Most people think Nascar when they hear about Daytona International Speedway. To road course guys like me, it’s the site of a 24-hour race, which we wait for every year in January. This past year, I participated in the SCCA Majors to qualify to run two different classes at the Runoffs, which were hosted at the Daytona Intl. Speedway.
My normal racetrack chariot is a 2011 Mazda 2 B-Spec, which I’ve raced for the past 4 years.
I’ve been quietly building a 2015 Mazda 3 Sedan with a 2.5 engine to run in the SCCA T-4 class starting late in the season this year with the purpose of running it at Daytona. We picked up the car from getting the cage installed and had nine days to get all of the parts installed, get it dyno tuned for 98 octane, and load it up into a trailer to go to Daytona via Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. There’s nothing like taking a completely unsorted car to a national championship race on the other side of the country, just for fun.
At the Pirelli World Challenge race weekend at Mazda Raceway, the CorkSport Mazda 2 was piloted by Joey Jordan and swept the three races for a perfect weekend. In between the Mazda 2 getting serviced, we worked on the Mazda 3, getting the sound deadener removed, seat mounted, and safety gear installed. We also changed the springs installed on the car to CorkSport’s 2014+ Mazda 3 springs to make the ride height lower. At Daytona, you want less aero drag because of the low profile, so having the car as low as you can get it helps the speed on the oval section.
After the last race was finished up at Pirelli, we loaded up both Mazdas and headed to Daytona, which is a 44-hour drive across the country.
We arrived at Daytona on Friday to do some final setup on the Mazda 2 and finish the prep work on the Mazda 3 before our test day on Saturday.
I’ve raced at Autoclub speedway in Fontana California before, so I was familiar with a banked track but not quite as familiar with that long of a time on the track.
In the Mazda 2, I found myself looking around at the scenery a lot during the Saturday test day. The infield was fun to find the limits on the car and mastering the bus stop with a quick hit of the brake then back on the gas was a big challenge for me.
In the Mazda 3 on Sunday, I got a reminder of what a new car can be like while getting everything dialed in. I had massive understeer with the car and had to modulate the throttle constantly to get the car to turn. On the straight sections, the car was fast and I could hang with most of the cars out there if I got enough of a run out of the corners. To give you an idea of how much faster the Mazda 3 was at the time trap, the fastest draft time I got with the Mazda 2 was 119mph. In the Mazda 3, it was 139mph. This was before you head into a turn and slow down in the shortest possible space before busting a quick left into the infield. If you get it wrong, the guys behind you made up time on you. If you get it right, you can get more of a lead.
Another huge problem I had with the Mazda 3 was I couldn’t see anything out of the left side of the car. The window size is pretty small, the window net didn’t help, and the massive left mirror did its best to keep me from seeing the apex or the other cars.
I qualified for the championship race 15th out of 22 cars, which isn’t great, but it’s not the back of the field. I was four seconds off the pace of the pole sitting Honda Civic, which gives you an idea of how well sorted that car was in comparison to the Mazda 3 in its first weekend at the track.
Honestly, the T-4 started off pretty crappy for me. I got jumped on the start and was forced to the outside of turn 1 where I couldn’t judge the car next to me going through the corner, so I lost a spot. Two laps later, I got to watch Scotty White in his Mustang get turned into by a RSX right in front of me going into the bus stop, which made for some great front row entertainment. Toss in a few dive bombs by a Camaro and it made for a good time. I spent the rest of the race trying to be as nice to my front left tire in the infield as I could.
In the end, I finished in 15th, which is the exact spot I started the race in! For this upcoming season, we’ll work on the suspension setup to improve the car’s cornering speeds to be more competitive and work on the driver setup.
I have to give a big thanks to CorkSport for the parts installed on the Mazda 3, which worked flawlessly, Joey Jordan Motorsports for the spotting and chassis setup at the track, Joe at Dynotronics for the 98 octane Skyactiv Tune in a super short period of time, Monarch Inspections for letting us steal your worker bee to drive the truck across the country, 47 Moto for the wrench help, Mazdaspeed Motorsports for being the best vehicle manufacturer that supports club racing, and my wife and kids for putting up with me running off to chase my dreams.