­ries and earn Mike his one and only na­tional ti­tle, while also plac­ing sec­ond in D1NZ.

Just as the New Zealand sea­son was wrap­ping up, the of­fer of a life­time came in for Mike to con­test a full sea­son in the US as part of Team Need for Speed. The only prob­lem was that the deal was signed just four weeks be­fore the car had to be in the con­tainer and head­ing for Long Beach. It was far from what you would con­sider an ac­tual race car, in that it still had elec­tric win­dows, an HKS TV, and not a sin­gle piece of steel cut out. “With lim­ited time, we didn’t change much with the car as I knew what it was like,” he re­calls. “I didn’t want to ar­rive and spend a year try­ing to sort it out.”

That year, the team zigzagged the coun­try with the RX-8, and it de­vel­oped a ton as he learned the ins and outs of run­ning in For­mula Drift. “We man­aged to get some good re­sults, we made it to the top 16, and I al­ways ended up bat­tling with Dai Yoshi­hara, who was the cur­rent champ. Each time I went up against him, we would go OMT [one more time]. It was re­ally good to know that we had the pace to go up against the cur­rent cham­pion — it was freak­ing re­ward­ing. And to have the re­li­a­bil­ity with the car, it just didn’t miss a beat,” Mike says.

Over the next six years, the RX-8 trav­elled the world, spend­ing time tour­ing Europe, Asia, and the Mid­dle East as part of Team Need for Speed. It at­tended the World Time At­tack Chal­lenge (WTAC) in Syd­ney, took out Drift Shifters lo­cally, and trans­ported Lord March up his own drive­way at the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed, be­fore head­ing to South Africa to shoot Con­quer the Cape. It has seen nine

In 2016, the RX-8 was re­worked and sent to the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed, where Mike took Lord March him­self for a spin up his own drive

years of abuse tour­ing the globe and was of­ten left for ex­tended pe­ri­ods gath­er­ing dust in the work­shop while its other sib­lings took the lime­light. So what pos­sessed Mike to com­pletely re­build the car after so long rather than just move on to build­ing some­thing new?

He ex­plains, “Although it was a com­pet­i­tive and easy car to drive, now we’re go­ing to see if we can make it a com­pet­i­tive car to the stan­dards these days. I was just in­trigued to see what we could achieve with it now, with all the devel­op­ment that we have on the MX-5, which has iden­ti­cal chas­sis pick­ups. We de­cided to trans­fer over all that data, along with KW sus­pen­sion, Wise­fab, and the Me­gan arms into the RX-8, and see how it goes.”

So, while the RX-8 has never failed to be com­pet­i­tive, es­pe­cially here in New Zealand, we are now star­ing down the bar­rel of a proper race car — the po­tency of RAD­BUL mixed with a longer wheel­base, which makes for a much eas­ier car to drive when Mike is right on that ragged edge.

Bet­ter yet, as the images here clearly show, the RX-8 has not lost its ap­peal as one bad-look­ing RX-8. When it starred in its first cover fea­ture, Peter Kelly called it the world’s best­look­ing RX-8, and that’s a crown it has never lost, and one that the cur­rent re­work will ce­ment in stone. “Yes, it is still lower than where you would have it for the ul­ti­mate per­for­mance, but drift­ing is a balance,” says Mike. “If we wanted to build the fastest drift car to go and win all the cham­pi­onships, we wouldn’t be build­ing what we do — we know what we would build, and those ar­rive-and-drive of­fers in such cars come ev­ery year. It’s no stress and the per­fect dream for some driv­ers, but, for me and Toni, we’ve built ev­ery­thing we have and we have 100 per cent con­trol over it, which is re­ward­ing, es­pe­cially do­ing it out of New Zealand. Its nice to have that con­trol; if we get an in­vi­ta­tion to at­tend an event we can choose to go, and even what car to go with, whereas some driv­ers don’t even own a car now.”

For the re­work, Mike sat down with Kei Miura of TRA Ky­oto, aka Rocket Bunny fame, to work on a new look — and if you ask us, the Pan­dem style has never looked so good on the chas­sis, thanks mostly to the shape of the RX-8 front guards. But the re­birth has gone much deeper than slap­ping on a new kit, with the con­ver­sion to the lat­est-model R3 RX-8 front and rear clips and the re­moval of any and all of the eight years’ worth of bent pan­els of­ten hid­den be­hind the fi­bre­glass. A fresh set of Lexan win­dows went in, in­clud­ing a Sand­brooks heated front screen. Years of wiring and other elec­tronic giz­mos were re­moved from un­der the dash, and the fi­nal pieces were a new liv­ery, and, of course, a fresh wheel combo.

What you might be sur­prised to find out is that Mike is still the one do­ing the ma­jor­ity of the work, along­side some trusted mates. He even picked up a TIG welder for the first time and tack­led a new ex­haust: “I en­joy build­ing and cre­at­ing them from a vi­sion in my head and have my own shop where I can go and cre­ate. I love it as much as I do go­ing to the track, putting on a show, and wreck­ing

A small car with a long wheel­base, it was a game changer down here when it was first built, and, when it re­turned from the US in 2010, it was un­touch­able in terms of grip and speed

PER­FOR­MANCE IN­TE­RIOR

POWER: 606kW SEATS: (F) Takata/MM, Takata six-point har­ness STEER­ING WHEEL: Sparco IN­STRU­MEN­TA­TION: Hal­tech Ra­cepak dash EX­TRA: Cus­tom ECU board, cus­tom switch panel, Life­line fire-sup­pres­sion system

One area that wasn’t re­worked is the en­gine pack­age, which never had prob­lems mak­ing enough grunt — back in 2010, it was one of the high­est-pow­ered ma­chines in For­mula Drift. These days, it re­li­ably pushes out 605kW. “We know that if we need 1000hp it will do it easy, but, with the balance it has, we don’t,” says Mike. “Sure, we could have more power, but we are at a point where we know I can turn up, be com­pet­i­tive, beat on the car, and get it as hot as pos­si­ble dur­ing the sec­tion, and I’m not at think­ing that the mo­tor isn’t go­ing to last, which is hugely im­por­tant. It’s done four years, and it’s been solid as a rock, and any­one that knows my driv­ing style will know [that] I’m ex­tremely hard on any part of the driv­e­line”

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