MAD MIKE’S RX-8 REDEFINED
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
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”