By now, almost everyone living the import lifestyle in New Zealand knows who Mad Mike Whiddett is. We know his cars, his driving ability and his various exploits across the globe. Whether by luck or design, he has become the poster child for New Zealand drifting in the world’s eyes.
But although it is his legendary RX-7 that got him noticed in the first place, Mike knew that to stay on top of the game he would need to evolve. This realisation, which he came to at some stage late last year, got the gears turning on a new project — a brand new addition to the Red Bull/Mad Mike stables.
While every driver wants a better, faster car, there was another reason for Mike’s decision to build a new slide ride.
“Over the last year we have had to turn down so many invitations overseas, simply because the RX-7 would have needed to be at too many places at once,” he says. “Basically we needed a second car, one that would stay here in New Zealand while the RX-7 could be shipped all over the place. We were considering building a replica of the FD [RX-7] but, as luck would have it, right at that time Mark Joblin from Classic Car Insurance approached us. Mark was interested in supporting us, so we got talking, and it just happened that through that relationship [we] found out he had been campaigning a Mazda RX-8 in the NZ Production Racing Series. He was looking to move on from the car, so we worked out a deal and ended up buying it from him. We even got some mean insurance deals for all our cars and trucks, too.”
In the PRC, the rules are quite tight and cars need to be left essentially standard, bar a roll cage and some suspension work. This made for a perfect starting block from which Mike and his team could build something, even if he did consider the RX-8 to be one of the ugliest Mazda’s ever built. Then again, NZPC seems to remember Mike saying that about FD RX-7s a few years ago too…
Six months down the track, Mike has changed his tune considerably. “I didn’t really like the car for a long time,” he admits. “It was only once Lokey Bodykits started working on the exterior that I started to come around to the idea. Now I love it. I think it looks just as good as the RX-7, but in a different way.”
Mike wanted a similar look to his RX-7, which uses a full BN Blister wide-body kit. Unfortunately, although BN makes a Blister kit for the RX-8, it looks nowhere near as good as the RX-7 version.
This prompted Mike to commission Lokey to replicate the look of the RX-7, while keeping with the RX-8’s factory lines. It was a tough job, but the effort paid off. As far as NZPC is concerned, it’s the best looking RX-8 in the world.
Considering Mike’s other car has one of the most talked-about engines in drifting, the RX-8 was going to need something fairly spectacular slotted between the front struts. What was chosen, however, left many people surprised. “My options were limited,” Mike explains. “It had to be cool, powerful and yet not the same as the RX-7’s quad-rotor setup. That meant it was either a five or six rotor, or go down the turbo route, which is something I’ve always wanted to try to see if it is easier to drift with.”
What Mike ended up with was the latter, based around a triple-rotor 20B. The RX-8’s engine work — like MADBUL’s before it — was entrusted to Warren Overton of Pulse Performance Race Engineering in Wanganui. After a few months spent down at PPRE, the car came back to Mike packing a massive 560hp at the rear treads courtesy of an HKS T51R turbocharger feeding the fully strengthened and bridgeported three-rotor motor.
So is it easier to drive? “In truth yes, it is easier to drive, and not just because of the motor, either,” Mike says. “The longer wheelbase definitely helps, so although we built the RX-8 to behave as close to the RX-7 as possible [using FD steering, the same sized tyres and wheels, and the same bodykit and wing], it is definitely less twitchy, more manageable and easier to keep on song. I still prefer driving the RX-7 though, it’s a lot more fun.”
Although the RX-8 is now finished and wearing the famous FURSTY plates that graced his RX-7 before its Red Bull makeover, there will still inevitably be many changes as Mike and the team get to know the car. As they suspected, the factory FD3S RX-7 gearbox fitted to the back of the 20B simply wasn’t up to the task — a suspicion quickly confirmed during the RX-8’s first competitive outing.
Despite only having fourth gear available, Mike still managed a podium spot, demonstrating just how effective this car will be once all the bugs have been ironed out. Luckily for Mike, one of his principal sponsors is HKS, so a $20,000 5-speed sequential gearbox, as seen in the RX-7, will most likely be finding its way into the car in the near future. Until that happens, the HKS box from MADBUL will be swapped between international and national events.
What else is in store for the RX-8, its sibling and its team? “We may end up swapping engines over between the two cars and using the RX-8 overseas instead, as the chassis is a bit more competitive,” Mike says. “But the quad rotor is what the crowd wants to see and hear — it has turned into a bit of a trademark for me. Otherwise, I just want to attend as many events as possible while I’m being invited to them.
“It has been a great experience being able to drive all over the world, and now that I have two cars, I don’t have to neglect the events here in New Zealand. This is where I wanted to take my drifting right from when I first got involved, so as you could imagine, I’m pretty stoked.”
Yes, we would be pretty damned happy if it were us, but until that happens, NZPC will just have to live vicariously through Mike and, of course, keep the country up to date as we go. Do us proud!
2004 Mazda RX-8 – Specifications
Engine: Mazda 20B 3-rotor, PPRE bridgeporting, RX-8 rotors, balanced rotating assembly, RX-8 apex seals, high-RPM modified RX-8 stationary gears, flowed oil galleries, modified 20B throttle body, PPRE fabricated throttle body transition, PPRE intercooler pipes, HKS T51R turbo, PPRE exhaust manifold, Redline Performance 4-inch intercooler, Turbosmart 60mm external wastegate, 3.5-inch PPRE exhaust system, Turbosmart blow-off valve, Bosch 040 lift pump, PPRE surge tank, 2x 044 Bosch Motorsport fuel pumps, 2x -6 braided lines, 6x 1000cc injectors, Turbosmart FPR2000 regulator, in-boot fuel cooler, Bosch HEC coils, custom MSD ignition leads, Redline Performance alloy radiator, radiator water sprayer, FC3S S5 RX-7 oil cooler, MicroTech LT12s engine management system, MicroTech X6 Ignitor, custom tanks, PPRE thermostat housing
Driveline: FD3S S6 5-speed gearbox, HKS Pro 2 twin-plate clutch, HKS flywheel, custom spool lock diff, custom carbon driveshaft
Suspension/Brakes: Custom Tein Super Drift coil-over shocks/springs, Tein EDFC controller, FD3S RX-7 swaybars, Znoelli rotors, factory callipers, hydraulic handbrake
Wheels/Tyres: Front – 18×11-inch Work Equip alloys, Goodyear 265/35R18 tyres, Rear – 18×12-inch Work Equip alloys, Goodyear 265/35R18 tyres
Exterior: Lokey custom BN-Sports style wide-body kit, black respray, CRE8GRAFX digital camouflage
Interior: Racetech seats, Sparco steering wheel, HKS Comp2 digital dash, A’PEXi EGT, Turbosmart E-Boost controller
Performance: Dyno Power – 560hp (418kW) @ wheels
Mad Mike Whiddett – Driver Profile
Occupation: Red Bull pro drifter, sign writer
Length of ownership: 7 months
Build time: 7 months
Mike thanks: My sponsors: Red Bull, Goodyear, Castrol, DC, Teng Tools, Tein, Fusion, Lokey, Classic Cover, BOP Polishers, PPRE, ITS, Turbosmart, Redline Performance; and everyone who helps out: Chromy, Damion, Terry & Cookie, Toni, Lincoln and all my supporters — it’s very much appreciated!
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