The most important investment you can make in your track day career is not in your car. It is in you.
How to Use Data and Video Logging Smart Phone Apps
February 19, 2014
The most important investment you can make in your track day career is not in your car.
It is in you. Before you spend money on making your car faster, focus on driver improvement and logging seat time. Technology is being capitalized upon in this regard. Driving coaches and professional teams are utilizing data to help racers become faster. Compare your current lap time to your best lap time. Split a lap into sectors and compare sector times from lap to lap. Find lost time in faster as opposed to slower more technical track sections. See how hard you brake and how soon you get back on the gas. Find out if you are coasting rather than being either on the brakes or the accelerator pedal. By the way, coasting is a no-no. After your run, review the data superimposed on the screen while you watch the video of your laps.
Professional race teams, from Formula 1 to the new Tudor series, as well as club racers, make use of expensive data logging systems. The GTech Pro is a lap timer with no video capability and costs $299.95. Similarly, the Aim Solo lacks video capability and it costs $689.00. The Traqmate is a data logger that will interface with cameras like the Go Pro Hero and it starts at $699.00. The cameras are sold separately. Race Technology sells the Video4+GPS. It can handle up to 4 cameras. This system without the cameras is $2,268.00.
Thankfully, there is another alternative. Anyone with a smart phone or tablet can download either a free or inexpensive application and have many, if not more, of the capabilities offered by the expensive professional level data logging and video capture systems. There are Android and iPhone specific apps. Each of the apps operate a little bit differently and each have different features. A word of caution: They are not plug-and-play but require some amount of configuring and fiddling. There is a learning curve for their operation, just as there would be if you were using a new software program on a computer. If you are just starting out as a track day driver, using these apps may actually be a distraction. You do not want to be spending more time getting your video and data logger to work than focusing on learning from your instructor and your direct experience of the track day. At a recent HPDE, I watched a couple of nearby paddock mates spend more time on their phones and laptops than driving. These apps may be more beneficial for the solo driver who is interested in further progressing post live instruction.
These data logging apps use your smart phone’s GPS and built in camera. A good rigid mount for the phone or tablet is needed. The recommended mount of choice seems to be from Ram Mounts. They offer an X-grip to hold the device. This then attaches to a base, most often with a strong suction cup to attach to the windshield. The app developers recommend Ram because of its shake and vibration-free performance. There is a process to go through. You cannot simply turn on the application and let it run. You will need to either load a learned map form the developer’s database of track maps or run a test session of at least one lap. One must then allow the lap to replay once in order to set the start/finish line. It is only in this way that you can get lap times. The app needs to know the lap start and end points in order to record lap times. You also have the option to set sector markers which will enhance the data logging utility. If there is a track walk at the event, this would be a good time to data log and then set the markers and start/finish line. Another good time would be during recon laps. You do not want to be reaching over to push a start/finish set button once under speed.
Once the track map is set or loaded form the library, you are ready to record video and data. By the way, you can load your own recorded track maps or contribute maps to the database by sending them to the developer who will certify them and release them for others to use. Most of the apps have an auto start function and will begin recording when movement is sensed or a minimum speed is exceeded. There are settings to ignore warm up laps later during playback. In this way, you do not have to fiddle with your smart phone when you should be belting in and putting on your helmet. They will stop recording on their own when the car comes to rest. Again, cool down laps can be ignored and omitted from videos and data.
Some of the apps have data only. Others have data plus video. With the latter you can watch the session immediately after the run on your device. The video will have overlays including a track map with your position noted, lap number, lap time, best or last lap time, G-force meter, acceleration and braking, RPM’s and HP. You can use external GPS sensors to improve your satellite connection and can also accomplish a Bluetooth connection to an OBDII reader and remote cameras. The OBDII reader is how you get RPM and HP readings. The remote GPS sensor is useful if your device is not mounted far forward in the windshield area. I prefer to mount mine on the passenger seat looking over my shoulder, as I am used to that angle from the days when I had a camera mount on a harness and later a roll bar. I like to be able to see my hand movements in the foreground as the camera points out the windshield and down the track. Remote cameras give you different angles. We have all seen those shots of the driver’s feet or eyes. Very cool. The apps give you the ability to have picture in picture displays during playback.
It is advisable to keep the device plugged into the cigarette lighter during a run. These apps use a lot of power. Also, there may be heat issues. One developer recommends mounting the device in such a way as to have an air conditioning outlet blowing on it. I never thought of running with the AC on, what with the power drain and the windows open. Memory storage is also an issue. You may want to get the biggest 64 gig external SD card you can find. Another alternative is to upload sessions to your laptop and then delete them from the device before the next run. The professional data loggers have much more memory capacity, can handle up to 4 cameras, can be hard wired and do not have the overheating issues of the smart phones and tablets. However, there are work-arounds that will enable you to make good use of these apps at a savings of hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
In addition to video with data overlays to watch after a run, the user can view and download tables and graphs summarizing a vast amount of data. For example, there are tables displaying sector times, split times, trap speeds and maximum, minimum, average, straight and corner speeds by lap. There are graphs showing speed, acceleration and lateral g forces. These are all available at the touch of a button. A driver can go back and examine runs to see where time is lost or gained across multiple laps. Consistency, a key to good driving, can be evaluated via this lap-by-lap comparison. The video helps to remember the session when analyzing this data.
It is great to have a memory of your experience in the form of video with data overlays. It is also nice to be able to share these with family and friends. Here, though, is another example of the non-plug-and-play nature of these apps. You cannot simply upload the sessions to YouTube, for example. Hey, I’ve got this great video I can watch on my device. How come I can’t share it directly with others? Well, you can. It just takes some steps, some work and some more time on that software learning curve. Several of the app developers maintain a website where sessions can be uploaded and viewed. You and your friends must go to these sites to see lap videos. One app developer has video editing software specialized for racing to allow the creation of your own videos with data overlays. There is even a prompt to automatically upload the completed job to your YouTube channel.
The first step to creating YouTube videos of your lapping sessions is to upload the video and data from your device (smart phone or tablet) to a computer. I use a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 to record in the car. It allows a nice view for watching the recording on the device itself. Since this is a Samsung, I needed to install Samsung Kies on my computer. Kies is a software application. Once installed, you can connect your device via WiFi or via a mini-USB to USB wire. I used the hard wired approach. A window automatically opens up on your computer and you can select the device files you want to upload and their destinations. The apps make it clear which are the video and which are the data files. They are usually separated and you will need both for your YouTube videos. Once the files are uploaded, the user can then open the RaceRender software. With this video editing software, you can choose a standard template for the look for your final product. The software will prompt you to select the files to be uploaded. Again, these will be both video files and data files. Once uploaded, the user can fine-tune the look of the video and data overlay. Each data feature can be selected, deselected and repositioned. Once completed, the video with data overlay can be rendered and saved on your computer to be emailed to others or uploaded to YouTube. There is a prompt at project end to automatically upload to your YouTube channel. A new version just launched. It is called RaceRender3 and it has wizards to assist you step-by-step while creating your videos with data overlays. There is a free demo version available to enable you to experiment with the software. If you feel this is for you, there is a Deluxe edition available for $34.95 and an Ultimate edition for $44.95. The Ultimate edition allows for a selected gear to be displayed, assuming you used an OBD-II sensor, and for customization of the data overlays. Both Deluxe and Ultimate allow unlimited uses and the RaceRender logo is eliminated from your final products. Here is an example of what you can create using a simple phone app and video editing software and some time to learn the ins and outs of each: