Mad Mike’s MADBUL 1994 Mazda RX-7 – Weapons Grade – 142
A highly apathetic man by nature, it takes a whole lot of awesome to get me excited. But sure enough, there I was, standing on the featureless expanse of black tarmac that is Whenuapai Air Force base west of Auckland, hopping from foot to foot as subtly as possible, like a super-tall but somewhat self-conscious dancing leprechaun. Finally, after months of secret updates and my own poorly feigned ignorance, I was able to see the fully finished, physical manifestation of all the rumours, sneak peaks and tight-lipped secrecy that has gone hand in hand with Mad Mike Whiddett’s wild FD3S Mazda RX-7 and its monster rebuild. More importantly, I was finally allowed to talk about it! As one of only a very small handful of people to know the finer details of this project as it took shape, I have been more anxious than most to see the finished product. And now, finally, there it was in the flesh, in all its dark, brooding glory.
Looking almost like the evil twin of FURSTY, MADBUL was slowly backed off the trailer and onto the cold concrete underfoot. Relief washed over me as I realised that Mike had indeed stuck to his guns when it came to the new look for the car it was still uniquely Mad Mike-ish, despite the new backing from international energy drink maker Red Bull and super-tuner HKS Japan. When news of the new sponsors surfaced, many feared the car would lose its unique looks in favour of the traditional silvers, blues and yellows of the Red Bull brand. How did Mike manage to avoid losing his tough trademark camo look? “It was a bit of a battle, actually,” he admits. “Red Bull have their own design team in Austria that solely work on graphic schemes for their athletes, so they of course came up with something in line with their branding it looked a lot like the Red Bull Formula 1 scheme. [Mike’s partner] Toni and I decided we would do our best to avoid ending up looking like Rhys Millen’s Red Bull Pontiac Solstice, so came up with this paint and graphic scheme. Red Bull NZ’s sports marketing man, Ivan, and the people at Red Bull NZ loved it but said it was pretty unlikely the Austrians at head office would approve. We sent it off to them and it turns out they were stoked with it, so we got the thumbs up from them and took the shell down to Independent Truck Spray Painters, who have always painted our cars, and got them to start on the new black paint.” The end result is a completely new look for the car, although one that still keeps in touch with its original appeal.
Steam slowly rose from the ground as the morning sun began to heat up and Mike lifted the vented carbon bonnet to reveal the new engine bay in all its glory.
The sight was pure, unadulterated rotary nirvana. Custom fabrication work could be seen everywhere, and most things could be counted in groups of four, due to the fact that Mike’s RX-7 now sports a monstrous, flame-spitting 26B quad-rotor motor. In terms of the engine bay’s one-off look, Mike didn’t have too many options. “It had to be like this really,” he says. “It’s not as though we can just go into a shop and buy parts straight off the shelf for a 26B everything had to be custom made.” For those not up with the rotary play, this is simply because, bar the handful of 767 and 787 Le Mans race cars campaigned in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Mazda has never made a four-rotor vehicle.
The moment many of us at NZPC had been waiting for finally came. Mike jumped into the Sparco driver’s seat and primed the massive fuel system needed to feed this aggravated monster. The sound of the whirring pumps was quickly blanketed as the eight Bosch coils sent huge amounts of charge down the custom MSD leads and into the combustion chambers. The four RX-8 rotors began to spin inside the custom short crank motor and, after a few revolutions, fuel, air and spark came together to create something that would make any true enthusiast weak at the knees: the sound of an N/A 26B. This is one of those times when I wish we had the budget to implant tiny microchips into the magazine’s paper stock, just so you could hear MADBUL in all its glory I guess you will all just have to wait until the next NZ Drift Series round.
The MoTeC quad throttle bodies barked with malice as the motor found its idle. Air Force staff all around the base looked up from their work as the motor pulsed loudly, thanks to the peripheral ports machined into the FD3S S6 housings.
The super-wide body twisted to the right as Mike stabbed the throttle and the revs sharply rose, and the engine note changed to a high-pitched whine unlike anything else. Pulling on the shifter, the new HKS 5-speed sequential gearbox clunked into first gear and Mike gave MADBUL its maiden drive with a quick (albeit ear-bleeding) blast around the base.
That unique sound is one of the many secrets behind Mad Mike’s success. You can be the best driver in the world, but that’s not going to make you a star if your vehicle, and perhaps you yourself, don’t get the public interested. Mike is acutely aware of this, and as well as developing a machine crowds love to hear, he has marketed himself and his car over the last two years in a way that has garnered him plenty of attention. “Growing up, I was all about the freestyle motocross, so I guess I’ve taken the same sort of approach to drifting as guys like Deegan and Metzger did to freestyle motocross,” Mike explains. “It works for them and their bikes, so why not me and my car?”
Mike has set his sights firmly on world domination, and already has a long list of overseas trips planned in the coming year to help him achieve it. If anyone from little old Aotearoa can do it, it’s definitely going to be Mad Mike Whiddett.
1994 MAZDA RX-7 (FD3S)
Engine: Mazda 26B quad rotary, Precision Engineering custom short crank, cross-drilled eccentric shaft, custom PPRE alloy sump, three window bearings, FD3S rotor housings, PPRE peripheral porting, lightened/balanced RX-8 rotors, custom ceramic apex seals, custom machined side plates, high-rev mod stationary gears, custom inlet manifold, 4x 55mm MoTeC throttle bodies, Pipercross air filters, custom fuel rails, 8x 600cc injectors, 2x fuel lines, twin Bosch Motorsport 044 fuel pumps, custom surge tank, Turbosmart fuel pressure regulator, MicroTech LTX-12 engine management system, 8x Bosch 616 coils, custom MSD leads, 4x 1.25-inch custom stainless PPG manifold, flanged full 3.5-inch exhaust, Borla mufflers, custom twin-pass alloy radiator, factory FD3S oil coolers, Craig Davies electric oil pump, braided lines/hoses, anodised fittings, de-loomed engine bay, Redline Performance catch cans
Driveline: HKS 5-speed sequential gearbox, HKS Pro twin-plate clutch, HKS flywheel, custom full-spool locker, factory diff case, Mazdaspeed 4.3 crown wheel, custom driveshaft
Suspension: Tein Super Drift fully adjustable coil-over shocks/springs, Tein EDFC, modified tie rods, shortened uprights
Brakes: Znoelli cross-drilled rotors, factory FD3S callipers, EBC pads, D2 hydraulic handbrake, B&M line locker
Wheels/Tyres: Weds Kranze 3-piece alloys — 18×11-inch front, 18×12-inch rear, Goodyear RS Sport 245/45R18 semi-slick front tyres, Goodyear Eagle F1 265/35R18 rear tyres
Exterior: BN Sports Blister wide body kit, Sard 3D GT wing, gloss black respray, custom matte black
digi-camo, Red Bull graphics
Interior: Sparco Evo seats, Sparco deep dish steering wheel, HKS sequential shifter, MSNZ-spec 6-point roll cage, custom MicroTech wiring, custom switchbox, Tein EDFC controller, custom dash, 4x HKS exhaust gas temp meters, HKS oil pressure meter, HKS oil temp meter, HKS water temp meter, HKS fuel pressure meter, Splitfire tachometer
Performance: Dyno Power — 480hp @ wheels (running-in de-tune)
Mad Mike Whiddett
Occupation: Signwriter & drifter
Previously owned cars: Way too many rotors
Dream car: Toni’s pink V8 turbo LV Mercedes-Benz
Build time: 2 months (MADBUL build)
Length of ownership: 2 years
Thanks to: Red Bull, Goodyear, HKS, Redline Performance, Weds, Castrol, Tein, DC, Teng Tools, Fusion, ITS, Magwarehouse.com, a massive thanks to Chromie, Warren Overton @ Pulse Performance Race Engineering (PPRE) and all the family
Mad Man: The Interview
Hey Mike, first off, the car looks and sounds insane. Why has it been changed so dramatically?
There were a few reasons really. Firstly we needed to get a lot more torque out of the car just to make it more competitive that means I can come off the gas a lot more to gain a bit of traction, rather than keeping it tapped the whole time. As soon as I came off the gas before it would bog and die, making it very hard to keep a smooth drift. With all this torque, I can drive the car like the others. Then, of course, there is the 'wow’ factor. The car has had the same 20B setup for two years now and the novelty is starting to wear off. This is, after all, a spectator sport people want to be entertained, they want to see something different. Also, we have big international plans, and I don’t want to have to use the excuse that my car doesn’t have enough grunt to compete with the big boys. Overseas, everyone has huge power, so I need to up my game. I want the onus to be 100 per cent on the driver, not the car. I think with this new setup we definitely have what it takes to be on the podium overseas.
Why did you decide to stick with natural aspiration over the potentially easier turbocharged route.
It’s a point of difference, really. People want to see a show when they come to an event. The N/A 26B will be unlike anything they have seen or heard before. If I went turbo it would lose some of what makes it unique. Plus, I guess you could say the rowdy N/A styles is just who I am.
Yes, that’s true Mad Mike in a turbocharged car? It just doesn’t seem right… With the new quad-rotor setup, everything in the motor is fairly experimental.
Are you worried about reliability issues, similar to guys like Stu Lawton in his quad-rotor drag car?
Yeah, it’s true that this whole motor is fairly experimental; nothing can be bought off the shelf and it is all one-off, custom-made gear. But in saying that, guys like the Lawtons are after massive power, putting huge boost through their motors and really pushing the boundaries, so of course these things are going to happen. We, on the other hand, are naturally aspirated, so the motor is a lot less stressed. Reliability is always the number one concern for us. To be fair, it should be just as reliable if not more reliable than the previous 20B, simply due to the fact that I won’t have to work it so hard to stay competitive. Over the last two years of competition there have been turbos blowing up, rods coming out of blocks and intercooler pipes popping off all around us, but nothing has ever gone wrong in our engine bay.
You went to the States last year to compete in the D1 Grand Prix All Stars event. What was that like?
Awesome! Driving-wise it was very different, as the Irwindale circuit has a steep banked corner in it, which is unlike anything I’ve ever driven on before.
The Yanks all said you didn’t have enough power to compete, do you agree?
Yeah, I think so. My line was scored at 100 points but I was 6kph off the pace in terms of speed, so lost points for that. Those guys over there have huge amounts of speed, using huge hp motors and semi-slicks all round. I just didn’t have the power to kick it out on the bank like the others, so had to feint [using inertia to initiate a drift] coming into it, which scrubbed off a lot of speed. But now we have this new motor setup, I will be able to run Goodyear RS Sport semi-slicks all round for extra traction, which means extra speed.
There was a huge reaction to the car Stateside. What was that like, and how has it affected you since?
It definitely put me and the car onto the world stage. I guess it’s purely because the RX is so different to anything else out there; it attracted a lot of attention. We shot four magazine cover articles just in the few days we were there. So it’s been great in terms of sponsorship opportunities and exposure. After the scene we caused with the car last time, I can’t wait to get back over there with this new build to see what people think.
How many cover features is that now?
(Laughs) I think it’s seven altogether, including this one.
A little more recently you busted over to Singapore with Jason Sellars to compete in the Bridgestone D1 Event.
Yeah, that was awesome. I actually qualified first, but got knocked out in the semi-finals.
That one confused us all. Didn’t you pass Ryuji Miki in the A’PEXi RX-7? That should have been an instant win!
Yeah, I did pass him, but the rules differ a bit over there. You need to keep to your original line by at least 90 per cent, so I was disqualified when I saw the opportunity to go off-line and make the pass. Sh*t happens I guess, but it was still an awesome event.
Was the reaction to the RX-7 the same as it was in the States?
It was, yeah. People seem to love the car. There was a huge line of people in the pits at lunchtime waiting to get autographs and photos. It was crazy!
Since we last had you on the cover, your profile and perhaps your life has changed a fair amount. You have become almost a hero figure, a posterchild for a certain part of Kiwi youth. Are you surprised at your popularity?
Well, it has always been the dream, I guess; I just thought it would happen on a bike, not a car. Growing up I looked up to guys like Mike Metzger [the father of freestyle motocross]. He was a cult hero in the scene and I guess I figured I could do the same.
What happened to the freestyle motocross buzz? Did you get bored?
No, not at all, just too many big crashes, too many broken bones.
What turned you on to drifting?
I’ve always been into rotors and skids, and when Toni and I went along to an OG D1NZ round way back in the day, we sort of said, “Sh*t, they actually have a sport for this? I don’t even have to lose my licence!” So we decided then and there to build up an old 1978 Mazda 626.
A 626! Whatever happened to that?
We originally went over to Redline Performance to buy a 13B out of an uncompliable RX-7 they were wrecking. Darryl and the guys ended up convincing me to take the whole car, even though I thought it was sh*t. They had a lot more knowledge when it came to suspension and things like that. As they said, there is a whole lot of stuff in the showroom that would go straight on this chassis, but none for a sh*tty old 626. Two years later, this is that same car.
Have things changed a lot for you since then?
Everything has changed, yes. It was hard at the start. We decided not to do it half assed, but to try and achieve something. For instance, instead of going out and skidding on used tyres, we bought all our tyres brand new to try and be as competitive as possible. For a long time there nearly all our money was going into it. The way we looked at it was, you’ve got to spend the money to get the results needed to get the sponsors so that you don’t have to spend the money anymore. It has all paid off now. I just want to get out there to represent our country and show the world our styles, to show them we aren’t just a part of Australia.
You have a unique image within the scene. Is it something you have consciously crafted and tried to put out there, or is it just who you are?
I think this is just who I am. As I’ve said, I come from a freestyle motocross background, so I’m from that mould, I guess. I definitely don’t think, “Oh, there are some people, I better act like Mad Mike”. I do think it definitely takes personality to succeed though. Just look at most of the top international guys; they are all their own characters. Crazy little Ken Nomuken, super-professional Rhys Millen everyone seems to have their own unique style.
To be fair, if I had never met you before, I would probably make assumptions that I now know to be incorrect. Are Mad Mike the superstar drifter and Mike Whiddett the signwriter from East Auckland two different people?
No, I don’t think so. This is just who I am.
You had a son, Lincoln, recently. Has your life changed since becoming a dad?
It has definitely changed, yes, but not in a negative way. Everyone said to me, “Oh, you are going to have to change your lifestyle when the baby comes”. But no, Lincoln is at all the events and I want him to grow up knowing this lifestyle. I want him to one day rep New Zealand in motocross, drifting, whatever he wants.
What if he wants to be a ballet dancer?
Uhhh! Well, it does worry me a bit giving him to mum on the weekends; she always takes him to horse events. I’d rather not see my son in those tight tan pants if at all possible!
A lot of people, fellow drivers and otherwise, say that you are perhaps the best driver in New Zealand, and the only thing that has held you back thus far has been a lack of power. Now that you have all this extra power, are you feeling the pressure?
I’m not feeling the pressure, no. I think after driving internationally things change a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan to ditch New Zealand, I’m all for the Kiwi drift scene.
But won’t your car be overseas for much of the year?
It will be, yes. That was the problem last year, too, and I never got to complete a championship. The plan is to build a sister car to compete here in New Zealand. That way I will have the best of both worlds.
So what’s next for you?
Winning the Formula Drift Championship in the States is my biggest goal at the moment. It’s the biggest series of its kind in the world, and the only one with factory backed teams. I realise it’s a big goal, but if you put your mind to it, anything is achievable. We’ve actually just received a special guest invite to the final round in Las Vegas in a few months, so that’s where we will be heading very soon. Then very soon after that it’s the Red Bull Drifting World Champs in Los Angeles, so I’m definitely there as well.
Speaking of Red Bull, you’ve quite clearly hooked up the mad sponsorship deal you must be stoked.
Yeah, they have been awesome. Red Bull are so professional and the level of support is massive. A huge thanks to them and all of my sponsors for supporting me, it’s very much appreciated.
Good luck with everything in the future, Mike. Go out there and do us proud the whole country is behind you.