Customer race cars are a growing market for major automotive manufacturers. GT3 racing in particular continues to attract new manufacturers. Lexus (RC F), Acura (NSX) and Mercedes-AMG (GT) are joining the competitive IMSA GT Daytona class here in 2017. Ford meanwhile is the latest company to join GT4 competition on both sides of the Atlantic, having unveiled the Mustang GT4 at the SEMA show in November.
The concept of Marginal Gains is not new, nor is it particularly revolutionary. In fact, at first glance, it is so self-evident and logical, that it hardly seems worthy of special nomenclature at all.
The crux of the idea is that if you break down every aspect of what you are trying to achieve into key areas and improve each area by just a little, say 1%, then the combined improvement – and the total achievement – can be significant.
In Pursuit of Speed
The concept is a variant of the ancient Chinese proverb attributed to Lao Tzu: “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” In more recent times, the concept’s application was popularised in competitive sports by Sir Dave Brailsford, the man charged with transforming British Cycling race participants into race winners. And, of course, Marginal Gains is a motorsports maxim, even when it is not called out by name.
Like any athletes, race car drivers have become known for their superstitions and pre-race rituals. Stirling Moss favored lucky #7 on his cars, Michael Schumacher odd numbers in general. Dale Earnhardt diligently avoided $50 bills and peanut shells, as do many NASCAR drivers now. Juan Pablo Montoya gets into his cars from the same side every time. Perhaps most infamously, Alberto Ascari died during an impromptu test of a Ferrari at Monza in 1955…having left his lucky blue helmet at home that particular day.
A racing driver sits at the ready before the start of a qualifying session or race. Gripping the steering wheel, he looks straight ahead, then into each mirror, wondering, “Is this real or virtual?”
A decade ago, such a question would not have even occurred to a driver. At that time the distinction was self-evident: You were either sitting in a real car at a real race track, or sitting in a driving simulator, or playing a video game – and it was blindingly obvious which was which.
Nowadays, the fidelity of Driver-in-the-Loop (DIL) driving simulators and video games has increased to the point where the line has been blurred. In some cases a driver’s senses may not be able to clearly distinguish the various realms.
Measuring performance is a recognized pathway to success in motorsports. It stands to reason therefore that when permitted by regulations, race teams will always seek to maximize instrumentation and data acquisition. Formula 1 teams are the undisputed leaders of the pack in the world of racing in this area, extracting thousands of measurements from each vehicle and collecting hundreds of terabytes of data per event. It is reported that F1 teams at the 2014 US Grand Prix collected about 243 terabytes of data – just a little less than the total information stored in the US Library of Congress. Surely this must be enough information to understand a handful of cars quite well, correct? Well, yes and no.
Preparing for any race is as much an exercise in preparedness and long-game strategy as anything else. As we discussed in a recent article, most major racing series such as NASCAR, Formula 1, IndyCar and the FIA World Endurance Championship have created regulations in recent years that reduce on-track running time. And when the stakes are higher than usual – as is the case with high profile events such as the Indy 500 or the 24 Hours of Le Mans – one can be sure that most winning teams are relying upon driving simulators to accumulate the necessary amount of track test miles to prepare their cars for the upcoming event.
Advances in mobile, laser-based measurement and surveying technologies – the same technologies that are currently informing autonomous road car and ADAS developments – can be used to create remarkably realistic virtual racetracks for gaming applications and simulations. In the case of engineering class Driver-in-the-Loop (DIL) simulators, which are amongst the most demanding applications, LiDAR ( Light Detection And Ranging ) has become the go-to technology for digitally recreating high-resolution roads and tracks.
Dean Stoneman is one of Britain’s most talented young racing drivers. A former FIA Formula 2 champion, GP3 racer and Red Bull Junior Driver, he’s delivered race-winning performances in almost every series he’s competed in and this year will make the move up to Indy Lights with Andretti in the USA. He’s also an experienced test driver, with extensive simulator experience at the very highest level with Williams Advanced Engineering and the Red Bull F1 simulator.
Regulations and restrictions play an increasingly important role in the look and feel of modern racing. Motorsport series such as NASCAR, Formula 1 and IndyCar seek to simultaneously engage their audiences and maximize racing-related revenues, so a balance must be struck between unbridled speed and careful control.
A properly set up Driver-in-the-Loop (DIL) simulator is a crucial tool in helping technical managers and racing engineers deal with common issues they might encounter when preparing for a race. Let’s look at some of them: