Driver Data 2.0: Leaving Yesterday’s Stopwatch in the Dust

 

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story by Bill Holland • photography as credited

It’s time to put your clipboard and stopwatch in mothballs. So much valuable on-track information is there for the taking, and recent advances in data acquisition have made it easier than ever for drivers to collect it, evaluate it, and use it to run quicker lap times. Today’s arsenal of state-of-the-art equipment includes transponders with data-sharing capabilities, onboard vehicle data acquisition, miniature POV cameras, and smartphone apps that tie it all together. Some of this equipment costs less than you’d expect, too. What follows is an introduction to a wide range of products. It’s by no means complete, but it will set the stage. You can drill deeper and see what’s best suited for your vehicle, venue and budget.

 

SMARTPHONE APPS: EASY AND EFFECTIVE

GPS-based data acquisition doesn’t have to cost a mint, as the SoloStorm is an Android smartphone app that retails for $200.

GPS-based data acquisition doesn’t have to cost a mint, as the SoloStorm is an Android smartphone app that retails for $200.

From a dollar-per-data standpoint, it’s hard to overlook the Harry’s LapTimer family of apps for smartphones. Available for both Android and iOS devices, they come in three editions: Rookie, Petrolhead and Grand Prix. How much to load all of this code into your smartphone? Prices start at free, and figure less than $30 for the most deluxe setup. Said to be the most popular timing app in the world, Harry’s LapTimer boasts GPS coordinate info from nearly 800 tracks around the globe and has specific configurations for many facilities that offer varying track options and both clockwise and counterclockwise orientations. You can load track info prior to a session, and timing starts automatically when you cross the start/finish line. The app records data from the session, which you can analyze later. Advanced versions can employ the phone’s native video capability--or interface with POV cameras like the GoPro Hero3 and 4 as well as Sony offerings. Automatic start/finish camera control also eliminates nonessential grid and cooldown footage. A similar app, available from RaceRender for both Apple iOS and Android devices, is TrackAddict by HP Tuners. There’s actually a free version available on the Mac App Store and Google Play, but it’s fairly limited. The Pro Edition includes the extras. Have you seen those in-car YouTube videos with the dashboard-style overlay showing data like synchronized track position and speed? They were likely made using smartphone apps. It’s important to properly mount the device in order to use the video function and acquire the GPS signals. In most cases, the phone must be mounted vertically to the car’s dashboard. However, it’s possible to amp up most systems’ flexibility and accuracy through a separate GPS unit with Bluetooth connectivity. There are a number of external GPS receivers on the market, but some of the more highly regarded ones are the Garmin Glo (which retails for about $100), the Dual Electronics XGPS150 and 160 (also about $100 retail), and the Racelogic VBox Sport (MSRP is $429). Many autocross drivers employ a $200 Android mobile device app called SoloStorm. Made by Petrel Data Systems, this device allows racers to set markers for a course as well as log and analyze GPS, OBD-II, external sensor and video data on smartphones or tablets. The data can be exported to a computer in CSV format for use with analysis and overlay software.

ACTION CAMERAS: VIDEO PLUS DATA

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“These units seamlessly merge GPS data and video. Mount the camera, flip the oversized ‘on’ switch, and you’re rolling.” These days, recording onboard video simply involves sticking a lightweight action camera to your car’s bodywork. Aim the camera, press play, and let the action commence. If the camera is positioned correctly, it will have a good view of the race track and also offer a peek at the gauges--instant data gathering. The 800-pound gorilla in this product segment is GoPro and their Hero series of compact action cameras. Given their marketing saturation, myriad of mounts and accessories, and integration with mobile device apps, GoPro’s popularity is immense. The company’s newest, Hero4 (retail price: about $400), has the ability to shoot in 4K resolution for super-high-definition playbacks on one of the new 4K big-screen smart TVs. Its 120-frame-per-second record rate also allows you to play back the action in slow motion. There are viable alternatives from Sony and Replay XD, which come bundled with some systems. The Replay is known for its compact size and durability, and many racers employ it for augmenting track-view footage with shots of suspension components at work. Garmin, the popular maker of GPS navigation units, recently joined the action camera game with their Virb model line. These compact, all-in-one units seamlessly merge GPS data and video. Mount the camera, flip the oversized “on” switch, and you’re rolling. The pro-level Virb XE retails for $399.99; the standard model sheds a few frills but retails for a hundred dollars less.

GPS DATA SYSTEMS: MORE OPTIONS, MORE DATA

Combined dash-and-data systems are available from several firms, including AiM Sports (above) and Traqmate (below). They’re easy to install and simple to use.

Combined dash-and-data systems are available from several firms, including AiM Sports (above) and Traqmate (below). They’re easy to install and simple to use.

While race organizers track the action with hardwired transponder receivers, lots of devices employ GPS technology to obtain meaningful data for drivers to use. One of these options is the MXL family of products from noted onboard data-logger manu- facturer AiM Sports. Their new MXL2 combines a self-contained digital dash display with a full data acquisition system. On-track performance is measured via its internal three-axis g-force sensor and included GPS unit. Need more data? The unit can also keep tabs on the car’s ECU while monitoring various analog and digital inputs–things like temperatures, pressures and the like. The device can even provide real-time coaching with a predictive lap timer. Figure about $2000 for the setup, while AiM Sports also offers even more advanced options. Racepak also offers a lineup of data systems, including the dash-and-data IQ3 combo system that monitors and records each lap. Plan to spend a little more than a grand to go this route. Another popular data acquisition system is the Traqmate, which is now available in five different packages from Track Systems Technologies. The $549 entry-level system--officially known as Traqmate Basic--records g-loads and time, allowing the user to follow a car’s performance around the track. Cameras can then be added to merge onboard video with the data. The company’s more advanced system, the TraqDash, adds a touchscreen for the driver. In addition to logging data, it displays warning lights, a user-configurable shift light, engine speed, vehicle speed, lap number, engine rpm and more. A predictive lap timer can also show if you’re running on or off schedule, and again, cameras can be added to merge data and video. Figure that a system like this costs about $1200 without cameras and $1500 with a high-def camera. An even more encompassing system, the TraqDash HD with Replay Prime-X + Data opens the door to a wide range of video options. The bundle includes a waterproof Prime-X camera with cables and mounts, extensive video creation software, dual camera controls, and analog, digital and rpm inputs. Also on the upper end of the spectrum are Racelogic’s Video VBox in-car camera systems. Like Traqmate, Racelogic also offers multiple models that incorporate a myriad of functions, including predictive lap timing that provides real-time driver feedback. Their top package includes a data logger, Sony HQ1 cameras, and bespoke driver analysis software. It’s the full-meal deal, and it retails for about $7000. That price can obviously drop if you opt for fewer cameras, bells and whistles. U.K.-based Race Technology also offers a wide range of data acquisition products, including both data loggers and displays. Their DL1 data logger uses GPS info to calculate lap and sector times. The unit records to a compact flash card, and a supplied USB card reader enables computer downloads. Users can configure a companion Dash3lite real-time display, too. The company also offers video camera integration as well as a plethora of sensors for measuring pressures (brake, intake manifold, fuel and ambient air) to further pinpoint driver and vehicle activities.

TRANSPONDER SYSTEMS: WORKING WITH THE INFRASTRUCTURE

A lot of sanctioning bodies track racers using the AMB/ MyLaps transponders. Drivers can use that same data to monitor their own progress.

A lot of sanctioning bodies track racers using the AMB/ MyLaps transponders. Drivers can use that same data to monitor their own progress.

“You can easily do a one-on-one comparative analysis with other competitors online.” For many years now, the AMB/MyLaps transponder has been the standard for most racing associations and mandatory for many forms of competition. Racers can buy a 12-volt, hardwired or battery-operated transponder for about $500, or they can rent one from their sanctioning body. MyLaps recently introduced their X2 system, which features a dash-mounted RaceKey that’s attached to the transponder itself. The RaceKey hooks to a computer via USB cable and activates an account on the MyLaps website, mylaps.com. There, practice, qualifying and trophy/ flag race lap data are available. One neat feature is that you can easily do a one-on-one comparative analysis with other competitors online. The company is working with several developers on ancillary devices that will enhance data collection and display. The necessary connections are already in place. MyLaps has also taken an interesting cue from Silicone Valley developers: It offers a lease program for the X2 setup. Leases are available in one-, two- and five-year packages, starting at $160 annually. Depending on your racing schedule, this route can be more economical than renting transponders at the track–and the deals get way better with multiyear commitments.

 

This article is from a past issue of the magazine. Like stories like this? You’ll see every article as soon as it's published, and get access to our full digital archive, by subscribing to Classic Motorsports. Subscribe now.

 

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