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Mazda doesn’t officially have a presence at the 2009 SEMA Show, but the Japanese automaker did decide to bring two custom cars to Las Vegas. Using in-house parts (many from the Mazda RX-8) and calling upon the automaker’s World Challenge motorsports partner, Tri-Point, Mazda has come up with two fresh and clean examples of the popular Mazda3 and its high-performance MazdaSpeed sibling.
Both cars get a Crystal White Pearl paint job with some faded gray graphics, reminiscent of the style first shown on the Mazda 787B that won Le Mans in 1991. Many of the remaining exterior details get black paint, including the grille inserts, side mirrors, fog lamp bezels and the roof. The front headlamps also get a black treatment. Then both cars have been outfitted with a set of 19×8-inch forged aluminum wheels straight off the RX-8 with a set of 225/40/19 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires.
The Mazda3s with the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder was then shipped over to Tri-Point, which installed the company’s turbo kit to boost power to 250-hp thanks to a Garrett GT2871R turbo.
The front brakes have been upgraded to those of the MazdaSpeed3, with rear brakes coming from the Mazda5. Suspension duties were outsourced to KW, with a Tri-Point rear stabilizer bar.
With the MazdaSpeed3 already finely tuned from the factory, only an AEM air intake was added for a gain of 20-hp. Along with the same exterior changes and wheels, a KW suspension was also added but with new suspension mounts for camber adjustability. The brakes were also upgraded to Stoptech units – the same used on the World Challenge cars.
GALLERY: Tuned MazdaSpeed3 and Turbocharged Mazda3s
Seth Thomas, piloting the No. 38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 328i, jumped into the lead off the standing start during the first race of the 2009 World Challenge Touring Car series and never looked back.
With a qualifying run that landed him in 2nd, Thomas used the BMW’s rear-drive advantage to get a quick lead on pole-sitter Pierre Kleinubing in the front-drive RealTime Acura TSX and after just three laps had put just over a second between the two cars.
“I didn’t expect that kind of advantage going into Turn One,” Thomas said. “The BMWs have rear-wheel drive and they launch really well off the start. Pierre [Kleinubing] has a lot of experience starting up there and I expected him to be tough and get a little better launch. The way it worked out, I went into the brake zone for Turn One and looked in the mirror and saw the gap. I just thought ‘just maintain that and see what we can do.’”
Kleinubing and RealTime teammate Kuno Wittmer attempted to chase Thomas down, but after Whitmer retired due to mechanical problems, the race belonged to the Bimmerworld team, taking the podium 2.563 seconds ahead of the RealTime Acura.
“I’ve been coming here for many years,” Thomas said. “I always had good success at Sebring in the BMW Club stuff I did. Then we came to World Challenge and things went a little haywire. After last year, it’s definitely redemption here. Last year, we should have started on the pole but a technical infraction got us in trouble and we had to start from the back. I felt like this year was going to be the year.
“I keep telling everybody, there’s no words that can describe winning. It’s the best feeling. We’ve worked so hard to get here and it’s finally happened.”
Kleinubing admitted he pretty much lost the race right at the beginning thanks to an overly eager right foot.
“Halfway through first gear I spun the tires pretty badly on the big painted stripe and lost a little bit there from first to second. [Thomas] pulled a huge gap at that point. Every time I’d get a little closer, he seemed to answer and pull it back out. I just did what I could and finished second.”
Kleinubing states that he was eager to get to the next race where he will pilot a brand new TSX. At Sebring, only RealTime owner/racer and defending series champ Peter Cunningham had one of the new TSXs on the track and finished in 9th place after loosing body work in an incedent.
Mazda finished the day at Sebring yesterday with the fastest car during the first practice session ahead of the 2009 World Challenge Touring Car season.
Jason Saini, piloting the Tri-Point No. 74 Mazdaspeed/Stoptech/Racinghart Mazda, posted the best lap time at the end of the day with a 2:25.294 on the 17-turn, 3.7-mile circuit.
“Conditions were a bit variable,” Saini said. “It was damp this morning, but it got better throughout the session. It was hard to learn what the car was really doing in the changing conditions. I was lucky to have a late lap when the conditions were getting better every lap.”
“The team has done such a great job pulling things together in short order. So many people pulled together to make this happen at the last minute. All credit to the team for staying up late all last week and getting these cars together.”
The Tri-Point team of Mazda6′s also claimed 4th and 6th for the day with Charles Espenlaub piloting the No. 73 car and rookie Eric Foss in the No. 75 car taking the respective positions.
Much of the rest of the top 10 was filled with the RealTime Racing Acura TSXs with Kuno Wittmer taking 2nd, Pierre Kleinubing taking 3rd and Toby Grahovec taking 7th. Defending World Challenge Touring Car Champion Peter Cunningham, the only driver piloting a new TSX vehicle, placed 5th.
Finishing out the top ten were Andrew Aquilante and his Subaru WRX in 8th, Nick Esayian in his BMW 328i in 9th and James Clay in his BMW 328i in 10th.
The World Challenge Touring Car Series kicks-off with the opening race this Friday, March 20th .
Full Practice Session results after the jump: