Taz Harvey’s GT-2 RX-8

Former pro driver Harvey acquired an ex-SpeedSource RX-8 and wheels it in SCCA club racing

SCCA club racers know that often former pro race cars can be great bargains. They are usually well put together, come with a good spares package, and need little to make them competitive. Northern California Mazda dealer Taz Harvey not only found a great deal on a former pro Mazda racer, he ended up with a unique and fast car with a great history.

“Two years ago I got an e-mail from [Mazda’s Senior Vice President Special Assignments and principal of Robert Davis Racing] Robert Davis and he said, ‘Hey, there’s an RX-8 SpeedSource car on eBay,’” explains Harvey. “So I went on eBay and it was at like $30,000 and I started bidding on it. I ended up buying it for $55,000, which is nothing for that car. It was probably a $400,000 car new.” There’s a similar car currently for sale that’s nearly double the price Harvey paid.

Harvey thought that perhaps the car he had bought was the one that Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal drove to the 2010 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series championship. It wasn’t, but it does have an interesting provenance.

“This is a Riley SpeedSource chassis, I think serial No. 2. It wasn’t the car that won Daytona, but it did win Watkins Glen three times and I think it won the Grand-Am race at Salt Lake City. It’s got some history – it’s got 70 professional races on it, so it might be one of the most professionally raced Mazda chassis ever. It went from SpeedSource to the Nonnamakers, the Sahlen’s team. They ran it as a backup car. It kind of drifted around and it ended up in Florida, where I bought it,” says Harvey, who has Mazda dealerships in Dublin and Tracy, Calif.

The purchase, though, was only the beginning; the car needed some work and TLC. “When I got a hold of it, it was not in good shape,” he explains. “Every fastener on it was completely rusted and screwed up. It looked like it had been parked outside in the rain. So I hired a couple of SpeedSource guys to help me recondition it. We sent out everything to get redone – the calipers, the shocks.”

He even discovered that one corner had a spring shorter than the shock travel. But he persevered in getting the car up to good running condition, including replacing the Grand-Am-spec Bosch ECU with a MoTeC unit.

Now he has a car capable of winning. In fact, he recently won his first SCCA U.S. Majors Tour races with the car, at Thunderhill Raceway Park in GT-2. He certainly had options with the car, such as GT-3, but he likes the challenge and variety of GT-2, and that’s where the three-rotor the car came with fits. “It’s a lot harder, because you’ve got cars that are just kind of ringers. You have the Trans-Am TA2 cars and Vipers and ’Vettes out of World Challenge, so it’s a good question, why run GT-2? It’s harder, I think, to race in GT-2 than GT-3, but cost-wise, it’s probably about the same. The engines on these are good for 50 hours, and that’s probably two seasons for me.”

Harvey plans to take the RX-8 to the SCCA Runoffs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and because of the car’s history, he’ll be able to run the SVRA Brickyard Vintage Invitational at the track a couple of months prior to get some good data on the gearing. He’s currently trying to decide which tires from his sponsor Hoosier he’s going to use – the slicks or the DOT radial A7s, and much of that decision will be based on gearing.

In the meantime, he’ll keep running races on the West Coast and enjoying it. “The car is so well balanced and the suspension is so great that it’s really easy on tires,” he says. “I just love driving the car. It sounds cool, it’s a kick to drive, and it’s got about 400 horsepower – hardly any torque, but a lot of horsepower. [And a] six-speed sequential gearbox with no-lift shift.” And, he notes, he doesn’t have to worry about showing up at a race and seeing another one.