LAST year we built MX5.7 Ė our twin-turbo LS1-powered Mazda MX-5 Ė to take to Red CentreNATS. The little roadster was a big hit in Alice Springs, but a trip to the drag strip revealed some problems with the plastic idler pulleys and the boost control. Normally two 45mm wastegates would be plenty, but the design of our turbo headers limited where the wastegates could be placed; the exhaust energy took the path of least resistance straight past the gates and spiked the boost. Even without wastegates, we were making 10psi. So we grabbed a pair of 60mm Turbosmart Pro-Gates and had Adam at MPW modify the pipes to suit.
All this was done in the lead-up to Summernats 31; with no time to sort things, the guys put a basic low-boost tune into the computer before Christmas. Next the car was sent to Damien at Bling Designs for a new Valvoline-inspired wrap, which he knocked out the day after Boxing Day. Once back at my house, I sanded back the carís bare-metal chrome-moly rollcage and gave the barwork a fresh coating of black. I also gave the passenger area and footwell a coating of some hard-wearing Ďspray-oní tray liner to tidy up the interior.
Summernats was a blast with MX5.7; everyone loved the little Mazda, and other than a melted thermo fan the car ran flawlessly. This made us realise that our little hairdresserís convertible was the perfect event car. So after I fixed the thermo fans and took the car back to MPW for a 520rwhp tune-up, I started looking for events and found that Powercruise Tasmania was only weeks away, on Australia Day weekend! What could be more Aussie than burnouts in Tasmania on Australia Day?
So on sailing day we jammed ourselves into a Ford Everest, towing the MX-5 behind us, and headed down to Port Melbourne, where we were ushered onto the Spirit of Tasmania.
The ship is almost 200m long and features 11 decks; six of these are for cars. There are bars, restaurants, two small movie theatres, and even a video game arcade, and if all that fails to spark your interest you can head back to your cabin and have a sleep.
In the morning we were up early as the ship pulled into Devonport on the Tasmanian north coast. After a short stop to pick up a hire car we headed south-east to Launceston. In no time at all we were in the countryside and motoring through the rolling hills of Tasmania.
We hooked up with former Drag Challenge winner Bubba Medlyn at our accommodation 10 minutes outside of Launceston. Bubba was in Tassie for business and looking for something to do on the weekend, so he decided to come out to Powercruise with us.
Even though Symmons Plains didnít open until 5pm we decided to head down early and get things sorted, and that worked out perfectly. As with all things Ďcarí, we unloaded the Mazda and naturally the alternator died immediately. A short drive around the pits was enough to run the battery flat, so we went from having plenty of time to scrabbling for parts. Being Australia Day, the parts stores had already closed and none of the entrants had a spare, although many promised to bring one the next day. However, we wanted to put the Mazda into burnout practice that afternoon, so we put the battery on charge via some jumper cables and cabledtied our jump pack into position. We decided that would work until we had time to fix things properly the next day. It was Australia Day, dammit, and we wanted to do skids!
Driving out to the burnouts, I was pretty nervous; it had been a long time since Iíd been on a pad. Most of the competitors had already been through, so I didnít even have time to check things out before I was ushered to the startline.
There are two things you need to know about the burnout pad at Symmons Plains: Itís really small, and the entry chute is pointed downhill at the wall. I used the transbrake to start building boost, held my breath and let go of the button.
The Mazda fired into the pad as I hit top gear with both tyres smoking, and I suddenly realised that maybe this wasnít the best idea. Heading straight at the wall, I got off the throttle and nailed the brakes for a moment, then cranking the wheel to the left I got back on the gas again and the MX-5 whipped around. With the engine smashing the limiter I tried to modulate the accelerator and get the Mazda swinging around the other direction, and the cabin filled with tyre smoke. How can a convertible fill with tyre smoke? Iím not sure, but all the smoke seemed to fire forward into the cabin and up through the engine bay. I knew the wall was close, so I backed off and reversed to the other end of the pad and tried againÖ and againÖ and again. For a little car, it was hard to get it pointed in the right direction.
Getting off the boat was a simple game of follow the leader. Rather than take two vehicles over, we crammed into one and then grabbed a hire car in Tasmania. Even so, the cost to tow a car over on a trailer is significant (see breakout at right)
1: We left Melbourne with a team of four: Aiden Taylor and Chris Thorogood in the front (L to R), Scott Taylor and JP Beirouty behind them. We picked up a fifth team member in Tasmania: Brenden ĎBubbaí Medlyn
2: Getting on board was as simple as following the directions of the helpful staff and driving up a big ramp into the front of the ship. The Spirit of Tasmania can carry 1400 passengers and 500 vehicles
3: Tasmania has great roads and beautiful scenery, and the locals are a friendly bunch. Being Australia Day, we had to make a short stop at Bunnings for a couple of snags
Iím On A Boat!
BOOKING a ride on the Spirit of Tasmania is easy if you know the length of your vehicle. Just enter all the details, choose a sailing date and whether you wish to travel during the day or night, and drop in the credit card details. But if youíre like us and donít know what the hell you are doing, it can get messy.
For starters, our Mazda is unregistered and likely to remain that way, so driving it onto the boat wasnít really an option. Towing a car trailer was the easiest but most expensive way to get the MX-5 on the boat. Ford Australia supplied us with an Everest and we hired a car trailer, but we didnít know the overall length until the day before we sailed. We guessed at 11.3m when we booked, but it actually came in at 12m overall, and that caused a few nervous moments when we informed the Spirit of Tasmania booking office. Thankfully the helpful staff sorted us out; theyíre used to dealing with first-timers, so it was just a matter of following their directions and we were on the boat and settled in no time. But it wasnít cheap. To ship our Mazda on the back of a car trailer to Tassie and back with four guys and two cabins was $3500; it would have been much cheaper if we used an enclosed trailer with a bed and a sink, which can be booked as a caravan. Caravans and motorhomes get all kinds of discounts thanks to the Tasmanian Government. Something to remember next time.
In the end I decided to back the car up to one side of the pad and do a burnout across to the exit. All up the smoke show was 90 seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. I was happy to finish Australia Day with the car in one piece, and we put the Mazda away for the night.
None of the promised alternators arrived the next day, and by 10.30 we were starting to consider a drive back into town, until Jezz Gearman lunched his six-litre R31 Skyline in the first laps of the day and offered to pull the unit from his car. Thankfully it was the right type, and we had MX5.7 up and firing in time for the off-street drags.
Fearing for my safety, Telf bought me a full SFI-approved multilayer racesuit to wear during competition. Despite the searing temps, I put it all on and lined up for the drags. My first run was against a Harrop-blown HSV sedan with some serious grunt, and the Mazda blacktracked all the way up the track. I backed off and nailed the throttle again, and with more traction the MX-5 surged past the HSV and took the win.
Feeling good, I pulled back around for another pass, and the officials directed me next to Powercruise promoter Gupís P90D Tesla, MEGAWAT. This was going to be a good match-up if I could get traction. Unfortunately, as soon as I tried to bring the LS1 up on boost, the Mazda started missing. Knowing the engine wasnít right, I didnít even give it full throttle, and watched as Gupís Tesla accelerated away. I lapped around to the start again, where Bubba heard the tapping engine noise and had me shut the car off. The safety crew towed us back to the pits, and at this point we were thinking our weekend might be over.
With everything too hot to touch, Bubba and I headed into town to grab a drain pan and some sparkplugs. When we got back, I pulled the passenger-side rocker cover first and spotted the problem straight away. A pushrod was looking at me with the rocker arm sitting loose. ďAh, itís an easy fix,Ē I thought, and after checking the pushrod for damage I put it back in and tightened the rocker back down. But when I refired the engine, there was still a noise, so I shut it off and pulled the rocker cover again. Everything looked normal until we started it with rockers exposed; the rocker next to the one I tightened wasnít doing any work. At the time we suspected a collapsed lifter.
I contacted Tassie local David Best to see if he had any spare LS1 parts. David is a past Drag Challenge entrant, and his twin-turbo VY is currently getting prepared for the 2018 event by MPW. David packed the wife and kids back in the car and headed home to grab us the parts we needed, returning with a couple of pushrods, some lifters and a lifter guide tray.
In the meantime I set myself the task of pulling the engine down. The Plazmaman intake is a breeze to work with and I flicked it upside down, resting it on the windscreen with all the injectors and lines still connected. Because our engine has head studs and Cometic gaskets, the passenger-side head wasnít a major chore to remove, but once we did we found the pushrod in question was bent like a lazy ĎSí.
Viewed from the outside, things looked bad. One guy walked up and commented: ďOh, so you guys are out for the weekend!Ē To which I replied: ďNah, Iíll have this running in two hours.Ē
Sure enough, David arrived with the parts, and I decided to just use two pushrods and the lifter guide. With the engine back together, I hit the key and the LS1 fired into life. Success!
We were done in time to compete in the Saturday burnouts, but as epic as that would have been, I decided to save the car for Sunday. So the next morning I had the team up early, ready for a whole day of mayhem and carnage. When the floodgates opened for the first cruise session I was right in there with the MX-5, with Bubba in the passenger seat. The Mazda was running sweet, and on the first decent straight I opened the taps. I already knew MX5.7 was fast, but 400rwkW in a such a light car made it just hilarious to stomp the pedal and drift up the track. This car is just ridiculously fun.
To pull up beside someone and then just leave them for dead with the tyres smoking is a lot of fun, and you can certainly see why Powercruise is so popular. This was my first time at Powercruise as a driver, and after a few laps I decided to put Bubba behind the wheel. Bubba has a history of driving like a maniac at events like this; Easternats, Powercruise, Performance Car Mania Ė heís done them all over the past 15 years.
Sitting beside Bubba in the Mazda was as much fun as driving the car myself. He was doing things I would not even attempt in that car, and it was amazing to just sit there and watch the master at work. Bubba would have the Mazda sideways coming onto the main straight and then drift it all crossed up with the
1: The MX-5 had plenty of fans in Tasmania, and more than a few stopped by for a look. At Summernats the scrutineers asked us to wrap the turbos and exhaust, so we added exhaust wrap and GCG turbo beanies and decided to leave them in place for Powercruise
2: Even with drag radials, MX5.7 had limited traction on the Symmons Plains surface, but once it hooks up Ė whoa! As a race circuit Symmons Plains is the perfect track for Powercruise; we definitely want to go back
3: A bent pushrod meant we had to pull the intake and passenger-side cylinder head in the pits and replace a couple of parts. Normally you wouldnít need to remove the head, but the pushrod was so bent it refused to come out any other way
1: With the MX-5 running perfectly again it was finally time to get amongst the mayhem. We missed most of the action Saturday due to problems, but on Sunday we had all day to run amok and we made the most of it
2: After plenty of laps, I let Bubba behind the wheel on his own to familiarise himself with the car, and it didnít take him long to settle into it. Donít let the photo fool you: With 700hp at the crank and no weight, the MX-5 is as twitchy as a hummingbird
3: Oops! These pics show the moment when the Mazda got away from me during the powerskids. After cresting the rise in the track, the rear end stepped around and the car pointed directly at the guard rail; the damage was mostly contained to the rear bumper and quarter panel
4: This is when the rear tyre popped during the offstreet drag racing finals. We were hoping that the Mazda would deliver the goods, but we were left with crushing disappointment and an embarrassing tow back to the pits
MAIN: Even after our rendezvous with the guard rail, we gave the MX-5 a proper thrashing and it performed flawlessly. Just add E85 and tyres and this thing will give you hours of fun, and despite the 35-degree temps the car ran cool thanks to its Aussie Desert Coolers radiator. With a wheelbase of just under 90in, the MX-5 isnít the worldís most natural drift machine, but add five times the horsepower and anything becomes possible tyres billowing smoke. Then he started doing the bottom corner and drifting the monster Miata over the crest and under the bridge towards the bottom hairpin. We wailed on that car lap after lap, and it never got hot. The boys took turns riding with Bubba and everyone stepped out with a grin from ear to ear.
Then it was time to get ready for the powerskids, so with a fresh tank of E85 I climbed into my racesuit and got ready. Now, other than drag-strip burnouts, Iíve never done a full-on powerskid, so I was both excited and nervous. I was surprised to see that we were starting before a crest in the track, and wondered how that would affect things Ė with good reason as it turns out.
When it was my turn I hit the transbrake button and brought the boost up, then let loose. As soon as the back tyres erupted I hit top gear and we were on our way, with a large plume of smoke behind. Cresting the rise, everything felt good until the rear end stepped out. I tried to correct, but the Mazda started to head straight for the guard rail. The natural reaction was to back off, but that just made things worse. In hindsight, I should have cranked the wheel hard right and stayed with it. Maybe I would have hit the opposite wall at a higher speed, or maybe I could have saved it, but as the rear end came around 180 degrees I jumped back on the gas to try and arrest the Mazdaís backwards progress towards the rail. It didnít work; I hit the rail with the back quarter just as the power started to come in. Feeling a little foolish, I turned the car around, pointed it down the track, and gave it another hit with the tyres boiling away for 50m or more, before letting off and cruising back around to the pits.
The damage wasnít too bad; the plastic bumper was a bit misshapen, the tail-light was smashed and the quarter panel a little crinkled, but at least it didnít go in front-first. We taped up the rear bumper and quarter panel and headed back out for the next cruise session for more tyre-melting fun.
The MX-5 still ran as crazy as ever, but my confidence was a bit shot so I let Bubba handle the driving. We lent on that little beast hard and had the best time as Bubba pushed the performance envelope further and further. After polishing off a tank of fuel and another set of tyres, we got the car ready for the final event of the afternoon, the off-street drags.
This was where we thought the Mazda would shine. Bubba felt we should stay with the street rubber, but given the lack of traction they provided I wanted to use the drag radials. However, we made the mistake of not checking under the car properly before putting the big tyres back on. As it turns out, the collision with the guard rail bent the lower edge of the wheel tub 90 degrees, and it was poised above the tyre like a knife.
The Mazda cruised out to the track with no issues and we joined the line-up for racing. For a while it felt like people were avoiding the line beside us, until a tough V8 Cortina pulled up. It looked and sounded serious, but I was confident the Mazda had the goods. The starterís hands came down and I let go of the red button. Both cars lit the tyres at the startline and the Cortina had a slight advantage, but the Mazda was already pulling back the difference when the rear tyre blew. The edge of the wheel tub had scythed into the tyre on the launch and sliced the sidewall open. From the outside it looked like the Mazda tried to turn sideways into the Cortina, but it didnít even feel close from inside the car. I pulled over to the side of the track and waited for the tow vehicle.
That was it for our Tassie adventure. It wasnít really the result we were looking for, but the whole weekend had been so fantastic that even the bits where everything went pear-shaped werenít so bad.
The next morning we were back on the Spirit of Tasmania and back to the mainland, but that was a weekend that will stay for us forever. Thanks Powercruise, and thank you Tasmania.