I’ve not met a club racer or gentleman driver who isn’t motivated by the sheer thrill and excitement that racing brings. Similarly, I haven’t met one who isn’t also driven by the fact that racing has tangible gauges of success. Racing is measurable. Races have results, racers have performance indicators and above all, input, be it time, effort and or money, is more often than not measurable against these indicators. Said another way, the more you put into racing, typically the more you get out of it. Hire a coach, find a second. Learn about setup, develop a better handling car. Purchase a data acquisition system, see your areas of development. Right?
Let’s focus on that last point. “Purchase a data acquisition system, see your areas of development…” easier said than done I’m guessing many of you saying. For some, it’s simple. For others, like me who aren’t as gifted in that area, we have to be shown. I’ve invested a lot of time with my fellow PRO3 racers (http://www.pro3-racing.com) on data analysis this past year or two. Almost 50% or more of the field now runs with Traqmate or an AiM Solo and throughout the year we’ve collectively addressed the No.1 question I used to receive “can you help me understand my data. I don’t know what it says?”
The second most asked question is “can you share your data with me so I can compare my times with yours?” For the sake of this article, and for the fact you don’t need it to dig into your own driving, we are going to focus on comparing a driver vs. themselves! There is so much that can be learnt in your own driving way before you even overlay your data with someone else’s.
The other assumptions I’m going to make are that folks are aware of how to get their data on screen in a format that can be read. If you can’t, there are a few videos online and I want to point you to the one entitled “Setting Up Measures Graph View”. The charts for this conversation will always be as follows as highlighted in the video. Top graph GPS Speed (how fast you are going). Middle graph GPS Longitudinal (it goes down, you are slowing down, it goes up, you are speeding up) and the bottom is a Time/Distance comparison (e.g. if the line of your identified lap is below the fastest ‘reference’ lap it’s faster, if the line goes above, you are slower).
Lastly, I want to make it clear that I had to be shown, and I was guided, tutored and coached by many amazing people. From Roger Caddell (AiM Maestro and all round data Yoda) to my fellow racers (like Dan Rogers) to all of the insights I get from when I venture into the professional racing arena from the likes of Seth Thomas, Greg Liefooghe, Ryan Eversley and Zach Lutz.
There are three areas that we are going to analyze in the remainder of this article. Inconsistency, throttle application and charging the corner. If you have more time on your hands after reading the article there is a video that will allow you to look at much of this with more detail. That video link is at the end of the last section.
Inconsistency: I learnt this analysis from a data seminar by Roger Caddell and is a hugely useful tool when you are looking for a few initial major areas of improvement, especially in consistency and lap times. He called it ‘Noise’ and it’s a phrase that has stuck with me ever since. After a run, look at your 5 or so fastest lap times overlaid on each other;
Figure 1: Noise Illustration
In ‘Figure 1’ I’ve highlighted 6 laps. Then what I’ve done is highlighted the fastest lap in dark blue. Where the lines on the chart are tightly packed there is consistency. Where they are far apart, the “noise” areas, there is inconsistency which, in turn, leads to inconsistent lap times.
Let's zoom in a little (for the benefit of those on smaller screens) and see if we can see that detail closer up.
Figure 2: Zoom in on consistency analysis
Now you can see on the zoomed in diagram that a few things become more obvious. Look how spread out the lines are coming into Turn 4 (at Portland) are on this graph. For reference the arrow is pointing at GPS Longitudinal. When the line dips, I’m braking. Also notice the fastest time is where I brake deepest. You can see this highlighted by the arrow. This ‘noise’ or inconsistency might be as simple a fix as finding a better brake marker. There is way more to be seen in this chart but we’ll just focus on that first area to drive home the point.
Throttle Application: I once watched a Top Gear video where Sir Jackie Stewart was teaching “Captain Slow” (James May) how to drive faster. One thing he said and I notice all of the time in the data I study, is where drivers, and I’m as guilty as ever, fail the following; “Never commit to the gas pedal until you know you don’t need to take it off”. Now we’ll all claim, as good club (or better) drivers, that we always do this, however, the data never lies. Notice the following;
Figure 3: Throttle application diagram
Notice how straight the blue line is versus the gray lines on this chart. In every other lap, the line levels off for a few feet before it goes up again. Remember, up is accelerating and down is braking. Interpreting this chart, it shows that only in the blue lap I have committed to throttle knowing that I won’t need to lift. In the others, consciously or unconsciously, I am lifting slightly before reapply the gas. Notice what it does to the lap time. It goes from being initially slower to almost instantly being faster and, if you could see the whole chart, 0.5 seconds before the end of the back straight at PIR. There is a partner indicator to throttle application and that is as follows…
Charging The Corner: I think we’re all prone to this from time to time. Whether we’re learning a track or trying to make up time from a previous mistake, the data nearly always shows the fact that many of us charge some corners. We’ve heard repeatedly ‘slow in, fast out’ but more often than not we find ourselves missing apex or not being able to apply throttle as soon as we’d like as we’re not necessarily carrying too much speed into the corner but we’re transitioning from brake to gas too late and the car is unsettled! I’m often having to remind myself that racing isn’t about car control it’s about car control in relation to weight distribution and physics.
If we re-examine the same chart (Figure 4) we can see that the fastest lap also shows that the initial application of brakes is one of the soonest and that the slowest part of the corner is considerably earlier than in other laps (it’s also the slowest). This is visible with the arrow.
Figure 4: Slow in, fast out!
So, if we tie all three together (epitomizing the anatomy of a corner) we can see that the inconsistency shows times of braking too early, others of braking too late. It shows that if the corner is not charged, and the gas can be applied with no lifting on exit, that the corner will be more successful.
To see this in more detail, follow this link and watch; Identifying Trends In Your Driving.
To conclude this article, data analysis provides a whole host of opportunities for the race car driver to find improvement. We know it’s the tool of choice for pro-teams and the areas highlighted above are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg using only basic information.
There is no substitute for coaching. Period. There is, however, something that those who can’t afford it can do and even more importantly for those who are looking to put in place a process they can use in between coaching and something they can use repeatedly every race weekend.
AiM Data Series (prepared by James Colborn)
AiM Videos (prepared by AiM’s Roger Caddell – these are excellent!)