"Having a great predictive time displayed in the car has really helped with knowing, while still on the track, which line or technique is better. There is no more guessing or going by what “feels” faster. With data, you know what is faster."
Data Guru Matt Romanowski of TrailBrake.net Talks to Auto TrackDay Monthly
by Michael and Ziva Allen
Earlier this month Paul Haney and Ross Bentley invited us to attend their Get Smart About Tires & Drive Faster webinar. During the four part webinar, Ross introduced us to data guru Matt Romanowski. Matt has an extensive HPDE driving and instructing history and uses data to coach drivers of all levels from beginners all the way up to professional racers for top teams. We asked Matt some questions about data and video logging, and his answers will give you a pretty good idea of how to get started using this technology. Matt gives a few excellent real world examples of how you can improve your driving by looking at data.
Tell us about your career as a track driver. Have you done HPDEs as well as competitive racing? What cars have you driven and where? Tell us about which groups you have driven with? Do you also instruct?
I did my first track event, a PCA DE in 1997, when I was 18 in a friend’s 944 at Lime Rock Park. I was immediately hooked. Within a few years, I was doing events all over the East Coast. I started instructing when I was 24 and have been an instructor for 12 years now. I’ve done events at NHMS, Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock, Pocono (various configurations), Summit Point, Road America, and Sebring. The majority of my driving has been with PCA and BMWCCA.
I’m lucky to have driven a wide range of cars on the track. Most of my driving experience has been in Porsches. I’ve driven stock 914s, 911s, and 944s and track prepared versions of all of those. Some of the more notable cars are a full GT2 classed early 911 with an air-cooled RSR motor making over 450 horsepower, a Carrera GT, and a GT3 RS 4 liter (which was probably the best car I’ve driven around Lime Rock). Outside of Porsches, I’ve driven different Lemons race cars and some Skip Barber cars.
Tell us about your education and career experiences as they relate to becoming a track data guru. How did you learn about using data to aid driving performance?
I started working with data in 1999 while crewing on a SCCA Formula Continental team. At the same time, I was helping support a few SCCA ITE Porsche 911s that installed data systems, so there was lots of data available. At that time I was doing pretty basic analysis and really learning the possibilities of what was available and possible. In 2011, with the advent of the more affordable, GPS based systems, I purchased one and installed it in my own car.
It was about that time that I also started to help other people learn about how to use the systems and how to improve their driving through data. Around this time I also started helping some Trans Am teams and SCCA racers running regional and major races. Along the way, I’ve purchased and read just about every data analysis book, done a number of webinars with people like John Block of www.auto-ware.com and hosted a 2 day, very intensive session with Jorge Segers, author of Analysis Techniques for Racecar Data Acquisition. It’s been lots of on-the-job training along with hard work and late nights!
Can a track day driver who is not racing, benefit from data and video logging?
Without a doubt! I think almost any driver can benefit from data and video logging along with a little bit of effort to analyze the data. The one caveat to this is the driver has to be able to execute the basics of driving before the data will really help them. For a first day driver or still fresh beginner, they have to worry about things like learning the line, working on exit speed, and learning the basics skills before the data will really help them.
Once they have those basics skills, which is usually around when they start driving solo, data can be a real help. Data logging and video are recording devices. They tell the true story of what happened on the track, not the often altered perception that we leave the track with. The data and video will help you see what actually happened, when you really braked, when you turned in, how close you got to the apex, how much track you used on the corner exit, etc. You can then use that to compare it to best practices and what you want to do, formulate plans for improvement, and identify trends in how someone drives.
What would you recommend a track day driver do to get started using data? Give us a step by step approach.
I think for many people they have to consider their budget and car. In newer cars, the information available to log over the two wire CAN bus is simply amazing. In those cars, a simple device like the AiM Solo DL will give enough information for a very thorough analysis. For folks in older car, they have to decide how deep into data and video they want to get. A device like the AiM Solo that retails for $399 can help even the most advanced drivers. An interesting point – if you look in lots of professional, top level cars, you’ll see an AiM Solo being used for its excellent predictive lap times!
Once someone has decided which logging and video device they want, they need to make a small investment in knowledge so they can know how to analyze their data. This is an area where I usually recommend Chris Brown’s fantastic book Making Sense of Squiggly Lines. Once people have an idea of what they are looking for, it’s time to go out and drive, then take a look at the data before they go back out on the track. While looking at the data, pick no more than three areas for improvement and write them down. Then, work on those things during the next track session. Keep repeating this and you’ll you get better and better at the basics and start discovering finer and finer areas to improve at.
Give us some examples of how you have improved as a driver due to data logging and analysis.
Wow, I would say data has changed almost every part of my driving. First, it’s really changed how I use the brakes and the amount of time I’m on the brakes. Next, it’s changed my throttle application and how I look at corner exits. Next, I would say it’s helped me to see the difference between really fast, pro level driving and the average club level racer. Finally, having a great predictive time displayed in the car has really helped with knowing, while still on the track, which line or technique is better. There is no more guessing or going by what “feels” faster. With data, you know what is faster.
Give us some examples of how you have helped others to improve using data.
One spot I’ve been working on recently is corner entry speed. This is a delicate balance between carrying enough speed to be really fast and being too fast making you have to wait on throttle application. Data and video has been tremendous in learning this area of driving as it records your good and bad experiences, allowing you to see what worked, what didn’t work, and then knowing what you have to replicate to make it work again. The video lets you see the sight picture of the track when you did things right and with the data overlay, you can see what you were doing with the steering, throttle, and brakes. It’s amazing how much room for improvement the average driver has in this area.
Tell us about your business, your products and your services.
My data business grew out of my website, www.TrailBrake.net. I started the site to help teach people about data acquisition and what to do with the data once you have it. With that, I started doing more support for people at the track and at home away from events, and it made sense to become a full service AiM dealer. I offer system sales, support, configuration, trackside support, data analysis, and pretty much anything else that the customer needs. I’ve worked with all levels of teams from a beginner with an AiM Solo to top level professional teams.
What are the advantages of using your AiM products over the various smart phone applications for data and video logging, such as Harry’s Laptimer, TrackAddictHD, Track Attack and others?
There really is no comparison between a full data system and a phone app. The first thing I usually point out is that, like many people, I have my entire life in my phone. Do you really want to risk that taking it out on the track? I’ve personally seen 3 phones destroyed when running a data/video app in the car. More importantly, the robustness and consistency of the AiM systems is much higher than the phones. The AiM systems are water proof to IP67 (which means they are completely dust proof and protected against direct water spray) and once configured, power on, record, stop recording, and turn off automatically. The video options put the data overlays on the video real-time and are ready to be watched on your computer, smartphone, or smart TV immediately after you’re done driving. The ease of use cannot be beat.
Also, the power of analysis in AiM’s Race Studio 2 (and future Race Studio 3) is amazing. The driver or car can be completely engineered, including doing things like engine, suspension, and split time analysis. With the addition of math channels (which are calculations based on measured channels), you can figure out nearly any driver or car based questions.
Thanks Matt! That should get us up to speed on using data to get up to speed. Here is a flash card for using data that Matt shared with us:
Click here to go to Matt's website: