2022 SCCA Red Hills National Tour (RX-8 updates)

A month of work reviving an old Mazda culminated in a successful SCCA National Tour event. I’m happy.

Back in February, I bought a 2004 Mazda RX-8 off a friend. He had bought it off a guy in Tennessee a year or two earlier, and just hadn’t had time to mess with it. When I contacted the dude in Tennessee about some stuff I found in the trunk, he stated simply, “I hate that car.”

So yeah, it was a basket case. It did start and move under its own power, but it had a horrendous exhaust leak and idled so rich, the oil level in the engine was at least a half quart over full – the result of unburned fuel getting past the seals and into the pan. The power steering didn’t work, and along with it the stability control and ABS. The sunroof was also not reliable. It would open, but sometimes wouldn’t shut.

BUT! It was a rust-free tub with fresh tires and a new battery, and three tubs of parts, and the engine had supposedly been replaced with a new reman unit.

So, the first order of business was finding and fixing the exhaust leak. Find it, I did. It was the rear port at the manifold. The header had not been torqued to spec, and it burned through the cheap gasket.

Burned exhaust gasket

Replacing this gasket with a genuine Mazda MLS gasket solved the leak, and fixed the idle. The leak was before the oxygen sensor, so the thing was sucking air into the exhaust stream, the O2 sensor was seeing that air, and adding fuel, massive amounts.

Once it idled without contaminating the oil, I changed the oil. Whoever changed the filter the last time screwed it on so tight they distorted the filter’s baseplate. It would not unscrew. I eventually had to cut the filter apart and remove the baseplate with a combination of using a chisel as a drift and a big set of channel locks.

Dismembered filter components

With a fresh change of oil and a new filter, it was time to look at the engine. The car felt low on power and it had a lean surge at cruise. It also popped and crackled and spat fire. Cool for about five seconds, then staggeringly annoying. It also would die at stop lights.

The folks at Versatuner helped me out by getting me some tools to return the tune to stock, then I could start from scratch with their software. After about a week of datalogging and fiddling, I think the tune’s in great shape. It pulls all the way to redline, and stays running, all without gassing people nearby with excessive carbon monoxide.

The final piece was the power steering. These cars have electric power steering that consists of a rack and pinion with a built-in motor, a steering column with a steering angle sensor, and a torque sensor in the rack that helps the EPS module determine how much power assist to provide. If any of those components has an electrical fault, the EPS module throws a code and disables the rack. This is complicated by the wiring for the steering being positioned directly beneath the air cleaner, which is also a path for coolant to flow if the coolant overflow tank burps. Green residue on various parts made it pretty clear that the tank had burped.

Using some software call FORScan, I got the EPS codes out of the module and forced a reset. That changed the code and pointed towards a faulty fuse, which I replaced. I also cleaned up all the electrical connections and sealed them back up with some dielectric grease. After resetting the EPS module again, boom, I had power steering.

I also did a full paint correction, even finding some rust beginning under the spoiler. A quick paint touch-up there for protection, and some replacement underbody cladding, and it was ready for an event.

All cleaned up and ready to party

I signed it up for the SCCA Red Hills National Tour Event (formerly known as the Dixie Tour). I entered it in DSP, despite it being on stock suspension and stock sized tires. The ECM tune made it ineligible for Street Class, and the 200TW XS-A class only had one other entrant. DSP had six, so I jumped in there. It made the class eligible for contingencies, so I hope the guys that won appreciate it.

A ten hour drive and we were on-site in blustery cold weather with high winds.

Day one had me getting familiar with driving the car in anger. I lost power steering for my first run. The second run was my best, a 50.600. The third I was unable to improve. The car was acting weird. Killing power in odd places. It also burped a bunch of coolant on the ground from a loose hose clamp.

Turns out the weird was the Dynamic Stability Control. I forgot to turn it off, and the nanny was protesting the use case.

With the coolant leak fixed, Jenni and I retired to a local mexican restaurant for hot food and margaritas.

Sunday found the camera dead, so no video. But, after disabling the DSC, the car behaved wonderfully. My first run was a 48 and change. I made mistakes on the second run, and spun it on the third trying to push too hard. But it was good enough for sixth in a class of seven in DSP.

Coming home, the only things left to look at really is the EPS. It was failing with a torque sensor code. I think I have a wiring connector somewhere I missed, and when it got wet from the leak, it caused some funk. I’ll get that cleaned up and sealed and fingers crossed, this issue goes away.

The next step for the car is installing an Autopower four point roll bar so I can run the Pine Mountain Hill Climb next month. I’m very much looking forward to having a car that can finish that event.

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