All Things Equal In MX-5 Cup

Consistency in race control plus judicious use of technology keeps on-track action clean, cars competitive and racers happy

Keeping competition equal in spec racing is vital – but equal also means close racing, and close racing can lead to contact. The trick to keeping the racing tight all season long is to ensure the contact isn’t the kind that affects the outcome of the race, and that’s where race control in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires comes in.

In its second year under IndyCar sanctioning, the series has, through the first four rounds kept significant contact to a minimum – much of that comes from the top. 

“When IndyCar took over as the sanctioning body for MX-5 Cup, we really wanted to try to replicate the same models we use for the Verizon IndyCar Series,” explains Jason Penix, senior director of competition for IndyCar. “That comes down to a couple of different areas, the first being race control as a whole. When I say that, I mean not only having a strong race director up there, but also the same support team working with IndyCar. That helps in terms of familiarity and consistency and continuity of that same group of people working together every week.”

Along with race control, there are three stewards whom Mazda racers and the MX-5 Cup community are rather familiar with – Joel Miller, Tom Long and Andrew Carbonell.

“I’m a steward, I’m not the race director, and the final calls are made by the race director,” explains Miller, who is in his second year working with the series. “But having a consistent drivers’ opinion in race control…is a huge help. It’s something we use on the Mazda Road to Indy side as well and it has paid great dividends there. Also, when we speak to the drivers in the paddock, we talk to them as drivers, not officials. The thought process is a little bit different when they see an official walking up to them – ‘OK, I’m in trouble’  – vs. a fellow driver. And we try to keep that communication at the forefront for the weekend.”

Miller adds that the series is holding the drivers to a high standard. Along with that, the stewards and race director make sure that rules and penalties are applied evenly. If they see something on track, they can compare it to an incident earlier in the season and apply the same logic and penalties. That’s where technology plays a big part.

“We compete on IndyCar weekends, so we have the same tools and resources that they use for IndyCar,” says Penix. “We have an instant replay system with no less than, typically, 10 different vantage points around the track, so we can really monitor every car for every lap if we wanted to get that granular about it. Second is the consistency of having the team that we do up there in race control. Whether it’s the race director or the stewards or the people that are helping from the safety standpoint, all of that goes into making the show better and creating the best environment possible for the drivers and teams.”

Along with the replay system, there are other bits of tech that provide an assist. Race control can track speed though local yellow zones to determine if a driver is over-driving there – multiple timing loops are a big help in that regard. “We can check and monitor around a track a lot more than previously possible just because we have all these resources that are the same as IndyCar,” Penix says.

How do they know it’s working? “Last year the parts sales halfway through the season were a fraction of the previous years,” says Miller. “I think that’s a testament to the level of racing we hold the drivers to now. We expect there to be hard racing, but understand whom you’re racing. We want you to go two-by-two through the corners. A little rub here and there … that’s what racing’s all about. But smashing a guy’s bumper and putting him into the fence is not how we do things.” 

As a further example, Miller notes that in prior years, one of the big teams was spending a big chunk of their time in between races straightening chassis; now they put that effort into figuring out how to go faster. The series’ approach of using IndyCar’s race control strategy and knowledgeable drivers as stewards, all backed up with technology, has been key to making that happen.