When Tom Long won the 2005 Mazdaspeed Miata Cup Championship he likely didn’t anticipate it leading to Japan, but that’s exactly where it took him. By Jason Isley
This feature is part of a special series running on racer.com about the SCCA Pro Racing Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires as Mazda Motorsports, racers and fans anticipate the 2016 MX-5 and the MX-5 Cup. MazdaMotorsports.com will keep you up to date with all the latest news and milestones as Mazda and its partners develop the 2016 MX-5 race car.
Like many racers, Tom Long’s career started with Club Racing with the Sports Car Club of America, seeing some success at the Regional and National levels in Showroom Stock and Spec Miata. In 2004, Long entered his first professional race, taking part in the SCCA Pro Racing Mazdaspeed Miata Cup Atlantic Championship. Long was a quick study and, even with his then-limited experience, managed a third-place points finish. A year later, Long claimed championship gold, taking the Atlantic title and the overall North American Championship.
A move to the Grand Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge in 2006 brought many opportunities for Long, as he not only competed in the Street Tuner class, but also found himself piloting a Grand Am Rolex SpeedSource Mazda6 SKYACTIV Clean Diesel on a number of occasions, and ultimately to his current home behind the wheel of the No. 70 SKYACTIV-D Mazda in the TUDOR Championship Prototype class.
Long recently received a call from Mazda asking for his help on the next generation MX-5, the ND chassis. In July 2014, Long accompanied John Doonan, Director of Motorsports at Mazda North American Operations, to Mazda’s Mine Proving Grounds test circuit in Japan to add another notch to his driving belt. “Tom is the first person outside of Mazda to have driven every generation MX-5,” says Doonan.
Long was able to sample a pair of ND MX-5 test mules while in Japan, essentially the forthcoming edition hidden beneath the current car’s skin. “It wasn’t the car that we have now seen at SEMA and the auto shows, but the underpinnings of the car – the chassis, suspension, and drivetrain – were all of the ND,” says Long. “We ended up having the NC, the current car, along with two versions of the ND, the 1.5L along with the 2.0L.”
Long took the opportunity to get driving impressions of the new offering. “We went out and did back-to-back comparisons, and I was really, really impressed with the balance and handling of the new chassis,” says Long. “I know it’s hard to imagine, because everyone knows that the MX-5 is such excellent handling car, how much better it could get. With the lighter weight, that SKYACTIV mindset through the entire car, through the chassis, the refined suspension, the engine package; power to weight wise, the car accelerated quicker. It definitely had the feel and flavor of an MX-5 under it. They hit the mark on that.”
As the green flag waves on the 2015 SCCA Pro Racing Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires season, it will be Long behind the wheel of the MX-5 Cup development car, sharing practice sessions with the already proven NC MX-5 Cup cars, working to make the next generation MX-5 racecar ready for the 2016 season.