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Where “Shark Fin” and the “Cat Claw” are keys to success

 

mx5-Daytona--R24-012921-GB-09544sIt has long been said that with a field full of cars that were all built and spec’d the same, the racing in Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires is in the drivers hands. And when it comes to forging the way to victory that is also true…with hand signals.

Most Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup races follow a similar pattern: a long train of nose-to-tail cars eventually breaks apart into multiple, shorter trains. While there is passing taking place everywhere from the drop of the green flag, the drivers know if they work together, instead of battling with each other, they can stretch out a gap to those behind them, thus making the end of the race a three-car battle for the lead instead of a six-car brawl.

The most common hand signals you’ll see are what Drake Kemper, driver of the No. 99 Provision Motorsports Mazda calls the “Shark Fin” and the “Cat Claw,” basically, ‘stay in line’ versus ‘get up here and push me.’

Screen Shot 2021-05-21 at 6.30.26 PM“Most of [the signals] are universal or you just hope that the other person understands,” Selin Rollan, driver of the No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports car said. “The most basic universal ones are a gesture forward, which is usually asking the guy behind to push you, to work together to leave the pack or catch up to the pack. Then there is a hand up of disapproval which is you not being happy with what the person behind you or around you is doing. Maybe you got a bump in the middle of the corner or go hit on the side and what not.”

Signaling isn’t just for teammates, it happens with friends and foes alike, which works out well for the single car teams like Carter Racing Enterprises and Spark Performance.

“Even when we’re on different teams, we still seem to work pretty well together,” said Michael Carter, driver of the No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises Mazda.

Working together isn’t a given. It’s always up to the drivers if they’re going follow along or ignore what another driver is telling them.

MidO_051621-0346“There are times when you work with others that are not your teammates and that happens often in this series,” Rollan said. “Then it is your call as a driver to either follow their signal or to ignore it. The other driver has the same right to do the same to you if you are the one giving the signals.” 

The closer to the checkered flag the pack is, the less likely signals are being respected, or even used.

“At the end of the race, nobody’s giving signals,” Carter said. “The last two laps are a free-for-all. There’s a point in the race where you know, instinctually, that it’s every man for himself.”

This may seem like a one-sided conversation with the driver in front signaling and the driver behind deciding to follow or not, but the multitasking MX-5 Cup drivers seem to have found a way to reverse the conversation.

Screen Shot 2021-05-21 at 6.34.58 PM“There is looking in the mirror too,” Carter said. “We make eye contact sometimes. It happens! I can see people looking in their mirror and I’ll give them signals. With Gresham [Wagner] a lot of times, I’ll be pushing him and he’ll look in his mirror to see if I’m going to make a move and I’ll just give him a thumbs up like ‘I’m not going to pass you, we’re just going to stay in line.’”

If that is the case, then do drivers also signal each other when to pass as well? Yes.

“In Spec Miata we actually had a ‘switch’ signal for two cars working together,” Carter added. “You raise your right hand and draw a circle with your finger. Another way to signal is when you make a mistake and you’re recovering; you might just point the guy behind you by and let him lead for a bit.”

Is there a signal to indicate you’re slowing down in a hurry because of damage or a mechanical issue?

“It’s maybe just a frantic wave!” laughed Carter.

The next time you watch a Mazda MX-5 Cup race, look for those right hands going up in the driver’s seat; you may be able to figure the strategy unfolding in front of you.

Rounds Seven and Eight from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will air on NBCSN, Tuesday, May 25 at 3pm ET. Prior races from the 2021 season can be found on the IMSA YouTube channel.

Mazda MX-5 Cup is currently in its ‘summer break,’ but will return to the track August 5 – 7 at Road America.

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