Since the dawn of social media and the growth in track day popularity, people have asked the, "what's the best car to start doing track days" question. At the lower end of the budget, the traditional answers have always included the Mazda MX5, The Citroen Saxo or its sister Pug, A BMW Mini of one sort or another and possibly a Renault Clio RS. These are all great cars to drive but do have their problems and are now so old they are potential classics. Some examples are even starting to appreciate in value as they are getting harder to find in a respectable condition which is definitely the case with the Mx5.
So there I was, looking through the various forums I'm a member of and the infamous question is asked again. The original poster has a budget of £1000 to spend on a track car that he will drive to the circuit, thrash all day and hopefully drive home again. He wants it to be cheap to run cheap to insure and have a good range of parts available. Three of the top five responses were recommendations for the MX5. One of which had the strapline "the answer is always Miata (MX5)". One shout for a Mini and one for a fiesta.
I'm going to admit before I go any further. "I am a Mazda fan boy" particularly a fan of the Mx5 having owned at least one of each mark from the Na to the Nd. But for my response, I found myself leaning towards the Mazda I currently have on my driveway. The small 1.5ltr 103hp bundle of fun that is the Mazda 2. My car is a 2010 3dr model in almost baby blue which I've affectionately called Mandy and has been stripped out and tuned for racing.
There are a host of reasons why the Mazda 2 is the perfect first track car. Let's start with its weight. It's light, really light for a family car. Bear in mind this car was produced from 2007 until 2015, it had to conform to fairly modern safety standards meaning it had to have airbags and crumple zones that actually work. Antilock braking systems and electronic stability control. The top of the range sport came with extras like, auto headlights, auto wipers, cruise control, a speed limiter as well as air conditioning and electric windows yet, it weighs just 970kg which is pretty amazing. What weight the car does have is well packaged to keep the centre of mass as low as possible. The roof of the car is made up of a crossbar, a sound-reducing pad and a cloth cover. Anything that has any weight has been brilliantly packaged below the car's waistline in a manner lotus would be proud of.
As you would expect from a car with a low centre of gravity it is really well balanced and encourages its driver to chuck it into bends and turns for the simple fun of cornering. Like all Mazda products, it leans into corners progressively giving the driver confidence. It uses an electric steering rack which allows for relaxed low effort input while returning an acceptable amount of information relating to the front tyres and the road or circuit. From the factory, the setup is designed so that the driver will enjoy playing with the car. Add a few choice suspension upgrades and the car is transformed into a proper enthusiasts driving machine. all of which can be done for very little money.
The low weight of the Mazda 2 has a second benefit. Its really kind to its mechanical parts and rarely needs consumables like brakes or clutch replacements. My race 2 has covered 113k miles and only had its clutch replaced at 95k as I thought it would be prudent.
Power is on par with the 1.6 Mx5 meaning you can use all the power at any time. This is a car that can be driven at ten-tenths down a B road without any fear of putting points on your license while still grinning from ear to ear. Yes it's not fast but neither is the ever-popular Mx5 from the factory. You cant call the Mazda 2 slow either. In general driving, it's more than capable of keeping up with most sports cars on the road. Power mods like those on the Mx5 are limited. Being a naturally aspirated engine means your looking at old school tuning with exhausts, manifolds and timing changes if you want to see marginal gains. Having the benefit of being a relatively modern car you can also remap the Mazda 2s standard ECU and increase the rev limit. Mapping alone doesn't make a big difference to the car but coupled with other modifications to help the car breathe it can transform how the power is delivered.
Much of the suspension is shared with the Ford Fiesta which is a good base to start with. The sharing of parts means upgrades are cheap and common if you know where to look. A positive sign the Mazda 2 is starting to be taken seriously is the growing market for dedicated tuning parts that are becoming available in the UK.
As a hatchback the Mazda2 is vastly more practical than the Mx5. it's capable of carrying a second set of wheels and tools to a track day with ease. The back seats fold flat so it is possible to put a camp bed in the back and sleep at a circuit. The rear seat can be removed with just 4 bolts to turn the rear of the car into essentially a van. Both the driver and front passenger have ample space for the journey to and from a circuit and before the interior trim is removed there are cubby holes and storage compartments everywhere. Even in race trim, most of the dash and the door cards are left in place so there is still storage options.
The driving controls are all located perfectly for the driver's enjoyment. The gear stick is no more than a single hand span from the steering wheel. The pedals are spaced for heel and toe shifting which is rare in a supermini segment car. The whole driving experience behind the wheel of a Mazda 2 is cohesive and involving.
Running a Mazda 2 is also kind to your bank balance. To start with the cars can be bought for as little as £400 with "some" mileage. I purchased mine for £450 stripped it of all its toys which I sold to other Mazda 2 owners for the same value as the car. During normal driving to a circuit, I'm getting an average of 49mpg so have plenty of fuel left for track use when I arrive. The cost of consumables is exceedingly cheap. It runs perfectly fine on supermarket fuel and so long as serviced at its normal intervals it isn't going to fail. The engine is chain driven and as such is practically bombproof.
Upgrade parts such as brakes and sports tyres are the same as the Mx5 with a good set of fast road light trackpads costing just £50 and lasting forever as the car has so little mass to stop. The Mazda 2 being a small Japanese hatch is also incredibly cheap to insure even with a comprehensive list of upgrades.
While the number of cheap Mx5s or Saxos is dwindling the number of cheap Mazda 2s is only increasing making these little gems more and more sensible buys for those people starting out track driving , for if a car is damaged it's very simple to just buy another and transfer parts from one to the other.
Once you have gotten to grips with your Mazda 2 and you have set it up properly for the track, you will find it more than capable of competing with far more powerful cars. At the recent Cadwell park round of the Mazda Motorsport club championship, A Mazda 2 qualified within a second of an Rx8. In the hands of fellow racing driver Jack Harding, a Mazda 2 chased downs and bullied a Lotus Elise into letting him pass at Blyton Park.
Outside of the UK, the potential of the Mazda 2 has been known for years with Mazda 2s having won the American BSpec championship on many occasions and the car having its own dedicated race series in Japan and Malasia.
Lastly, the Mazda 2 is a really good looking little car which exudes personality.
If you are looking for a properly cheap, fun car with plenty of potential to take to the track. I would argue that the Mazda 2 must be on the list of contenders. It ticks so many boxes on as a track car and is now finally being recognised in the UK with a progression route into motorsport and being raced as part of the Mazda Motorsport Club Championship.
The answer is no longer Miata. The answer is Mazda 2.
If you agree please so share your thoughts in the comments or if you're of a different opinion let us know.
I'll have my Mazda 2 out racing at Silverstone on 28th May and at Blyton Park for a track day on 12th June feel free to come and say hi.