Submitted by Berny on Wednesday, June 20, 2007 - 14:52
MAZDA3 MPS: RING MASTER
The Mazda flies down The Foxhole. Bang up against the rev limiter in fifth, then flat‑change into sixth and up to 150mph. Turbo blowing hard, the Mazda3 MPS hotshoe voraciously sucks up the track ahead, rusty Armco, candy-stick rumble strips and towering oak trees filling the windscreen.
Drawing a dead straight line through the left-right-left-right of one of the Nürburgring's most infamous corners, Mark Ticehurst throws the Mazda down to the bottom of the hill, the car's suspension compressing hard before he hurtles up the other side and peels hard left and up into Adenaur Forest. He's gone as quickly as he arrives, the wailing engine note briefly ricocheting off the hillside before leaving a loud silence in its wake.
The Mazda3 MPS is on a hot one. Nine miles away nervous eyes are glancing at stopwatches and ears are straining to catch the sound of the 3MPS's wailing exhaust note.
The idea behind this trip is simple. Get a box-fresh Mazda3 MPS, take it to the Nürburgring and see how it shapes up against what is arguably the most demanding, exhilarating and treacherous track in the world. Put its hot hatch credentials to the test, in other words. On paper it is the UK's most powerful front-wheel drive hot hatch on the market. But just how well will it fare on the track, on its standard road tyres, suspension and brakes?
There's also talk of trying to better the lap record – a time of 8 minutes and 35.02 seconds – but rather than taking aim at some nebulous goalposts, Ticehurst decides to just push the 3MPS as hard as he can and see how it behaves. Around the 13-mile long Nürburgring it should get plenty of room to stretch its legs.
The Mazda certainly has legs to stretch. Under its humped bonnet sits the same 2.3-litre turbo-charged engine that also sees service in the Mazda6 MPS. The all‑alloy inline four features high-pressure Direct Injection Spark Ignition technology to deliver a blood-spitting 260ps at 5,500rpm and 380Nm of torque at 3,000rpm. Enough bicep to launch the Mazda to 62mph in 6.1seconds and onto an electronically limited 155mph top speed.
Ticehurst's car is fitted with the newly introduced Sports Aero Kit, with a larger tail‑mounted spoiler and spoked wing mirrors; the kit gives the MPS a much‑needed dose of visual aggression.
More importantly though, it also adds a tweaked suspension set-up – the strut front and multi-link rear suspension is fitted with uprated Eibach springs and dampers that lower the car by 25mm at the front and 10mm at the rear. As well as further tying down unwanted body movement, the lowered ride height also promises sharper turn in - which ought to be useful on a circuit with 73 corners. Factor in the huge brakes – 320mm ventilated front disc brakes and 280mm rear discs – and recalibrated TCS (Traction Control System), and the Mazda3 MPS is even better equipped to deal with the torturous 13-mile long circuit.
Getting Mark Ticehurst behind the wheel for the challenge was a simple decision. He's a regular within Mazda's motorsport line-up and was a key member of the company's successful Britcar campaign. Which sounds like a bit of an unfair advantage when it comes to pushing the Mazda3 MPS to the limit.
But then Ticehurst is a Ring virgin. He's lapped the circuit a few dozen times on his Playstation, but until today, he's never set foot on the world's most infamous track. He says he's not nervous but he gets hopelessly lost in Calais on the five-hour drive from Dover to Nürburgring. Let's hope he can make his away around the circuit without stopping for directions...
He comes back after a few exploratory laps and just cannot believe what he has seen. "Madness! It's just sheer madness out there!" I was jousting with everything from Le Mans-spec Porsches to Fiat Multiplas stuffed to the gills with screaming kids. And the bikers! It's
like driving in a swarm of hornets – they are everywhere!" It's a real baptism of fire, but Ticehurst keeps heading out to familiarise himself with the track at every opportunity. Knowledge around the Ring is everything.
He's impressed with the car too. "It's all that torque that makes a huge difference. Because it's such a hilly track, you really need plenty of torque to haul you out of the slower corners and up the steep hills like Bergwerk.
It's a confidence-inspiring car to drive hard too – it feels tight and compliant requiring only small driving inputs to adjust its direction and attitude. Even after each 12.7mile lap of arduous torture the car was still fresh and ready for more." Quite a feat, given his Mazda3 MPS is running standard road tyres, brake discs and pads.
Ticehurst and his team wait until the end of the day, after the track has closed, to get the circuit to themselves for a couple of full flying laps. He heads out on a warm‑up lap, getting his mind together and building up a head of speed. Bulleting along the long straight between Galgenkopf and Antoniusbuche the Mazda3 MPS head butts its 155mph speed limiter. He passes the timing point at full chat in sixth, rev counter deep into the red.
With a clear track ahead of him, it's an ideal opportunity to push the Mazda as hard as he can. And he pushes hard. With its constantly changing surface, off camber corners and momentous pace, this is a terrifyingly complex track. You have to get every single one of the circuit's curves, bends and corners one hundred per cent correct, every single time. Why? Because the exit point of one corner is the entry point for the next.
A small error on corner one will magnify itself into a massive Armco-enhanced mistake come corner five. And if you get it wrong you have a pretty good chance of what's left of you being scraped up with a spatula before being dispatched home in a jam jar.
Ticehurst drives like a man possessed, hurtling the Mazda around the track. His concentration is complete. And it pays off – he puts in a blindingly fast lap. He comes rocketing past the timing point and stops the clocks with a lap time of 8 minutes and 39.66 seconds. That's just 4.64 seconds off the lap record.
Ticehurst is absolutely elated with his time. "That was just off the scale. I drove it as hard as I could – I wasn't thinking about the lap time! I think it says a great deal about the Mazda, that I could just get in it and drive it around a circuit that I hardly know and get within striking distance of the lap record. It's one of the best things I have ever done in a car. Ever."
The best thing, that is, until the summer when he heads back to the Ring to have a real crack at the lap record.