Lessons Learned from a Club Spec MX-5 Build

Lessons Learned from a Club Spec MX-5 Build

There’s been quite a buzz around Club Spec, a competition category launched by the SCCA® last year. Considering Club Spec offers a build once, participate everywhere ethos, it’s no surprise that the car owners are loving them, with more and more builds popping up across the country.

Dan Lohan began his motorsports life with an NA-generation Miata that was used in Street Touring® Roadster (STR) for autocross and in Time Trials and track days. Though he loved his first-generation Miata, it wasn’t “the car” for either of the potential autocross classes he could play in. Staying within the Mazda Motorsports family, Lohan elected to move forward with an NC-generation MX-5 just before the Club Spec announcement came out.

The Club Spec concept is simple: Cars built to one ruleset can then participate in multiple disciplines. Club Spec launched with upgrade packages for the 2006-’15 NC Mazda Miata and 2005-’09 S197 Ford Mustang GT, with both instantly granted places to compete in SCCA Autocross and National Time Trials competition.

Club Spec MX-5s will hold the classing moniker CSX, while Club Spec Mustangs will be CSM.

Already ahead of the game with car ownership, Lohan left it stock as he waited for the Club Spec ruleset to finalize. Once it did, he sprang into action.

The Prep

Because Lohan had purchased his 2012 Sport-trim Mazda before Club Spec had even been announced, he was sitting on a five-speed model. When it became likely the rules package for the NC Miata was going to focus on the six-speed instead, he picked up a used transmission from a later model NC, updating his Mazda Motorsports account so that he was ready to go when the rules were finalized.

Go Time

With the rules announced, it was go time.

First, all of the Club Spec parts were ordered. There are some options on performance, depending on which parts of the MX-5 you’d like to highlight (and, realistically, how much comfort you’d like if you’re going to drive it on the street). Lohan went with the required suspension and the optional intake and exhaust kits.

Lohan, and Mazda Motorsports themselves, acknowledge that the Mazda Motorsports site could be easier for looking up parts and part numbers. While the work continues there, both Lohan and the Mazda Motorsports team encourage you to pick up the phone and call them if you have issues.

Get Into the Garage

Lohan’s first recommendation is to purchase a 2009-’15 NC Mazda MX-5 in Touring or Club Trim if you’d like the path of least resistance (“the key is to get an NC2 or NC3 with the factory six-speed and LSD,” he said). His 2012 sport model required the six-speed transmission (see below for info about that swap) and he needed to add the limited slip differential to bring it into the ruleset – items the aforementioned years will already have.

The suspension components came with their own surprises that may vary with each car – but Lohan’s attempt is a lesson for all of us.

His original plan when adding the suspension components was to replace the dust boots on the ball joints and call it a day – but with 130,000 miles on the car, it quickly became clear that it wouldn’t optimize the performance. When removing the control arms, he found that the ball joints were worn out and the rubber bushings were dry rotted. Rather than putting them back in as-is, he replaced them. On the MX-5, the individual bushings cannot be replaced without going to a non-Club Spec legal part, so he purchased new control arms. This swap ensures the car is predictable when pushed to the limit and is well worth the expense if it falls within the car-build budget.

For the suspension installation, the internet is your friend. The components themselves do not come with detailed installation instructions, but resources exist. Lohan learned some lessons on the Penske shocks, which may save some others time (see below for those answers).

Lohan also did several things that are options in the build – like deleting the soft top in favor of an OEM hard top and flashing the ECU. He also ordered and mounted a set of required 225/45-17 Falken Azenis 660 tires.

Think Safely

Though the NC MX-5 may be larger than his previous NA car, it’s still not an SUV. As a six-foot driver who is, of course, wearing a helmet, Lohan’s head is well over the stock roll hoops. Because of that, he elected to have an aftermarket roll bar installed in his car – a safety item he recommends to anyone planning to take their NC to the track.

When it comes to roll bars, there’s no single answer, though there are potentially plenty of wrong ones. Lohan chose the Blackbird Fabworks GT3 for both its height and its wider footprint for side protection compared to the Blackbird Fabworks RZ bar.

Even then, his head was still higher than he’d prefer. Lohan solved that problem with an OMP HTE-R400 bucket seat to drop him lower in the car, which he’ll use with a racing harness and a head-and-neck restraint for safety on the track.

Go Fast!

With the build complete, Lohan is ready for spring so that the car can get on track. Though he’s hoping for a local shakedown, the Tire Rack SCCA Time Trials National Tour Powered by Hagerty event at VIR on March 9-10, 2024, is circled on his calendar.

“The feeling of climbing the uphill esses has been my motivation through all of the build process,” Lohan said. “I’m expecting the car to be an absolute blast to drive. With the Club Spec parts, it will be quite a capable car. I’m actually expecting it to be faster than my older NA STR Miata, and dare I say, it may very well run times similar to a stock S2000. No matter how many cars I get to experience, I still find the NC an enjoyable chassis that never bores. The CSX car is the perfect answer for drivers who want to remove the car equations and focus on their driving. I’m hoping to continue with the Club Spec NC for years to come.”

Technical Stuff

Every build will come with its own challenges, as every used car is filled with mechanical joys left by the previous owner. Lohan had this to say on a few key topics:

Transmission swap: “If you are willing to do a six-speed swap, you’ll need a six-speed transmission, six-speed shifter, six-speed shifter boot, six-speed clutch, and a 25-spline six-speed drive shaft. For the transmission, there are different gear ratios in the newer NC2 and NC3 updates versus the early NC1. The 2 and 3 editions are also supposed to be more reliable than the early transmissions.”

Suspension installation: “There are a few parts that have instructions, such as the front shock mount parts and the front offset bushings. The Penske shocks did not have instructions included in their packaging, but diagrams and instructions can be found on the Penske website [good resources can be found here and here]. The rear lower shock mounts don’t come with instructions and are a bit confusing. The rear Penske shocks ship with metal sleeves in the lower mount location; these metal sleeves need to be removed and the lower shock mount install kit used to mount the shocks to the rear knuckle. MiataCage.com has a very helpful diagram on its website that will show what it should look like.”

Making weight: “The rule book now states that the minimum weight of the car needs to be 2,500lbs. without a driver. Last year, my car weighed 2,450lbs. with half a tank of gas. I expect I may need to run some ballast, but time will tell. It’s something to be aware of depending on what you add or remove within the rules.”

Learn more about Club Spec by clicking here.

Photos by Dan Lohan