Driving Tip #12: More Traffic Woes (And Benefits)

Traffic during races can be frustrating, but it can also be used to your advantage

Traffic is exasperating in a Miata RF, especially sitting on a freeway – even if you are enjoying the Apple Carplay in your Mazda Connect Infotainment System – when you’d rather be enjoying a twisty country road. It can be challenging in a race scenario as well, but it can also be a racer’s asset.

In yesterdays’ discussion of traffic (Driving Tip #11), it was mostly about getting through as efficiently as possible as the leader in a battle. But when you’re the pursuer, the game is different. There, it’s all about pushing the racer in front so that that person hits the traffic in the wrong spot and thus breaks momentum. That’s when it’s time for you to pounce. 

“When you’re chasing, you’re looking at the traffic and trying to see where there’s potential for the leader to get slowed up,” says Harry Tincknell, with the memory of the IMSA victory for the No. 55 Mazda Team Joest RT24-P still in his memory. “I passed Ricky Taylor at Watkins Glen doing exactly that. He had some traffic in Turn 7, so instead of going flat out, I lifted off a bit on the way in, got a really good exit, he got balked a bit, and I had momentum on the next straight to overtake him. When you’re the one behind, the car in front is the one the traffic can see, and sometimes they can pave the way for you and you can just follow through. So, it’s probably easier following.”

He advises, though, that sometimes traffic will go your way, and other times you’ll lose seconds in one corner. You’ve got to be cool and keep your emotions in check, he says.

John Dean II is a former two-time Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires champion. When he chose to continue racing his ND1 in GMX-5 Cup, he knew his car with the older engine would be down 26 HP to the newer ND2 cars, so was usually is in the middle of the overall pack. That meant, for him, he was often around slower ND2 drivers who had more power but were not as quick through the corners. As almost any Miata racer who regularly competes in mixed-class racing knows, a car that’s faster down the straight and slower in the corners can be the most disheartening thing in the world, because the only way to get by that person and continue pursuit, or build a gap, is for them to make a mistake.

“I ended up racing a lot of the drivers who are mid- to back-of-the-pack in the ND2 field,” says Dean. “You may be able to hang with them in the draft and go through the corners faster, but their cars are faster on the straight. When you make a pass, now that ND2 driver has your draft plus almost 30 more horsepower, it’s much easier for the ND2 to come back by you. It’s very difficult to race in that scenario.”

At some tracks, an STL car may be turning similar lap times to American Sedan and Touring 3 (or even Touring 2) cars (or, say, NASA CMC vs. ST4). But they all are going to make that speed in different places, and there’s a good chance they end up in the same race group. If you’re stuck behind a car with more power but is slower in the turns while your competitor drives away, about all you can do is hope that the driver holding you up will have mercy to let you by, or you pressure them into a mistake. Otherwise you can scream inside your helmet all you like, but it’s not going to rectify the situation.

And therein lies the lesson. Traffic will be your friend, and it will also be your worst enemy. It’s a fact of life, especially in multi-class racing. Keep your cool, execute a plan and, just like the poor driver sitting on the freeway, it will eventually work out all the same, likely.