At the highest echelon of professional drifting, the racecars being thrown sideways at speeds topping 200km/h are precision instruments engineered for purpose with no expense spared. That’s where Kiwi drifter Mad Mike Whiddett is headed with the newest - and arguably craziest - addition to his Mazda factory-backed stable of machinery yet: a Mazda MX-5 named RADBUL.
Building a car to this standard is something new for Whiddett. Beneath it all, his iconic 26B-powered MADBUL Mazda RX-7 is the same car he began drifting with in 2006, and BADBUL, his turbo 20B-powered Mazda RX-8, started life as a production-spec circuit racer. While there’s no discounting the impact that both of these cars continue to make on the drifting world, both lack the uncompromised core design required to be competitive at the motorsport’s highest level. RADBUL is being built from the ground up, and in the most extreme way possible - wild Mazda rotary engine swap and signature Mad Mike styling included.
With a wheelbase length of just 90.7 inches (2,303mm) and an expected output in the four figure horsepower zone, the current NC-series Mazda MX-5 platform this project is based upon is going to be more than handful to drive - but Mad Mike has never been one to shy away from a challenge. And that starts right here, right now.
To design and build a racecar that’s able to win on the world stage you need two things: the highest quality components and talented hands. Partnering with the biggest aftermarket brands in the business ticks off the first aspect - teaming up with the most respected race engineering talent in New Zealand takes care of the other. Once again, Mike’s long-time engine builder, Warren Overton of PPRE, is overseeing the motor and subsequent tuning, but the project’s overall technical lead is Kaz Townsend of Townsend Brotherz Racing. For the next few months, TBR’s ‘Metal House Compound’ in Auckland is where RADBUL is coming to life.
The first step in the process was to get all the pre-fabrication prep work out of the way. Both the front end and rear of the chassis will feature custom TBR detachable tube frames, which meant cutting away most of the metal ahead of the front suspension towers and behind the rear suspension towers. With those modifications made, the bare shell was sent away to spend a week in an acid bath to remove all of the factory paint and panel sealing. Work then began on the rollcage and seam welding.
The seam welding aspect is an important one, as tying all of the body’s steel panels together with longitudinal welds on top of the factory spot-welding greatly increases the rigidity of the chassis. And that’s critical for a car that will be driven sideways at high speed with more than five times the power than it did when it left the Mazda factory. For Kaz, around 20 solid hours of welding labour went into this aspect of the build alone.
As a convertible, having the ability to drift with no roof above him was one of the things that initially drew Mike to the unconventional drifting base. So when it came to the MX-5’s rollcage, special thought went into its design. Safety was the priority, of course, but it had to look good too - hence the aggressive rearward-rake of the main hoop and NASCAR-style side intrusion bars that extend outwards to entirely fill the carbon fibre doors that will be fitted.
With the majority of the chassis prep work completed, the next step in the build process is the test mounting all of the ancillary devices. For many of these items, including the seats, the rear-positioned radiator and the rear wing, custom fabrication is required. Essentially, the whole car will be built up before it’s torn back down to a completely bare frame with welded-in components, and sent off for painting prior to its final assembly and highly anticipated shakedown later in the year. Stay tuned - this is going to be a wild ride!