New Technologies Remove The Guess Work
By Bob Chiras
Generally speaking, karting does not maintain the statistics relative to qualifying and race lap times. If it did we would all be impressed with the parity that is occurring within the sport. Complete fields are being set with one half second separating the field.
In years past this type of parity was only found at the very top of the racing world.
So what has changed? The answer is surprising; the advancements are attributed to karters’ learning to turn race data to race intelligence through the advent of data acquisition and data analysis systems available today.
Since karting began, successful racers have depended upon data collection and have learned how data elements relate to one another to achieve performance and reliability. Because there were no early tools, the sport became overloaded with many myths and supposed secrets were circulated among racers. Great amounts of misinformation have been circulated from karter to karter. Worse than circulation of misinformation, the myths were often a contributing factor to racers leaving or criticizing the sport.
Realizing the need to turn race data to race intelligence companies took a creative approach and developed instruments and software addressing the need of competitors.
Race Data Begins With Data Collection.
For years racers performed data collection. There were notebooks that filled a drawer in every racers toolbox, some thought they could perform data collection with their memory and some took it a bit further and had a statistician associated with the race team.
In the early days, all we had was a simple Tach to give us our RPM’s, and a temperature gauge to tell us what the cyclinder head temp was. One was good for choosing gear ratios, the other was good for setting up the carbuerator. Today we have instruments that certainly do both of those, but show us how we are actually driving the course…graphically. Unfortunealty, there are still a large number of teams that use those expensive devisces as nothing more than a Tach and Temp gauge.
Data collection is essentially recording, organizing and storing data that can be retrieved for later analysis.
These are a few of the factors that are considered in each tuning decision.
The reason that we differentiate between race data and race intelligence is that almost anyone can collect race data. The ability to turn the data into race intelligence has been dependent upon years of experience and a lot of the race budget spent on bad decisions.
From a practical sense take a look at how this plays out each weekend at the professional level. NASCAR allows limited use of data acquisition and data logging. Crew chiefs use race data and the analysis of the team engineer and the collective experience to deliver performance intelligence. The starting fields all qualify with speed of less than 1/2 second apart. Why is it that at the conclusion of the race some teams are many laps behind. It is not the lack of data it is the lack of turning the data into race intelligence. Bad setup, bad strategy and poor tuning of the chassis or engine are the causes for poor performance and are the result of poor race intelligence.
There are a host of decisions that have to be considered when applying race data. Two significant decision points to consider are driver comfort and driver preference.
Most of the decisions that impact the outcome of a race are made prior to the vehicle reaching the starting grid. A talented driver needs performance and handling to apply his driving skills. Even the best driver can only carry an ill prepared vehicle just so far.
How do you gain race intelligence rapidly, reliably and inexpensively? There really are no schools or apprenticeship programs and even if there were most fathers would not have time to go spend hours, days, weeks or months in training programs to learn how to develop race intelligence. Families want to race as often as possible, to participate at as many race venues as the budget allows and to perform to the best possible level with the sons and daughters being on the podium at the conclusion of the events.
The answer is that today we have instruments and we have vendors that provided software that turns race data into race intelligence.
Software allows visualization of each lap of practice or a race. The average racer can visually review the relationship between RPM’s, exhaust gas temperature, cylinder head or water temperature, miles per hour, lap times and even when the clutch engages.
Rather than racers having to learn how each of the factors are related, software engineers have selected key elements and have chosen to graph race data to race intelligence. For comparison purposes the capability to overlay laps is provided for the racer to perform analysis. Ten different inputs are simultaneously converted from race data to race intelligence. I’ll venture out of my realm here and assume that one of my professors was correct and will repeat his hypothesis that most humans can only process seven different inputs at one time. Through the advanced software the racer is getting almost twice the number of inputs processed and presented in a form that is easy to comprehend by a basic racer.
I regularly conduct seminars for racers and teach the use of race intelligence. We begin with the basics of how to use the data as race intelligence, then we review some of the norms such as what is a reasonable RPM range for the motor being run, what are reasonable temperature ranges, exhaust gas and cylinder head or water for the motors being run. What fuels are being used as gasoline and alcohol each requires a different air/fuel ratio.
Once we get past the basics we then move on to what are the causes of the curves, bumps and squiggles of the graphs being analyzed. We cover what the chassis, motor and the driver cause. In advanced sessions we examine the impact of tires and tire pressure. As the racers assimilate more we then move on to the effects of jetting and timing and how changes in each are reviewed in the data that is collected by their on board data acquisition systems.
At an event I attended a father of a novice driver told me that that the kart was bogging down on the back shoot because of the instrumentation on the kart. I downloaded the data from his instrument and then proceeded to remove each lead from the instrument. I coiled the tach lead, the CHT lead, the MPH lead and the EGT lead and wiretied them under the seat of the kart. I put a transponder on the kart so that I could get lap times from an independent source and after another practice round we examined the facts. The lap times were worse after disconnecting the leads. The issue was that the driver was exhausted; he had been out for every round of practice and had just lost the desire to the drive that day. The father had lost sight of the fact that sons or daughters are not professional drivers and that parents need to look at the data and learn to talk with them about why the driver is not performing at peak performance.
Racers do not always give the best feedback when they are tired.
Using data acquisition we can see the characteristics of the racer getting tired. Racers begin their corner entry too soon, they pick up the throttle toolate on exit and the driver begins to get more dependent upon the brake and less dependent upon the inherent characteristics of the chassis to get the correct grip in the corner. The bad exit speed will always result in bad speed on the straights.
If you are not using race intelligence to your advantage you are missing one of the real opportunities to go fast consistently with the minimum of expense. You can achieve what it has taken many top tuners decades to learn in a few months.
The best news of all is that the software application for converting race data to race intelligence is “free” on the Internet.