But Will It Autocross?
This generation of Mazda3, like the earlier cars, is classed in H Street alongside the MINI Cooper. While the MINI has been helped with an optional John Cooper Works “factory” suspension package, the higher horsepower and torque of the Mazda can come in handy on some courses. We've got a long way to go from dealer lot to competitive autocrosser though.
Tires are crucial to autocross performance—even in the Street classes, which mandate that the tires have specific UTQG treadwear ratings. The factory high-efficiency Yokohamas were good for commuting, but weren’t going to help the car turn on a cone. The factory sizing of 205/60R16 was also a bit odd—very tall for smaller car.
So I took the Mazda3 to a few events in 2014 here in Ohio using some older Hankook Ventus RS3 tires that came on one of the wheel sets I purchased. The 225/50R16 tires wouldn’t have been my first choice for sizing, but they weren’t a bad starting point. In the future, I'll be looking for something even shorter than the Hankooks with a lower aspect ratio that would help acceleration and handling.
As for those first events, the Mazda3 wasn’t bad overall—plenty of power to dig out of tighter turns and the mid-corner grip seemed fine, but the transitional response from the stock shocks and wimpy front anti-roll bar were definitely holding it back. While the speed through sweeping turns was fine, the car just felt big, unbalanced and cumbersome in a slalom
It helps to have a solid benchmark when building a competitive cars, even if it means being an also-ran during your initial events in a car. Luckily, some of the fastest H Street cars in the country are in this SCCA region. In fact, the guy who's gotten second at Nationals for the past three years lives right here in my town. At those first events, I was consistently about 1 second back from this fast guy in a MINI on a 60-second course. Not bad, but not great.
By midway through 2014, the aftermarket hadn’t really developed much in the way of parts for the new car. There were no shock absorbers and just one rear anti-rollbar out there for the car. While the rules in Street allow you to change either the front or rear bar, I decided after those first events that the front bar change was the way to go. We are giving up plenty of contact patch due to the high amounts of body roll and the factory 19mm front bar has to be replaced.
I jumped in a few other cars for the remainder of the 2014 season and used the Mazda3 as my toaster-like appliance, occasionally treating it and myself to some fun drives on twisty roads.
Plans for 2015
Fast forward to 2015 and there are some new parts being developed as well as some interesting tire sizing that could help the Mazda3 be a bit more nimble on the autocross course. My plan is to try developing the car a bit further for the H Street class and if that doesn’t meet my expectations, take it a step further and play with some further suspension tuning in Street Touring F.
That said, it’s still winter here in Ohio and I’ve got a Time Speed Distance road rally that I’d like to attend with the car. The Ohio Winter Rally is one of the more interesting TSD events, as it’s held on some of the snowier sections of the state. Look for pictures and results from that event in a few weeks.