Randy Pobst

Spec Miata: Suspension Evolving

Penske Racing Shocks will be the new supplier of shocks for Spec Miata, giving competitors a proper racing shock and the benefits that come with it. For a detailed outline of the process, click here.

When Spec Miata was introduced nearly 20 years ago, there were but a few who realized what it would become. What started out as a cheap, simple spec class for regional racing has evolved into one of the most popular classes in SCCA and NASA club racing. It spawned a professional series and has vaulted many drivers to the professional ranks. And on top of it all, nationally competitive Spec Miatas regularly sell in the $20-30,000 range – a far cry from its humble beginnings.

When introduced, the Bilstein shock chosen for the class was the right shock at the right time. Mass-produced, readily available and inexpensive, it was a good idea for a regional racing class where everybody had to use the same shock. But much in shock technology has advanced over the past two decades. As Spec Miatas have gotten faster and the tires have improved, the shortcomings of a street shock on a race car were becoming clear. Further, and perhaps much more critically, officials from both of the major SM sanctioning bodies were hearing of shortages, with shock availability being limited for extended periods of time. It was time for a change.

“The shock absorber was the sore thumb sticking out on the Spec Miata,” says Randy Pobst, the first person to win a national championship in a Miata in 1992 and one of the test drivers for the replacement shock test. “It was the one thing needed on the car. It’s not that the Bilsteins were a bad shock, but they are a street shock, which made them far too soft for racing. I have always felt that the car was under-damped – it needed more control and it caused the car to bang down on the bump stops and snap oversteer or suddenly understeer.”

Mazda Motorsports, with SCCA and NASA on board, put out a Request for Proposal, and the shock manufacturers answered. With several wanting a shot at providing the Spec Miata shock, a four-day test was arranged at Carolina Motorsports Park to sample shocks form seven different manufacturers. Long Road Racing provided the logistics and management, Panic Motorsports provided the cars and support, and Pobst, Battery Tender® Global Mazda MX-5 Cup champion John Dean II and Mazda factory driver Joel Miller provided the test driving and feedback. With Mazda Motorsports, SCCA and NASA tech officials and many others on hand, Penske Racing shocks was eventually chosen as the replacement shock supplier for Spec Miata, beginning in 2019.

“Spec Miata is moving from a street shock to a race shock, and this is a much-needed advancement,” declares Pobst. “The car doesn’t feel soft anymore; it was controlled. This shock package will benefit all drivers, but I think it will benefit the average or beginning driver even more because of the level of control. The car is friendlier and handles better. The car is not as finicky, and the setup won’t be, either. The cars will be able to run at a higher ride height, the benefit being the suspension will be able to actually work.”

The initial cost for the set of Penskes, including new top mounts and lower spherical bearings, will be under $1,050. At $198.74 a piece, the Penske shocks come at a higher price point than the old setup, but over the long run the costs should more than balance out due to longer service life of the shocks themselves, plus an extended life for other suspension components. Penske suggests an inspection after 100 hours, which is about 25 typical race weekends, although the service life may be longer. In addition, the shocks can be rebuilt, at a cost comparable to a new Bilstein.

“It’s a bigger initial up-front cost for the competitors, but after that, it will be a lower cost to own,” explains David Cook, Manager of Mazda Motorsports Business Development. “By moving to a properly damped racing shock from Penske, it causes less stress on the car, on the hubs, on the tires and on other components. Our racers are going to save that money on reduced wear on other components, as well as the shock itself will last much longer. A lot of people are replacing the Bilsteins every year.”

It goes beyond the product itself. Penske Racing Shocks will be offering contingency, plus trackside support at bigger events. Production is also based in the U.S., so parts supplies should be steady.

“Our confidence for continued supply is as high as it can be,” says Cook. “Penske’s really coming to the table as a partner, not just a supplier, by providing contingency awards, trackside support and more. Penske’s sole focus is motorsport, and it really wants to penetrate the club racing market and is going to work hard for it.”

Aaron Lambert, Director of Competition for Penske, notes the company’s involvement at every level of racing, from ATV and motocross to short track to sports cars and up to Indy cars and Formula 1.

“Penske Racing Shocks has been doing a lot of homework in trying to make our products more efficient so they can be utilized in more of the grassroots style racing,” Lambert says. “We are so proud to take this huge step with Mazda; we feel all involved will benefit greatly. Whether it’s NASCAR, IndyCar, or numerous short tracks around the country, our customers will be the first to tell you it’s our at-track presence and experience that separates us. Spec Miata customers can expect that same support.

“All of these shocks will be hand built and tested in our facility in Reading, Penn. – this is where our factory is located and where our team assembles all of our racing dampers,” Lambert continues. “We are the majority supplier in F1, NASCAR and IndyCar, to name a few. The same techs that build and work with our teams around the world will be there to service and build the Spec Miata dampers, as well as give technical and setup support to the racers.”

The shocks and mounts will be available no later than November 2018 – possibly as early as October – in time for racers to acquire, install and test before the January SCCA Majors and NASA races, although the shocks will be allowed but not be required then.

While not yet in stock, you can order now. Call 800.435.2508, or go to the parts store (tab in top right corner of homepage at MazdaMotorsports.com. As with any competition part from Mazda Motorsports, these shocks will be available to racers and non-racers.

Part numbers:

  • The kit (fronts & rear shocks + top mount kits for complete car set): 0000-04-5720-KT (price $1,044.86)
  • Front Penske SM Shock: 0000-04-5275 (price: $198.74 per shock)
  • Rear Penske SM Shock: 0000-04-5276 (price: $198.74 per shock)
  • Top Mount/Bump Stop Kit: 0000-04-5277 ($249.90 per complete car set kit)

For new car builds, racers and teams would still need the coil-over hardware kit: 0000-04-5402-04 ($289.50 for all four corners). For those retrofitting the new Penske shock package from Mazda Motorsports, you could re-use your current coil-over hardware kit.  

Don’t forget Mazda Motorsports’ free UPS ground shipping offer for orders exceeding $1,000. Click here for more info.

Look for more details on mazdamotorsports.com as the availability date nears, including information on installation and setup, as well as some insight into the process of choosing Penske as the supplier.