Actual Size on the Miata forum
Congratulations to Dan on the selection of his rally Miata as the May Miata of the Month!
Last month, we featured Dan Edmunds and his pioneering road race Miata. Well, after a few seasons of competition, the car was parked and Dan moved on to other things.
In 1998, he came across a rally car in traffic and followed it - and found the Prescott Forest Rally. He'd always like the idea of rallying, but thought it was mainly contested in the eastern half of the country.
“The road-race and rally factions of the SCCA don’t cross-pollinate very much, and I was a road racer”, says Dan. “But when I tailed that rally car to what turned out to be a service park, a temporary rally paddock, I learned there was a whole series of California and Arizona events.” He picked up a rule book and started doing some thinking.
At the time, the California Rally Series (CRS) was inaugurating a rallycross series for the 1999 season, and it included a class that looked perfect for the Miata – Performance Stock. P-stock, as it was called, was a place for two-wheel drive vehicles with no more than 2 liters of displacement and a blue book value of $5,000 or less. Dan’s 1990 Miata seemed perfect but for one minor detail – convertibles were not allowed in SCCA rally events, and CRS followed the SCCA rulebook.
So Dan fired off a letter to the SCCA rally board, asking for a exemption based on years of proven Miata road racing safety using the factory hard top. They agreed, and Dan got a verbal OK in time for the first event. The Miata exemption was formally made official in the June 1999 issue of SCCA’s Fastrack News.
While that process was going on, Dan obtained some used hand-me-down 14” Michelin rally tires and mounted them on stock Miata alloys. Apart for the rubber, the car was still a Showroom Stock racer - right down to the factory suspension, brake pads, and open differential.
“I wasn’t really sure how it was going to work,” says Dan, “because no one had done this before. It was an experiment, really, so I didn’t want to spend too much money on it until after I tested the waters. Besides, I’d never raced on dirt before, either.”
To the disbelief of the rally regulars and the crowd, he won that first event. “It was a double-header consisting of a rallycross and a rallysprint,” remembers Dan. “They laughed when I showed up, but the Miata and I took home both trophies. More victories followed, and Dan locked up the P-Stock championship before the last event was run.
The Miata’s natural balance on dirt gave Dan confidence to take the next step – a full-on gravel performance rally. CRS was running its annual Treeline Rally in the San Gabriel mountains in November, just after the rallycross season ended. But there was one major problem: Dan’s car was a pre-production unit - number 17 off the line - and Dan's agreement with Mazda prohibited it from being driven on the road. But rally cars must be road legal, licensed, and insured, so this had to be sorted out. The solution? Dan found another bare Miata shell and transferred everything over from his road race Miata. Yes, that is a lot of work!
With the car now running under a new body, Dan had to prepare the car for the abuse of rallying. Suspension was critical, but Dan’s day job at the time included testing and tuning Toyota truck suspensions at their Arizona Proving Ground.
“I was on a first-name basis with the Bilstein guys,” says Dan, “so I bought a set of stock Miata Bilsteins from Mazda Team Support, converted them to coil overs myself and sat down with Bilstein to figure out how to re-valve them for rallying.”
Once again, this was new territory. After a bit of research, they settled on valving that was based on the European Ford Escort, the closest small rear-wheel drive rally car they could think of. Springs were long - 10" in the front and 12" in the rear with fairly soft rates of 225 lb/in and 130 lb/in. “Between the tires and the taller Eibach springs, the car sat about 1.5 inches higher than stock”, explains Dan, “It didn’t need to be real stiff, because Treeline is tight, technical and doesn’t have big jumps.”
A skid plate was added to the front of the car to protect the exposed steering rack, mudflaps were added, and the roll cage was modified to fit the navigator. Other than the roll cage changes, the interior of the car was left completely stock. After all, this was an experiment and Dan didn't want to tear up the unusual pre-production pieces. Even the rally computer was mounted without damaging the dashboard, and was driven off the speedometer drive. The differential was a stock open unit - not ideal for loose roads, but the price was right.
“I treated this event like that first rallycross – it was an experiment. I did the minimum necessary to make the car survive, thinking I’d go all-out with the detailed preparation after I saw whether or not the Miata could cut it in this type of event.”
Ken Tooker, Dan’s crew chief throughout the road race days, signed on as navigator. Since this was Dan and Ken’s first stage rally (and the Miata’s), they were seeded to start last. But right out of the box, the car did well.
On the first stage, the team caught and passed two cars and caught up to a third. Since the cars were starting at 1 minute intervals, this means the Miata was 3 minutes faster than the third car ahead. Unfortunately, another competitor further up the running order rolled so the stage was shut down and Dan’s opening stage time was lost.
On stage three, Dan and Ken got back into the groove, running only a couple of seconds off the pace set by the class leader. Things were looking good for the Miata. Then there was a problem. Treeline was supposed to finish before sundown, so Dan and Ken had decided to forgo the expense of adding auxiliary lighting. But thanks to delays on the stages, such as that rolled car and other logistical snags, the organizers fell behind schedule and the Miata crew found themselves racing the last three stages in full darkness. The stock lights were nowhere near up to the task, and Ken was having to read the navigation notes using a small Maglite on a string around his neck.
As you might imagine, the team dropped back in the standings. Along the way the skid plate came in handy when the car mounted an unseen berm in the night and the large stock muffler picked up a hole from a random loose rock. But other than that the rally Miata finished unscathed! Dan’s rally experiment had been a success.
Unfortunately, real life caught up with Dan and he wasn't able to take on any further events, rally or otherwise, with his Miata. The car was parked and didn't see any more action for the next decade. But late last year, some friends convinced Dan that the historical significance of this most unusual road racing/rally Miata should be celebrated, so he decided to restore it. More on that next month!
Editors note: there are unfortunately very few pictures of the Miata in the actual event. Dan reports lots of flashbulbs from the woods - so if you happen to know of the wherabouts of any action shots from the race, he'd love to know about them!
Will you be next?