Data Acquisition has long been a useful tool in racing, and innovations such as GPS- and OBD-II-based data have made it much more attainable to the club racer. However, generating data is one thing; knowing how to use it is quite another.
For CJ Wilson Racing Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge drivers Stevan McAleer, Chad McCumbie, Marc Miller and Tyler McQuarrie, data acquisition helps them each weekend. In some cases, that will be validating changes in setup that they have requested. In others, it will be to learn that they’re not getting the most out of the car in a particular corner. In most cases, having a teammate with whom they can compare data and notes helps tremendously. And while the drivers are using data for one thing, the engineers use it for quite another.
“We look at data in two different facets,” explains Miller. “The drivers are looking at it to improve ourselves and the car changes, the setup changes, to know what we can get out of it so we can go out and expect the car to do this. The engineers are looking at engine mapping and fuel mileage calculations and they’re using the data to strategize the race for us. We’re here doing two completely different jobs using the same information.
With the traffic in the Continental Sports Car Challenge – sometimes the Street Tuner drivers lose their preferred line as they are being passed by faster Grand Sport cars or they get held up by cars on an in or out lap – a truly clean lap is a rarity. So the data can help them find out what the car really has in it.
“The biggest thing for us for data is picking apart laps,” explains Miller. “Some of our best laps, we didn’t finish – we come in the pits. Some of our best laps, we get caught up in traffic. If we don’t skim through that, if we don’t take the extra time to look through it, we may think we’re a lot worse off than we actually are. It’s easy to look at the time sheet and say, ‘Man, we’re in trouble,’ then you go back and look at the data and realize we could have been on pole. It may not have felt great, but the pace was there.”
If a driver fully trusts another driver, the data can be a valuable learning tool if the second driver is willing to share. Stevan McAleer was a rookie in 2013 in Continental Tire ST – the top rookie, in fact – but feels he has progressed quickly thanks in large part to his teammates and the data they generate.
“You’ve got four drivers in here that on any given weekend are within a tenth or half a tenth of each other, so I really feel that the four guys in the room are extracting every single bit out of the car; the car doesn’t go any faster,” McAleer says. “Data is fantastic for us, because we’re all willing to learn. There’s stuff that they’re doing that seems to be beneficial that I’m not doing. So, looking at the data, it can be in a position to hurt you if you’re with another driver that’s substantially off the pace, that doesn’t like the car setup.”
Even without teammates, data acquisition can be a useful learning tool. Chad McCumbie came to road racing from stock car racing. The amount of data and the type of data generated in that form of racing is often both substantially more and different.
“We had a lot more channels of data that we used – loads on the springs, loads on the shocks, a lot of different stuff,” he explains. “If that’s available, you can really make major gains in your knowledge base of how the car works and what’s going on. I would learn so much when we would test and make a change and I would feel what that did and come look at the data and see what that did to the racecar. It really helps you relate certain changes to certain feels, and helps you become a lot more well-rounded as you’re trying to get your car dialed in.”
The key to using data effectively is to be honest with yourself, says Miller. Data can help facilitate that honesty, but it better be there already if you’re going to get the most use of the tool.
“Data makes it easier to see the difference between driver error and something else,” Miller says. “There are so many parameters that it becomes black and white. You can’t really hide from anything. So when you’re looking at data, you need to be totally honest as a driver and say you’re not doing something right.”