By on November 4, 2015

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA

When the Nissan Micra Cup series was announced in late 2014, there was one main goal: be the most affordable, semi-professional racing series in Canada.

In order to achieve that goal, everything about the series needed to be cost-effective. All races were scheduled in Quebec, where the majority of competitors reside, and tires and brakes had to wear in a predictable manner so as not to “fall off” during race weekends. However, the difficult part was building a racing car to a price — $20,000 CAD, or $15,225 USD at today’s exchange rates, to be exact — so that racers could either pony up the personal funds to buy it themselves or more easily woo sponsors to make their racing dreams come true.

During the planning phase of the series, Nissan Canada and series promoter JD Motorsport tapped racing car builder Motorsports In Action of St-Eustache, Quebec to build the pint-sized racers. MIA, which is located in an indescript row of commercial units racing at Autodrome St-Eustache about 40 minutes northwest of Montreal, fabricates and preps vehicles for varying types of racing series and prides itself on build quality. However, as they say, “Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick Two,” it’s much easier to build a racing car with a high-dollar budget than it is to put together an economical package like the one requested for Micra Cup.

Thankfully, due to MIA’s combined knowledge and ingenuity, racers get a decent chunk of all three. And MIA’s Carl Hermez gave us a tour to show us exactly how they do it.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-2

For those of you who don’t know already, the Micra Cup is a single-model spec series where drivers campaign these specifically prepped Nissan Micras built by MIA. The series just wrapped up its inaugural season during the Fall Classic at Mt-Tremblant. Next year, the season will be expanding its venues to Ontario and growing its schedule from six race weekends to eight.

The organizers must be doing something right if this race series is succeeding where so many others have failed.

Back at MIA’s shop after the final round of the series, a few cars eagerly awaited repairs. MIA offers race support and an arrive-and-drive rental program for those who want to get into the series but don’t necessarily have the capital to buy a car right away.

To build the cars, MIA starts with a bone stock Micra S, which costs them $11,000 after PDI and tax, leaving only $9,000 to work with to convert the subcompact into a racecar.

“Making the project happen within the guidelines was tricky to say the least,” Hermez said during our visit. “When I first started this program, there was — and still is — nothing on these cars to prepare them for racing. There is no bolt-in roll cages available, no cold air intake. Nothing. There’s nothing available on the market. Everything was designed and built in-house.”

On top of it all, MIA needs to complete the entire build in 25 hours for it to be financially viable, which means the order in which they install parts is vital. In comparison, Hermez said, one of their one-off builds — like an Audi R8 — can take anywhere between 500 and 1,000 hours to complete.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-10

Before those parts can be installed, the cars need to be gutted of their interiors. As soon as that’s complete, the airbox is removed and a fire suppression system is installed.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-12

The fire system is a semi-automatic, two-head system. One of the heads is located under the hood. The other is, well, aimed directly at your gentleman or lady bits.

“You definitely don’t want to get sprayed in the face because then you can’t see,” explained Hermez.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-11

The tank holds 1.25 kilograms of a water-based, AFFF solution that’s released at the pull of a lever. The whole system costs about $200. While MIA is installing it, they install the cut-off switch (and its associated wiring) and the race pedals since they are working in that area of the car anyway.

Next comes the hood pins, front tow hook and the cold air intake that they fabricate in-house.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-13

“Hood pins are never simple,” said Hermez. “Getting the holes to lineup is always a pain.”

The cold air intake also provides its own challenges. The Micra racecar still uses a mass airflow sensor, which Hermez said “is not a very accurate way to determine fuel delivery,” so it needs to be accounted for in the design of the cold air intake. Also, all the diameters are exact so the car doesn’t run rich or lean.

The cold air intake, since it is made in-house, is another cost savings opportunity for MIA since they don’t need to farm out the work at a higher cost to account for someone else’s profit margin.

The steering hub is installed next while holes are drilled for the safety harness nut plates. The harness eye-bolts are installed immediately after.

The largest piece — the in-house developed, bolt-in roll cage — is assembled and installed next. MIA farms out bending the individual pieces of the cage, but assembles them on an on-site jig.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-14

And they’re damn strong, as evidenced by a recently wrecked Micra sitting near the jig.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-15

The car was an absolute disaster on the outside. Not a single panel seemed untouched during this Micra’s crash.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-16

The inside of the car was a different story. Not a single section of the roll cage had given way.

“I have never seen a bolt-in cage fit as tightly as this one. A tight fitting cage is everything in terms of its capacity to hold up. Welding them inside the car was not an option because we don’t paint inside the cars,” Hermez said.

However, it wasn’t necessarily the cage itself Hermez was proud of, but the jig to build them. He was quoted $50,000 by a fabricator to make a jig — so he decided to build it himself instead.

“I wasn’t going to spend $50,000 for that!”

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-5

Once the cage is in, a false floor is installed as the driver’s seat is much lower than stock and to smooth it out for safety reasons. It also provides the driver a dead pedal. The floor is manufactured off-site, but designed by MIA.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-7

The spare tire is removed and a plug used to fill the spare tire bolt hole before the entire exhaust system is replaced, another part that was developed in house. MIA makes everything between the end of the downpipe and the rear of the car, excluding the muffler.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-17

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-18

Since they are already under the car, brakes, brake lines, suspension and camber kit are either replaced or installed. Better performing front brake pads are added to bring the Micra to a stop in a hurry (and they work very well, I found out later). The rear brakes aren’t touched, instead relying on the stock drum setup.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-20

An oil change is performed along with an initial alignment. Door panels are installed, along with the seat, roll cage padding, steering wheel, harness and window net.

And then it’s done. Sometimes.

Nissan Micra Cup Race Car at MIA-21

For racers wanting to get data from their runs, MIA will install an optional AiM Sports MXL2 data acquisition system for about $4,200, ready to go.

So, do you want a piece of this for yourself but don’t want to come to Canada to race it? You might be in luck, but it won’t be $20,000.

“The cars could be Spec B legal with a couple modifications. I’ve been asked by one of our suppliers to prepare a B Spec package, but it will probably cost a bit more than the package for Micra Cup.”

And it isn’t just Americans that could possibly enjoy the cheap fun of Micra Cup in the future.

“I had an organization call me from Columbia that was interested in roll cages.”

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18 Comments on “This is How the Nissan Micra Cup Racecar is Built for $20,000...”

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Hood pins are easy:

    1) Fit the pins.
    2) Slam the hood.
    3) Install finishing bits.

    3 steps; no waiting!

    Seriously, knowing the time vs money equation, that’s an impressive build, especially the 25 hour figure. I don’t like thinking about how many hours I’ve burnt on my projects, most of which require PERT charts to properly optimize.

  • avatar

    I’ll bet the racing is a hoot. Brings back fond memories of the Honda/Michelin series…a train of cars going around Mosport’s corner 5, every one of them on 3 wheels…

    • 0 avatar

      “I’ll bet the racing is a hoot.”

      I was thinking the same thing. We know how much the cars cost; any word on how much it costs to run a season with one of them? What tracks are being run, how much seat time you get?

      • 0 avatar

        The costs vary depending on how many sets of tires you want to throw at your effort, but a privateer (read: driver is vehicle owner) can run a season for about $10,000-12,000 above the initial cost of the car.

        This year, the series ran at Circuit Mont-Tremblant (x3), Autodrome St-Eustache, Trois-Rivières and the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

        Next year will probably be more expensive as the series expands into Ontario and two additional race weekends are added to the calendar.

        Watching the racing is a hoot. I can only imagine what it’s like to be racing in this swarm of bees.

        • 0 avatar

          12k is a steal. Hopefully they’ll bring this south of the border at some point, say… Watkins, Mid Ohio, Limerock, Nelson Ledges, Summit, VIR? Now you’re talking!

    • 0 avatar
      Nicholas Weaver

      It was an undercard race Saturday and Sunday at F1 Montreal. The racing itself was an order of magnitude more exciting than thenF1 race… Going 3 wide, often on three wheels, into turn 2…

  • avatar

    If cost savings was a primary goal, I bet you could decrease the beefiness of the roll cage without sacrificing survivability. These things are light plus show me a track where these get over 90mph.

    Indestructible is on one end of the spectrum but I’d lean more toward the Life-Saving end of the spectrum in this case.

  • avatar

    For comparison, I understand that the new MX-5 Cup car that Mazda is selling goes for a touch over $50,000 USD.

    I haven’t seen these race, but the look of them takes me back to Renault Cup racing of the early 80’s when Renault 5s, and later Renault Alliances had their own spec series. I imagine the racing is quite similar. Because of the car’s low power and boxy body, drafting becomes paramount.

  • avatar

    The 25 hour number is amazing to me…their minions must be extremely motivated workers.

    Nice job on the rollover structure too. Obviously that one was a “and he/she walked away” crash, which is obviously the best kind if you’re gonna have one.

  • avatar

    Sooo…. they buy them off the showroom floor? Could these be street legal somehow?

    • 0 avatar

      It looks like the exhaust system would be illegal. Even if it’s not, most likely the three point harness was removed to make way for the racing harness, which is not legal.

      Also, it’s not a good idea to drive a car with a full roll cage unless you’re wearing a helmet, there’s a possibility that your head could hit the side bars in a crash.

  • avatar

    …when’s jack going to publish his b-spec chronicle?..

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    Please explain how the cage is not welded together inside the car. It seems that some of it would have to be.

  • avatar

    Great piece of journalism!

  • avatar

    Great article. Great photos. Great cars. Congrats all around.

  • avatar

    I’m not that into racing and I really enjoyed this. Great reporting.

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