“After the first session we looked at his data and I could see that he had a bad habit of rolling off the throttle as he approached a hard braking point. This is something he didn't realize he was doing so he had no idea that he needed to change. Data shows this immediately.”
Jerry Austin: Self Taught Data Guru
by Michael Allen
Ever want to learn how a data logging system can improve your driving? Well Jerry Austin of Austin Motorsports, based out of North Port, Florida, can help you learn to do just that. Austin specializes in teaching drivers how to use data to improve their driving. Austin started participating in high performance driving events and motorsports way back in 1993. In 2002 he retired from the corporate world and began working as a mechanic’s helper for Synergy Racing, a Grand Am team campaigning Porsche GT 3 Cup cars and Daytona Prototypes. Austin propelled himself through the ranks becoming Synergy Racing’s car chief and eventually becoming one of their data guys. Austin installed a data logging system in his own track car, read everything he could find on the subject and then shadowed the team data personnel. Today he travels the country helping professional teams and amateur drivers benefit form data analysis. Austin’s company not only will sell you the data logging system, but it will install it, provide technical support and teach you how to use the system and the data, all to improve your driving.
About his credentials as a track day driver, Austin told us that “I started driving a Porsche 944 in 1993 at Mont Tremblant above Montreal Canada. I've driven most of the tracks east of the Mississippi and instruct DE and HPDE events for a number of clubs. I've done a couple of races but don't race due to limited budget as a retiree. I'm a nationally certified instructor with PCA and I instruct with many other clubs and venues like the BMW Club, Audi Club, PBOC Florida, NASA, SCDA, CHIN, and others.” Austin’s credentials as a mechanic and technical data consultant developed over time. “I retired in 2002 and wanted to get more involved with racing so I joined a Grand Am team in 2003 campaigning multiple Porsche GT 3 Cup cars. I was with the team for five years as a ‘fly in’ mechanic. During that time I worked on 996 and 997 GT3 Cup cars. I've worked with some of the great Porsche drivers from around the world. Our team hired David Murry and Craig Stanton for a number of years as primary drivers as well as Patrick Long as the ‘pro’ driver in a Koni Challenge 997 street version. We also had some of the top drivers from Europe with us for many of the Daytona 24 hour races. Names like Richard Westbrook, Richard Leitz, Damien Falkner, Patrick Hueisman, Jan Heylen and many others.”
Race Team Expereince
What does car chief of a racing team entail? Austin explains that the “role of the car chief is to decide on strategy regarding when to pit and what work will be done and by whom, including driver changes during the race. As car chief, I went over the wall to change tires as well. I liked this role and found it very rewarding.” Over time, Austin transitioned from functioning as a mechanic to a data analyst. Because Austin is an engineer by education, he found himself intrigued by data logging equipment. Finally, he decided to install a full data system into his 84 Porsche 911 race car. Austin explains that, “after becoming familiar with in-car data, I shadowed the ‘data engineers’ on our team and tried to absorb all I could from them as well as drivers during data debriefs. It was particularly interesting and informative to participate in discussions over data between the pro drivers.”
The Learning Aspect
It is clear that data acquisition and analysis are fully integrated into professional and even amateur racing, but we wondered about whether this was something of interest or use to track day drivers. “People do track days for many reasons,” says Austin. “Some like the thrill of driving fast and others, like me, always push themselves to learn more and hone skills. If a driver just enjoys the driving experience (nothing wrong with that) there is not much, if any, advantage to have data. For me, I like to get out of the car and look through the data, trying to see what worked and what didn't. I almost always have a plan for myself every time I get out on the track. I love the learning aspect of using data and try to put it to good use. I can tell you that I've been convinced I was going flat out in a section of the track only to see that I was lifting off the throttle a tiny bit when I reviewed the data. Many times, your mind plays tricks on you and data points out where your mind and your throttle foot are not perfectly linked.” In a recent interview, track designer and driver, Alan Wilson, made a similar point. “Do five lap segments, and stop to think about the track and your driving between segments. Just going around and around, simply means that you make the same mistakes over and over again,” said Wilson.
How To Get Started
If you are intrigued by the idea of using data, you may be asking yourself, ‘okay how do I proceed, how do I get started?’ Austin weighs in by saying “The first question I ask someone who calls looking for a data system is ‘what do you want to accomplish, short term and long term?’ Typically, the person new to data is looking for a lap timer, and there are some great ones out there, including some cool aps on cell phones. I try to get the customer to think further ahead. We've all been victims of buying something only to see that we need (want) more a year later. Much of this equipment is modular and can grow in sophistication as the driver decides he/she wants more. Other products are very limited and might be a waste of money if not well thought out. A second important thing to consider is the car that the equipment is going in. Cars built before 1999 can be very difficult/expensive to set up with full data, whereas newer cars use a signal from the computer called CAN (controller area network) to provide data to a logger. Porsche cars after 2008 (and most likely many other marques) provide incredible data like real brake pressure, steering angle, all four wheel speeds and much more.”
Lap to Lap Comparisons
Austin uses his data logging systems to improve his own driving. He reviews his data and tries to find ways to improve his lap times by tenths of a second. Austin has heard drivers say that they feel they need for a pro driver to lay down a fast lap so they will know what to do to improve. But he says, that “this is not totally true. I can look at any driver (myself included) and see where they've done something on a slower lap that was better than what they did on the fastest lap. You look for those points where you've done something better and attempt to put them all together in one lap.” Austin believes that the most important thing that data can show is consistency in laps. If you cannot drive similar lap times consistently, says Austin, then “you need to determine why (if not traffic) and data really can help determine what you are doing right and wrong.” And this is the business of practice. Practice should be for a purpose and lead to piecing together a theoretical perfect lap. Instructors will suggest that you break a lap down and work on one turn at a time; not dissimilar to the data analysis techniques being described herein.
Are we ready to get into the nitty gritty analysis? Just what do these guys look at? Austin has his own special techniques in his approach to coaching and helping drivers improve. He likes to see throttle trace and break pressure profile on track data. “One of the drivers I work with,” says Austin, “was an excellent driver before we put data in his car. After the first session we looked at his data and I could see that he had a bad habit of rolling off the throttle as he approached a hard braking point. This is something he didn't realize he was doing so he had no idea that he needed to change. Data shows this immediately. Being an excellent driver, he went out the next session and consciously changed that habit and the results were immediate in lap time improvement. I have worked with a large number of drivers, some pro but most amateurs, and invariably we can find something to work on during the next session. I don't ask the driver to work on more than two or three items in any session. You don't get improvement if the plan during the next session is too complicated.” In many sports there are bad habits that need to be noticed and broken. In golf and baseball, we have all heard that video can help a person become aware of a problem with his or her swing. Data acquisition in motorsports is the equivalent of video feedback.
Data Logging Equipment
In coaching drivers, Austin uses data equipment such as Motec and AIM products. Austin travels to many race tracks in North America to work with teams and drivers. Austin says he has decided not to spread himself so thin by trying to learn all of the systems out there. He finds it much more beneficial to home in on one or two systems and become expert at those systems. “Motec and AIM are very similar and I like them both,” says Austin. “I do sell AIM products but I don't sell Motec. I feel that Motec is too expensive for most drivers and I'm happy just representing AIM. I not only sell AIM products, but I provide detailed technical support. It's common to spend an hour on the phone with someone sorting out a problem with Motec or AIM.” Austin has his eye keenly on the target. “My focus is setting up the cars/drivers for the long term for that segment of drivers who want to go there. This is a small portion of the driver population. I feel that AIM can be expanded to handle almost all future needs.”
Austin has provided us with two examples of data acquisition analysis. Here is one and the other is on our Driving Technique tab.
AIM SOLO data review:
Disclaimer: The following are my thoughts about data from the new AIM SOLO unit. I am not suggesting that anyone go to the track and drive harder than they have done in the past. It is the driver’s responsibility to assess their limits as well as the limits of their car.
Evaluating driving data, I like to look at Speed, Brake/throttle (GPS LongAcc), and GPS LatAcc
I set the scale so the graph fills most of the area (see my Power point document called AIM Data Analysis) The first step is to look at the fastest lap in the session The raw data looks like Greek until you know what to look for.
Let’s discuss the speed graph first:
First, we’ll look at one lap, and then we’ll look at multiple laps. I like to look at the speed changes at the start of brake application and the speed at the apex (minimum speed in the corner).
I look for a fairly sharp drop off of speed entering a hard brake zone. If it is a sharp corner, then the driver has made a quick transition from full throttle to hard braking. In this example, the first transition at turn 1 is excellent. The second, at turn 3, is rounded, which means that the driver rolled off the throttle and applied the brakes more slowly (don’t beat yourself up if you see it until you look at multiple laps to see if it is a traffic issue or a habit. I’ll show multiple laps later). Next, I look at the graph of speed near the apex (slowest part of the corner). If the transition is a sharp corner, then the driver is probably braking too much and going to the throttle as soon as he/she gets off the brake, probably before the apex. You should be rolling off the brake and scrubbing speed due to turning or moderate trail braking. In the graph above, the transition at turn one is great, but at turn 3, the speed has a sharp corner so the driver went to the throttle as soon as they got off the brakes. The throttle and brakes look excellent entering the bowl.
Now let’s look at the Longitudinal G (GPS LongAcc): Braking and Throttle:
The LongAcc represents brake and throttle. Numbers below zero are brakes. Above zero is throttle. This correlates with what the speed graph showed. Turn 1: Nice transition from throttle to brakes. You can see that the brakes started from +0.1 G meaning the car was at strong throttle and the brakes were applied fairly quickly to max. Coming off the brakes shows more slope so it is trailing off. In addition, you can see that the G is at zero (more or less) after the brakes are off. Turn 3: Transition from throttle to brakes is good but brakes are applied too slowly (thus applied to early). In addition, there are two max peaks, which means that the brakes were applied then released, then reapplied, which is not good if it is a habit, but more laps need to be looked at to see if it is traffic or a habit. You also can see the throttle was applied as soon as the brakes were released. Turn 9 and 11 look like the brakes are applied too slowly (which means too early). Turn 9 goes to the throttle as soon as the brakes are released. Better transition to throttle in turn 11. Lastly, let’s look at Latitudinal G in the corners:
Now let’s look at the Lateral G (GPS_LatAcc): Tire Grip:
Much of this is dependent on the track surface, car set up and the tires. Typically, street tires cannot reach 1 G, Hoosier R6 tires are good up to 1.4 G and Michelins slicks good to 1.6 G. This varies by track and car, but if you are on good R 6’s and getting 0.8 G’s you probably have room to push harder. Disclaimer: It is up to you to safely search for tire and car limits!
I’ve highlighted 1 G for both left and right turns. You can see 1.5 G’s in the bowl, which is understandable if you’ve driven this track on grippy tires. I’d use this chart as a comparison to other runs to see if you are making progress. There is more to learn from LatAcc but not for us at this point.
NOW, let’s compare the fastest lap to another lap in the same session:
Below is the same graph as we started with, except it has a second lap over laid on to the graph. In addition, AIM shows the loss or gain from the fastest lap (see the bottom of the graph). In this case, the red lap is a 1:25.757 and the blue lap is 1:25.891. The first thing I see is that traffic slowed the blue lap almost 2.5 sec. entering turn 3. The significant thing to observe is that the blue lap was almost 2.5 sec faster from turn 3 to the end of the lap. This gain was made by later braking in the bowl and then getting to the throttle earlier on exit. The next big gain was at turn 9. Referring back to the notes on the first lap, remember that I pointed out that the brakes were applied too slowly. Look at the blue lap, LongAcc and you can see a much faster (thus later) transition to full brakes. Just this alone gained 0.6 sec on the fastest lap. The next big improvement was at turn 11. This is the same as turn 9. The blue lap is faster to the max brakes. In this case “max brakes” is less than before and it was released earlier, in other words too much braking was applied in the red lap. Another significant change is that the driver went to the throttle earlier and carried more speed all the way down the front straight. On my earlier note in this corner I thought that waiting to go to the throttle was good. This lap proved that the first lap waited too long to go to the throttle. This is why you need to look at multiple laps. It is a delicate balance between brakes and throttle, which is why you need data if you are trying to improve.
In Summary, you can learn a lot by comparing your own laps. There are reasons why portions of your laps might be slower than other portions and you need to learn why this is happening. This will give you confidence because the data has shown that you can do it, you just need to put all of the best sections together and then repeat it over and over. Set your target to become consistent with your lap times before you push yourself to go faster!
After you get comfortable with looking at data, you can compare your best lap with another driver’s lap. That will add another dimension to this whole learning process. Be safe, learn cautiously and enjoy the whole experience!
Here are further resources available from Austin Motorsports which are found on their website: