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Supermiata  89-05 Miata set up tips

All content on this page copyright Supermiata LLC 2020
Updated July 30, 2020

Disclaimers: Performing any modifications to your car based on advice from this FAQ page is dangerous, might hurt you and and kill a kitten somewhere. IOW, read, assume, implement at your own risk (don''t sue us if you mess your car up and crash)
These settings may not be compatible with your vehicle, driving style or conditions.

Alignment - before you start

The race alignment shown below are the maximum performance settings to generate the best balance of turn in, steady state lateral grip, braking grip/stability and power application in competitive type driving environments. 

The Race Alignment assumes:

* Either factory Bilsteins or high performance aftermarket dampers
* At least 550# front springs
* At least 1" front sway bar
* EHP (<=200UTQG) or R compound tires, not hard compound street tires
* You are comfortable with potentially less high speed directional stability than the Mazda factory alignment settings may provide

Ride height
There are several ways to measure ride height. The most common are fender height & pinch weld height. If you are always using the same tire diameter, I recommend using pinch weld height as it's easier to get more precise and repeatable measurements. For the same reason all pro race teams measure ride height from the frame rail, we always use pinch weld height method of measurement at our shop. For the Exocet, use jack pad heights. The pinch weld is the body seam jacking point.

Exocet ride height
The 2nd gen Exomotive US made chassis have a slightly different suspension geometry than the Miata donor.

1. The Exomotive chassis has it's rear subframe roughly 10mm higher than the front. We understand this was done for gas tank packaging. To keep the critical roll center axis where it needs to be, the rear ride height recommendations listed here should be adjusted 10mm lower in rear to compensate. You may still end up with the chassis jack points level, just understand that Miata alignment specs do not directly always translate to the Exocet chassis. Minimum rear ride height with Xida Race or most short body (two piece) coilver is 4.25". Mininimum rear ride height with Xida XL/GS/ACE or any OEM length Miata shock is 5.25". In both short and long shock setups, your useful range begins at those minimums and goes up from there. How much higher depends on many factors so we leave that decision open to you.

2. The Exocet chassis has it's upper shock mount locations raised roughly 45mm from the position in the Miata. This requires a custom built shock, longer than any standard Miata shock to return the suspension to it's correct kinematic range if spacers are not used. As few Exocet owners even know of this problem, they are not likely to have custom shocks built. If you plan to use shocks designed for the Miata, the simple fix ia a shock mount spacer which Exomotive USA released in 2015. The only way to get the Exocet set up properly is to use these spacers front and rear, regardless of shock used. No set up info on this page will work without these optional Exomotive spacers. Deleting these spacers allows your front suspension to articulate past the safe maximum angle for the outer tie rod ends and ball joints. Failures are rare but we have seen OTR, UBJ and LBJ failures on Exocets that are directly attributable to the excessive articulation created when shock spacers are not used. The rear will have an excess of camber gain and too low roll center at full bump without the spacers.

Measuring pinch weld height
Requires that you always measure with the same size tires. Take measurement from forward most and rearmost straight area of lower unit body pinch weld at it's lowermost edge. If you measure frequently, a small dot of contrasting paint or other mark on your measuring point is a good idea. Pinch weld heights listed below are assuming a 22. 7 to 22.9" tall tire which when loaded, will have a static loaded radius of about 11.25". Verify tire pressures before measuring ride height.

Exocet ride height
Exocets can use the jack pads. Note that the jack pads on the Exocet are manually welded on and vary in both location and thickness. This and the relatively loose dimensional accuracy of the Exo chassis means the ride height measured at these jack points may not be very accurate. It is recommended to at least once, measure the lower, inner suspension pick up points on the subframe and compare those to the jack points on thesame corner. We find that the production variances will neccesitate a "correction factor" unique to your chassis that can be used for all future ride height measurements. Extra work but once its done, there is no mystery to your ride height.

Measuring fender height
 This measurement allows comparison between two cars with different tires. The actual fender shape and location can vary on a  10-20 year old car so this method is less precise. You must locate the exact center of the hub and this is difficult to do accurately. If you hold the measuring tape next to the hub you induces an error because the tape will not be 90° the ground plane. The fender lip on an unrolled fender can be 3/16" thick so two different people will often interpret the exact point differently. For these reason we recommend you not use this method and instead learn to use pinch weld heights for any future suspension tuning.

Don't tune a sick car
 These settings work best with the factory Torsen or OS Giken differentials. Ideally you will change the front to rear spring rate and anti-roll bar differential (FRC) biased towards the front. The OE FRC is only slightly front biased but the lower front camber serves to keep the car more or less neutral. We have found that setting the front camber from -.2° to -.5 ° more than the rear provide best grip and lowest lap times. Doing this on an otherwise bone stock Miata will result in an excessively loose, tail happy car so don't!

 Make sure your car is basically healthy before trying to tune for more grip. This means carefully inspecting the entire suspension for worn, cracked, broken or mismatched parts. We often see high mileage Miatas with broken OEM end links, rubber bushings pushed out of control arms, bent suspension pivot bolts causing binding, bent wheels, mismatched tires, etc.

 There is no "best" alignment for every condition, only the"best" compromise that suits your needs. What one drivers calls "normal", another driver might call "extreme" or "easy". Fine tuning alignment is fine tuning for your car setup, roads and driving habits. 

 To maximize the performance in a competition environment you need to test, test, test. That means, same tires, same driver, same conditions, change one thing at a time. Record tire temps with a probe type pyrometer (no lasers!), lap times, tire wear patterns, tire pressures and most importantly, driver impressions immediately after run. The more you are trying to squeeze out of the car on given course or track on that day, the more you have to test, record adjust, repeat. What works that day with the sun out, might be less than optimum 30 minutes later with the sun behind the clouds. You shouldn't expect to be able copy the settings published on this page verbatim and have it turn out 100% perfect for every possible car, driver, course. That's why race teams have highly skilled full time engineers constantly tweaking the cars to milk more speed out of the car for the conditions at that instant. Two different drivers under the exact same conditions can generate very different tire temps and require different set ups. The settings you finally settle on are your setup, which is different than our setup. Our setup optimized for a given track, weather, hardware, will not be ideal for you. We are merely providing you with a starting point.

Most DOT R compound race tires will develop their peak steady state lateral (cornering) grip at camber, toe and pressure settings that won't necessarily show even tread temps or wear. The tires on the outside of the track (left tires on clockwise course) are the key to base adjustments off of. Generally when temps are evenly stepped across the tread and peak temps are within 15° at every corner, you are pretty close. The pyrometer is your friend, learn to use it!
I usually shoot for tire temps 20~30° hotter on the inside than the outside with an even gradient to the cooler outside shoulder. Don't assume anything when reading tire temps or any other measurement. Drive it hard, pay attention to the car and experiment. Clocks don't lie.

Tire wear
 We can't predict how your tires will wear because there are too many variables. Tire wear must some times be sacrificed if you are looking for the fastest possible setup. In general, when the car is at it's fastest and you have a good balanced set up, the tire wear will be pretty even. Once can not achieve ultimate grip and response on track while acheiving lowest possible tire wear in gentle street driving conditions. A compromise must be made with an honest assesment on how the car will be driven. Our criteria:

Street   No competition use. Significant expressway/highway driving. Tire life is highest.
Dual Duty  Occasional autocross or HPDE, mostly street and highway driving. Minor acceelerated tire wear is OK.
Race Optimized for competition, autocross or track. You don't tell your SO what you spend on race tires every year.

My Miata isn't symmetrical!
The unitbody of the Miata nor the Exocet is rarely perfectly symmetrical. This means one side might have pinch weld heights that are not even with the other side. In this case, average out the measurements to reach your target. Test drive then determine if you need to make further adjustments. We see particularly large dimensional discrepancies on the Exocet chassis. Don't attempt to get it dead even left to right without using corner weight scales. Pay closer attention to the physical preload distance on each shock left to right. This is a better method to ge the suspension level left to right, assuming you do not have access to scales.

Corner weighting vs making it level
 These are two different things. A corner weighted car with fixed length shocks may not have equal pinch weld heights at front and rear. Corner weighting invloves adjusting preload so the LF/RR diagonal pair of wheels carries exactly half the total weight of the car as the opposite RF/LR pair. If the preload is not balanced this way, the car will have more weight transfer turning one direction as the other. Meaning your car might oversteer in left turns but be neutral or even understeer in rights, for example. This adjustment is done by placing the car on scales. For more info, google "corner weighting".

 Because the weight of an NA/NB Miata is not equally distributed left to right with a driver onboard, the actual pinch weld heights may not be level after corner weighting. Do not attempt to exactly match pinch weld heights on your car if it involves drastically different preload left to right. Its better to carefully measure the phyiscal height of the preload collars and shock length and match them left to right. Even though the car will often sit lower on LR than RR, it will handle more prediictably with equal preload. 

Supermiata Street Alignment

For most street driven Miatas, tire wear is the most important parameter. Excess toe in or out will usually cause more tire wear than somewhat aggressive camber will. The OEM alignment numbers with more rear camber than in front, are designed to induce a bit of understeer. Lawyers ultimately dictate the OEM alignment, not the clever engineeers that designed the suspension. The actual suspension geometry is designed to require greater front than rear camber. The Supermiata Street Alignment will generally result in no increase in tire wear over OEM and possibly a reduction in tire wear if you occasionally load the tires to maximum cornering forces. In general, this Street alignment is conservative and intended for cars that never slide their tires and spend almost no time at maximum conrnering loads.

NOTE: This alignment works with OEM (19 or 22mm) or a slightly larger front sway bar. FM (24mm) or Racing Beat 1" (25.4mm) solid bars will work. The Racing Beat 1.125 bar is too much for normal street tires (>240 treadwear). The Street Alignment may cause a 100% stock Miata to oversteer, or be too "loose" so it is recommended to use the front sway bars described here.

5.00 ~ 5.5" front pinch weld height
.06 ~ .18" rake, rear higher
(Exocet - .4" rake, rear lower)

Front camber: -1.4°

Caster: >4.5°
Front total toe: +1/16"  (.06")

Rear camber : -1°

Rear total toe: +1/8"  (.12")

SuperMiata Dual Duty Alignment (cars that see regular street use and some track/autocross)

In general, the Dual Duty alignment is intended for cars that will occasionally reach the limits of traction and slide the tires but don't want to give up too much tire wear for daily driving. To reach target camber and ride height will usually require adding Extended Lower Ball Joints

4.5 ~ 5.25" front pinch weld height
.06 ~ .18" rake, rear higher
(Exocet - .4" rake, rear lower)

Front camber: -2.5° 
Caster:  +3.5 ~ 4.0°
Front total toe: 0

Rear camber : -2.0°

Rear total toe: + 1/8", (.12")

SuperMiata Race Alignment

The Race Alignment is intended to win national championships. YRMV

4.25"~ 4.75" front pinch weld height. 
Zero rake with driver and fuel
(Exocet - .4" rake,  rear lower)

Front camber: -3.2° ~ 4.2° depending on pyrometer readings
Caster: ~ 4.0° or max available once you reach camber targets. 
Front total toe: 0

Rear camber : -2.8°. Autocross cars sometimes benefit from slightly less camber to help with traction off low speed corners while sacrifcing mid corner speed.

Rear total toe: +1/16 for <200whp.  ~+1/8" for greater than 200whp.

Fine tuning with rake
The Miata seems to work best with 0 to .25" positive rake (rear higher) measured at the pinch welds without driver in car and about 1/4 tank. The roll center axis doesn't like to be too far out of sync with the roll centers. In general, you can lower the rake to increase rear grip and improve transitional stability up to the point that the rear suspension begins to bottom. Lower the front to increase front grip and turn in response, again, until it begins to bottom the suspension excessively. In general, once we have an alignment we like, the only tuning we do at the track is to raise and lower the rear to fine tune. Lower to add rear grip, raise to reduce it. Too low and the suspension will bottom so that's your limiter.

What ride height?
Ultimately, the lower your Miata is, the faster it will be in competition. The limiters are bump travel and ground clearance. If your suspension bottoms too frequently, bouncing over bumps instead of soaking them up smoothly, it's too low. Ground clearance for street driven cars is really up to you. Decide how much ground clearance you need to clear obstacles in your daily driving such as steep driveways, speedbumps, drainage dips, etc. For track use, we generally start with 4.5" front & rear pinch weld with driver, tune springs and sway bars to get basic balance. We will then fine tune mid corner- steady state balance by making small adjustments to rear ride height.

Sway bars (anti-roll bars)
Disconnecting the rear sway bar on a lowered Miata allows the inside wheel in a turn to droop further. Since the inside front with swaybar still attached will not droop, rake changes. This means the front stays low, the rear jacks up in a turn. The effect is slight but it changes the roll axis, camber gain and a few other things. For autocrosser, this compromise is usually worth it as it will greatly reduce wheel spin and reduce oversteer during low speed transitions. For track use however, this will usually result in terminal understeer on corner entry that will have you pulling your hair out trying to fix. In short, if you can get your autocrosser to work with the rear bar, keep it hooked up. If your budget or autocross class restrictions don't allow you to get good balance with the rear bar connected, then you have to ditch it. For track use, save yourself the headache and leave it on.

In general, the Miata likes a much stiffer front sway bar than stock, on the order on 3-4x more rate. For street only use, we prefer a smaller diameter front bar and OEM rear. For track, autocross or canyon driving, we prefer a 1.125" front. For autocrossers, usually the OEM 11 or 12mm rear bar or sometimes nothing. For track cars, we like a 14mm rear bar. We have yet to find a car or environment that needs more than a 14mm rear bar. If you have a rear bar larger than 14mm and want to keep it, don't. Bite the bullet and get the correct sized bars.

Miatas over 180whp or so can run +1/8" total toe in at the rear to attenuate corner exit power oversteer. Autocrossers forced to run wheels much narrower than optimum for the tire width will usually benefit from 1/8 to as much as 1/4" front toe out (CAUTION, this front toe out rapidly wears your tires on the street).

We are faster on ome tracks with as much as -4.5° front camber, sometimes only on one side. Record tire temps and test to see what works for you. If you can't get enough front camber with you 89-05 Miata, welcome to the club! ISC Racing offers a offset front upper Delrin bushings optimized for 7" SCCA ITA wheels but they reduce bump travel with 8" or wider wheels. The only front lower bushing that will work is a custom  Delrin or acetal nylon offset that is pinned in place by a bolt or stud. Only the forward bushing should be used in conjunction with a normal (not offset) urethane or rubber bushing. Installing a delrin/Acetal in forward and aft postions of the front control arms will cause binding. The lower the ride height, the more static front camber you will get. The NB front subframe has a slightly higher roll center and more camber gain. For this reason, it is the best solution to gain more front camber and help keep the roll center closer to the CG after lowering. If your class allows the NB front subframe, do it.

It is sometimes not possible to get enough negative camber, particularly on the NA chassis. One new option is the Extended Lower Ball Joint or ELBJ for short. ELBJ will typically allow another 1~2° of negative camber from whatever you have now. 

NB2 control arms, high camber and fat shocks
The 2001-2005 Miata OEM FUCA (front upper control arm) have twp gusset plates that reduce shock body clearance. At full droop and full bump, and larger diameter aftermarket shock body can sometimes hit the control arm. Cheack clearance on your car. Grind the gussets a little to clear your shocks if need be.

More caster can help mid to low speed turn in, makes steering heavier, may increase wheelspin in very low speed turns with a Torsen or open type differential. Higher caster values will increase stering effort. Lower values reduce steering effort. If running power steering, go for caster settings above 3.5°. If running manual or depowered rack, lower caster can reduce steering effort. The Miata platform likes caster greater than 3.5°. Balance that against the steering effort you prefer. Running caster beloow about 2° can result in very vage steering with little or no self centering force.High camber with ELBJ (extended lower ball joints) wil make the steering very heavy. We recomend dialing back caster to 3 or 3.5° when used with ELBJ to reduce steering effort. 

The last bit
We have attempted to make it clear that no single alignment specification can be ideal for everyone. Copying on of our alignment specs exactly will probably be good enough for you and it might even be perfect. If you are looking for more speed however, you will need to experiment and tune for each track, tire and weather condition. At the national level of road race or time trial, alignments are often asymmetrical. Meaning different alignments at each corner. Deliberate wedge where the car turns one direction better than the other. Very different ride height left to right. An extreme example might be an alignment we succesfully won a national championship with that had one side 1/2" lower than the other, longer springs on the one side, -2° difference in camber left to right and about 8% wedge. Hot tire pressures on that setup varied about 7psi, each tire different. While that is an extreme, the point is that the more you want to push the performance of your car, the more time you will spend aligning it and that is is changing constantly for conditons. Be open minded, be willing to experiment, look at your data, test.

Favorite performance alignment shop in SoCalWest End Alignment  Darren Nishimura

18008 S. Vermont Ave Gardena, CA 90248

Darren and his crew can also set up coilovers, cornerweight and generally get everything dialed

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