Take a look at any kart at a track and nine times out of ten the wheel will be adorned with that familiar lap timing device. Even at its most basiclevel, it’s pretty advanced with split times and engine temperature monitoring facilities. Most drivers couldn’t imagine racing without one.
One of the things that attracts me to motorsport is the fusion of mechanical propulsion with technology. Formula 1 might be the pinnacle in this area but karting isn’t a million miles behind. I’m referring here to the data gathering process which allowing drivers to examine their driving in detail. Welcome to the world of telemetry. One thing I’ve wanted to do this year is compare two drivers and analyse their driving through data acquisition. I contacted Aim Technologies and before long I was being loaned a wealth of equipment.
To complement the Mychron 4 already on the kart, the equipment I received a GPS 05 unit. This is a powerful bit of kit measuring position, speed and lateral and longitudinal forces on the kart at any point of the lap. There was an additional speed sensor too positioned on the rear axle. An expansion box was fitted to allow various sensors to talk to the Mychron 4 unit through one interface. This comparison took place rather ad-hoc during a practice session at Clay Pigeon in Dorset. It combines a fast, sweeping section with a much more technical sector towards the latter part of the track.
The kart was kitted out with the gear and Colin Wright, boss of Team Wright, was my reference. Colin’s held previous lap records at Forest Edge and is generally regarded as an extremely fast driver. Our comparative performances would be analysed by comparing our best laps in Race Studio Analysis. This software allows the user to examine data in both a graphical manner and in an overhead plan mode using the GPS sensor. You can run a movie of the kart around the track, with its position depicted as a cross, and analyse the various telemetry readings from any point.
It’s important to point out that the times in this little test are on the slow side because my kart engine was experiencing one or two teething issues. The good news was that it was consistent in its delivery of power, albeit it consistently slightly lower than expected.
Now for the raw data:
Time 39.670s 36.750s
Top speed 61.8mph 60.8mph
Slowest speed 30.6mph 29.3mph
Highest “G” 1.76 2.21
Yes, you might have spotted something rather odd. Colin recorded a slightly lower top speed and a lower slowest speed compared to me yet posted a higher overall time. But he also pulled more lateral G forces in the corners, particularly after the long straight heading into Billies Corner.
In fact, looking at the graph traces, Colin maintained higher average speeds across the lap which translated in much quicker lap times. Ultimate top end speed is of no use if it is negated by slower speeds around the rest of the track. The hardware and software combination also allowed me to examine the braking points between myself and Colin. He was braking some 12 feet later into the corner, with sharper deceleration shown by a greater rate of drop of lateral acceleration well into negative territory. In general, the equipment worked well. It was important to ensure that the GPS sensor had a free line of sight to the sky, so it was positioned on the bodywork just in front of the steering wheel.
My set up is of course a far cry from the extraordinary level of data able to be pulled, in real time, from F1 cars. In that motor racing series, it’s pumped back from the track to engineers both on the pit wall and back at the team’s base. More than 120 channels of information are gathered at a rate of thousands of cycles per second over 100MB broadband pipes starting with fibre optic technology at trackside.
In karting, a fully prepared machine can be loaded up with more than dozen channels of information at a rate of ten cycles per second. That may sound comparatively little compared to F1, but nevertheless it is a highly cost effective performance solution for a karting team to eek out at least a few extra tenths. And that, of course over race distance, is often the difference between victory and first of the losers.