2019 Mazda MX-5 Cup ND2 Is a $68,000 Miata Worth Every Penny

The Drive spends time with the newest MX-5 Cup racer and talks with the man who developed it.

Mazda Motorsports

Mazda has, for decades, verified and improved the capability of its MX-5 to challenge the giants and serve as the proverbial David in the cliche that it often finds itself in when compared by price and, of course, size. Its zippy attitude and unparalleled maneuverability have locked it into a niche—and price point—that its customers are comfortable with while Mazda's R&D department quietly dials it in closer to perfection. But what about an MX-5 that has the same power, costs nearly $70K, and can't be driven on public roads?

Sounds like a crock at first blush, really. But, as you knew there would be, there's a catch that not only qualifies the MX-5 Cup ND2 as a worthwhile buy but also as a career opportunity for drivers behind the wheel of one on any given race weekend.

The ND2 variant is seen as a significant step up in comparison to the ND1, the latter serving as the sole choice for the Global MX-5 Cup series until 2019 (the two now run side-by-side in separate classes). Tom Long, owner of Long Road Racing and builder of every MX-5 Cup car on the grid, gave The Drive a quick run-through of the car this weekend at Circuit of the Americas where over 30 entries hit the 3.4-mile track for the 2019 season-opener.

Mazda Motorsports

First, Long explained the headliner upgrade lies within the 2.0-liter powerplant which now makes 181 horsepower in ND2 form, a 26-hp bump over its entry-level sibling. It has an increased rev range that tops out at 7,500 rpm, optimizing the car's ability to utilize power across the circuit without needing to upshift or downshift as frequently.

"Even more than the extra horsepower, [the 800 rpm-increase] makes a big difference as far as drivability on the race track," Long noted. "Either you've got a lot of corners where you're in the low end of this gear, or needing to shift constantly, and you can now carry whatever gear you're in into the next corner without having to upshift."

Managing the fine-tuned powerplant is a Bosch ECU, which Long claims to be a marginal improvement over the ND1's computer. In addition to smoother and more efficient running, it's said to be highly tamper-proof, a must in a series of spec racers which are required to run with identical equipment. 

Rounding out the engine tweaks is a beefed-up cooling package which simply enables the car to run more reliably while taking in more air. Small, but essential for the health of the power unit as it spends most of its time near the heightened redline.

These collective changes, along with other mods such as a strengthened transmission, add up to a $10K premium over the ND1. That being said, the Global MX-5 Cup series awards over $375,000 in scholarships annually for successful drivers, helping them to step up the ladder toward whichever route they decide to take: sports cars or open-wheel. 

Mazda's unwavering commitment to grassroots racing has brought many drivers from the bottom to the top, and for a fraction of the price of other national series, you can have your own seat in what's become one of the most competitive leagues in American motorsport.