Late last year Mazda Australia's Motorsport division decided to mess around with the turbocharged Mazda3 MPS hot hatch, stuffing a few more ponies into the engine bay and tweaking the suspension for optimum corner-carving ability. They called it the Mazda3 MPS Extreme, and while it was just a one-off concept it still showed that the humble Mazda3 had oodles of performance potential when given to the right people.
Now it's the even-smaller and exponentially-cuter Mazda2's turn, and this time around Mazda Motorsport aren't going soft on it. So confident are they that the tiny 2 has got the goods, they've entered their own interpretation of the diminutive hatchback in the National Capital Rally in Canberra.
Results have yet to come in from Saturday's race, however Mazda was optimistic that the Mazda2 Extreme would deliver a strong result. With just a three-inch exhaust being the only powertrain modification, the emphasis is clearly not on outright power, and even the standard manual gearbox and FWD driveline are retained on the 2 Extreme. Instead, Mazda once again enlisted the help of suspension guru Murray Coote, who installed a race-spec set of springs and dampers to keep the little hatchback on the gravel and out of the trees.
A larger brake package also enhances the Mazda 2's performance, while a full roll cage, Sabelt seats with five-point harnesses, Momo tiller and hydraulic handbrake keep the driver and navigator safe and in control.
Black bolt-on fender flares help accommodate a set of 15-inch Compomotive Motorsport racing rims and Bridgestone Potenza rally tyres, while four Hella spotlights help light up the way - and look tough to boot.
We're still waiting to see how it fared on the rally, but just taking a look at it being flung sideways along a gravel track is enough to confirm that yes, this is indeed the most extreme interpretation of Mazda's smallest hatchback to date.
Mazda2 Extreme to Make Australian Rally Debut
October 24, 2008-?? Mazda Australia?s show-stopping Mazda2 Extreme will make its long-awaited rally debut in Canberra this weekend at the penultimate round of the New South Wales rally championship.
This Saturday October 25 the rally-ready Mazda2 Extreme will contest the National Capital Rally; a challenging one-day, 12hr gravel endurance race held over 300km of closed forest roads in the ACT?s Brindabella Ranges.
The Mazda2 Extreme is the fourth in Mazda Motorsport?s iconic series of extreme makeovers. It is based on the obscenely popular new-generation Mazda2 small car and was unveiled to critical acclaim at the Melbourne Motor Show earlier this year.
Sydney-based motoring journalist and rally first-timer Nathan Ponchard is in the Mazda2 Extreme?s hot seat, while experienced co-driver Simone Bachmann will call the corners.
In preparation for his rally debut Ponchard has honed his competitive driving skills under the expert tutelage of Mazda Targa driver Rick Bates. Bates finished a stunning tenth outright for Mazda at the 2007 Targa Tasmania in a production standard Mazda3 MPS.
Ponchard is understandably nervous, yet quietly confident ahead of his rally debut.
?I?m looking forward to the challenge of putting into practice what I?ve learned. With the support and professionalism of the Mazda Motorsport team behind me and my fun-to-drive Mazda2 as my weapon, we?re sure to put on a good show.?
Since its official unveiling earlier this year further refinements have been made to the Mazda2 Extreme to enhance its rally capabilities. Extensive testing led to improvements in the car?s Murray Coote-tuned suspension package, and the fitment of high-performance brakes.
Suspension guru Coote configured a suspension package that tweaks the Mazda2's production suspension for the dirt-road intensity of rally competition. Sports-tuned springs and shock absorbers are teamed with purpose-built 15-inch Bridgestone Potenza rally tyres and lightweight Compomotive Motorsport alloy wheels.
Mazda Motorsport boss Allan Horsley said the weekend?s event is a chance to celebrate the Mazda2?s sales success in Australia.
?The Mazda2 is incredibly popular with Australians attracted to its style and economical yet exciting driving ways. Our goal with the Mazda2 Extreme is to showcase these characteristics that make the Mazda2 a small-car standout in the heat of battle.?
The second-generation Mazda2 has been a runaway success with critics and consumers alike. It won the 2007 World Car of the Year and has notched up more than 16,500 sales since its Australian launch in September 2007.