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John Tyler

Review: TWS / Phillips Race Prep Rental Miata

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I thought I'd share my experience from this past weekend with one of the TWS rental Miatas. I searched all over before renting these and couldn't find anything other than a few brief mentions on the TWS and Phillips Race Prep websites, so hopefully this review will help someone else down the road. TWS had sold some of its rentals some time ago and now have three remaining. Due to a mechanical issue with the first car during session 3, I got to take the second car out for my last session and so I'll mention a few important points about it as well.


These cars were purchased from TWS by Phillips Race Prep and given a thorough refresh including hard tops, and really they're outstanding little cars, especially for $365 / day or $600 / weekend. Both cars are 1990 1.6 models with 5spd manual transmissions.


UPDATE: I ran across these older posts from the 12-step thread, from Jake aka unevolved, who worked on the original cars. He confirms that the cars do have Mazdaspeed Spec Miata suspension kits, and the second thread talks about the RLC Micropod Dataq logger.





Their engines are mostly stock, with exhaust headers (and probably removed cats) being the only obvious modifications. To be fair, I've never driven a bone stock Miata on the track so this could be way off, but it felt a bit down on power to me. My two main comparisons were another guy with a completely stock NB Miata who had me by a couple of MPH on the straights even though he had an open top, and Robert Cope's '99 which is about as strong an engine as you'll probably find short of forced induction or adding cylinders.


Suspension / Brakes / Wheels / Tires

I couldn't get a clear answer on whether these had full Mazdaspeed Spec Miata suspension kits, but if they weren't official kits they were awfully close. Confirmed above, these are actual Mazdaspeed kits. The brakes included stock rotors and Carbotech pads, and the power booster has been removed (i.e. no power brakes). I didn't recognize the wheels (maybe you can make them out from the pics) but they seemed to be fairly straightforward lightweight rims. Tires on the first car (pictured) were Toyo Proxes RA1, while the second car had Dunlop Direzzas. The power steering pump had also been removed.



The interior had been completely stripped out, with the only original accessory visible being the a/c controls. A full roll cage has been welded in, necessitating removal of the door glass, and Sparco racing seats with 5pt harnesses have been installed. The first car (pictured) actually had what felt like an adjustment lever for the driver's seat but I didn't try to play with it because it was adjusted well enough for me. The second car (# 995) had the same seats but they were most definitely NOT adjustable, which was made worse by the fact that the driver's seat was pushed way back and tilted forward. Let me just say that, if it weren't for having a dead pedal to use for fore-aft bracing, I would have become far too closely acquainted with the crotch strap. Which is not something I would ever recommend. Ironically, once I was out and at speed in the second car, the wonky seating position never bothered me, whereas the first car had a much more comfortable seating arrangement in the pits but had no dead pedal and I was constantly trying to find a place to brace my left foot while lapping. Odd.


Both cars had a digital readout on the steering column (activate with a toggle switch on the center stack where the radio used to be), showing RPMs with shift lights, engine temp*, oil pressure, battery volts, and a useless lap timer. I say useless because even though there was a Garmin unit wired up on the dash, apparently the start/finish line was not programmed in nor could I find an obvious way to add it because the timer would start but never reset. After the first couple of laps the readout completely froze, which threw me off a bit because it completely blocked any sight of the redline section of the original tach so I hit the rev limiter a couple of times before I finally realized where it was by sight when I could only see the first half of the needle.


*engine temp readout on the second car has a nice warning indicator which flashes red when the temp gets higher than 210, but the first car's readout didn't do this. As a result, the temp was running well into the 250s with no visual warning by my 3rd session when I realized I should probably start taking it easy. As I pulled back into the pits at the end of the session the engine died and would not restart. Popped the hood and the crankshaft pulley was most certainly not where it should have been, in fact it had decided to wander off at some point and was resting quietly on the undertray, which of course wasn't doing much good for the rest of the serpentine belt. This explains the engine dying as the alternator was not being driven at all and the battery was consequently not getting charged. In hindsight the clunking noise and high temperatures should have been a clue that something was amiss, but this was my first time in a 'real' racecar so I wasn't really sure what to expect to be honest. Live and learn I suppose, hopefully the next renter will get working gauges and perhaps even a crank pulley that decides to stick around where it's supposed to. I'm sure I irritated the TWS / Phillips folks with this bit of unplanned excitement.


Driving Impressions

Like I said before, I don't really have a good reference as a driver because I've driven Miatas on the street but not in the past couple of years, and my regular track car is a 2006 E90 BMW 330i which is of course much different. Overall the Miata was an absolute blast to drive. I don't know how close it would be to a full Spec Miata but my guess is that it's not far off from a rear-pack, low budget SM build. Overall it was well worth the $365 for the day, which includes a full tank of gas and you don't have to fill it up when you're done, just put in whatever extra you need (4 sessions consumed about half a tank), and I'm now officially looking for a Miata of my own.


Many thanks to the good folks at TWS and Phillips Race Prep for making these available, and especially to Robert Cope who gave me a ride in his far more plush but way faster '99. The rental Miata made me realize that I could have a ton of fun for not much money, Robert's car made me realize that a Miata could actually feel really fast as well (as opposed to just light and quick through the turns).


John Tyler





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I'm mostly interested in a track car (although my wife hasn't quite accepted that yet). Not sure if I want to get all the way into full-on wheel-to-wheel racing but I definitely want to improve my skills and enjoy the car. I'm looking into NASA a bit more because it looks like there's a reasonable path to become more competitive if I want. Mostly though I want a car that I can grow with, so I'm looking for a decent condition NB Miata that I can gradually upgrade as I become more comfortable.

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I've raced with John for a Long time. Great guy and good driver. We have ran wheel to wheel for many years back when he was running the series and he def knows his stuff when it comes to Miatas. If you are wanting to get into spec Miatas NASA will be a little more budget friendly and you'll get more track time. SCCA is a lot more competitive and the more experienced drivers tend to run more in SCCA for the "prestige" however SCCA workers are not nearly as friendly and don't welcome new comers very well compared to NASA.

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SCCA workers are not nearly as friendly and don't welcome new comers very well compared to NASA.


A friend of mine told me pretty much the same thing back when he started racing 10-12 years ago.

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Yah NASA has always been good to me. I'm actually going to sell at least one of my Spec Miatas after nationals this yr and build a CMC mustang. Time for a change, plus I think running TWS in a stang would be a blast!

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Yah NASA has always been good to me. I'm actually going to sell at least one of my Spec Miatas after nationals this yr and build a CMC mustang. Time for a change, plus I think running TWS in a stang would be a blast!

If you get an 05+ like you were talking about, I'll kill you. I used to own one and I swear they plow worse than a farmer. You should get a '94 Cobra!

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The 05 is faster if u know what setup to buy and how to drive it haha. The 3 valve motor and newer car have more potential. Trust me I have a 97 cobra and know what it can and can't do. The 05 has way more potential. Plus a good 94-95 cobra is almost as expensive as a cheap 05!

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I don't recall any plowing in the Boss 302 I recently drove - it handled pretty damn well.


That's a completely different suspension set-up and weight distribution than the 3-link 2005-2009 mustangs had. The new Boss's are schweet!


Aaron, on my 2006 I had:


- Coilovers

- Adjustable panhard bar

- Lower control arms

- Control arm relocation brackets

- Sway bars

- CHE suspension stiffening shit


and the car still pushed like a damn zamboni!!!

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