Speed Secrets: Data For Everyone!

By Ross Bentley

November 26, 2013

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 input. Whether it's time, effort and/or money, results are more often than not measurable against these indicators. Said another way, the more you put into racing, 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," you're likely saying. For some, reading data is 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 (www.pro3-racing.com) on data analysis in these last two years. Almost 50 percent 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 get: "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 so you don't need it to dig into your own driving), we are going to focus on comparing "drivers vs. themselves!" There is so much that can be learned in your own driving, way before you even overlay your data on someone else's.
The other assumption I'm going to make is that you're aware of how to get your data on-screen in a format that can be read. If you can't, there are a few videos online; 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).
  • - Bottom graph is a Time/Distance comparison (line is below the fastest 'reference' lap, faster; line goes above, slower).
Lastly, I want to make it clear that I had to be shown, guided, tutored, and coached by many amazing people. From Roger Caddell (AiM Yoda) to my fellow racers (like Dan Rogers) to all of the insights I get in my ventures into the professional racing arena from the likes of Seth Thomas, Greg Liefooghe, Ryan Eversley, and Zach Lutz, I appreciate it all.
The rest of this article is going to be both written and in video format. I've prepared smaller snapshot videos to accompany the article for those looking for more visual references. We're going to focus on the following key things:
Inconsistency:  I learned this analysis from a data seminar by Roger Caddell and it's 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 five or so fastest lap times, overlaid on each other.
Figure 1: Noise Illustration
In Figure 1, I've highlighted six laps. Then I've highlighted the fastest lap in dark blue. Where the lines on the chart are tightly packed, there is consistency. Where they are far apart, there is inconsistency, which, in turn, leads to inconsistent lap times.
Let's zoom in a little and see if we can see that detail close up.
Figure 2: Zoom in on consistency analysis
You can see on the zoomed-in diagram that a few things have become more obvious. Look how spread-out the lines are on this graph coming into Turn 4 (at Portland). Also notice the fastest time; that 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 much 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 this in the data all the time, and I'm guilty of it), was, "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 only in the blue lap that I have committed to throttle, knowing that I won't need to lift. In the others, consciously or unconsciously, I am lifting slightly before I reapply the gas. Notice what it does to the lap time. It is initially slower, to almost instantly faster and, if you could see the whole chart, it's 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 that many of us charge some corners. We've heard repeatedly "slow in, fast out" but more often than not, we find ourselves missing an apex or not being able to apply throttle as soon as we'd like. 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 often need 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 you do not charge the corner, and you can apply the gas on exit with no lifting, you will be more successful in the corner.
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 professional teams and the areas highlighted above are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
There is no substitute for coaching. Period. Data analysis is, however, something you can do if you can't afford coaching. Even more importantly, if you do have a coach, data acquisition can be helpful in between coaching sessions. It's something you can use repeatedly, every race weekend.
Exerpted from Ross Bentley’s Speed Secrets WeeklyFor more tips and additional articles on the art and science of racing,click here to subscribe.
Also be sure to check out Ross Bentley's book, Ultimate Speed Secrets: The Complete Guide to High-Performance and Race Driving.
You can also fInd the AIM Solo GPS Data System and Lap Timer and the AIM Sports Smartycam HD in the Winding Road Store