Hydration – A Racer’s Marginal Advantage

Picture of Subaru Rally Car at Rally America event

I’m a total optimization junkie. I think (hope?) that’s a good quality in a racer. Which is why this quote about hydration jumped out to me this morning and why I have to share it with you:

I’m not getting younger so I’m increasingly looking to get an edge through marginal gains like this! Click To Tweet

This straight from an interview with legendary rally driver David Higgins (three time British Rally Champion, winner of 15 of the last 16 Rally America rounds for Team Subaru USA) over at Precision Hydration.

Snow at Silverstone Circuit in central England

I’ve been down the same road. Three years ago, I was sliding my rental car into a snowy Silverstone circuit in England. I was signed up for a two-day fitness clinic hosted by Mark Webber, then-Red Bull Formula 1 driver. The session was organized by the Porsche Human Performance Center led by Andy Blow who I learned about via his book Motorsport Fitness Manual.

The event was mostly attended by up and coming racers in junior car and motorcycle categories like GP2, GP3, Porsche Cup and Moto2. These kids had natural talent, funding and lots of seat time, but they had little in terms of strategy. Few had experience with physical training or nutrition and the topic of hydration might have only meant “energy drink”.

But when Mark Webber spoke about all the tactics they tried at Red Bull to gain just an additional 3 meters in the run down to the first corner, we all learned top-level racing isn’t about the last 1%. Their last 1% was found ages ago. They were hunting for the last 0.1%: any obtainable marginal advantage.

Author Brian Ghidinelli working on the bike while being measured by a Polar heart rate system

The lesson I took home and began applying to my own racing was from the results of my sweat test. Andy used a special machine to capture sweat from my wrist and measured the amount of salt lost per unit of sweat. It turns out I’m a very salty sweater. To replace the electrolytes I lose over an endurance race would require drinking three large Gatorades with 96 ounces of fluid and 168g of sugar – plus spending $10!

Like Higgins, I immediately became a fan of the H2Pro tablets and I carry them in my helmet bag so I always have them at the track. The salt increases my body’s water and electrolyte absorption rate so I can drink less, pee less and still maintain that ideal pale yellow urine color. You can make a less optimized version of this in your kitchen by adding a pinch or two of salt into your water bottle. The tablets have been key for me to be competitive, like during a 5-hour stint at night in the rain on our way to a class win at the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

As Higgins said, none of us are getting any younger. And even if youth is on our side, a stack of 0.1% improvements adds up to the 1% that puts you way out in front.

One easy racing tip to be better prepared than your competitors. So good, even Mark Webber does it! Click To Tweet

You can read the full David Higgins interview at PrecisionHydration.com. They have an online sweat test that can approximate the results of the machine test I used in the UK.

If you want to geek out further, check out my YouTube Motorsport Fitness channel.

Going slow: is it the Driver or the Car?

Here’s something new on the RaceHero blog: a guest post for drivers that you’re going to love… because we all love to go faster! Working with Ross Bentley, author of the Speed Secrets books, e-books and webinars, we’re sharing an issue from his Speed Secrets Weekly newsletter. It’s a weekly email with juicy content for anyone who wants to perform at their best. This time we’re discussing how to tell when it’s the car (or motorcycle, kart, snowmobile, boat…) and when it’s the driver with one specific technique. Enjoy!

Photo by Austin Bradshaw of Flying Bye Photography

Photo by 15-year old photog Austin Bradshaw of Flying Bye Photography

Driver Control Bandwidth

We know the numbers. They are right there on the dash, glaring at us. Also, we know what our best time has been in the past.

Looking at the infamous “Sheet,” we see the leader’s time.

At this point, it starts to boil inside us: frustration, disbelief, and sometimes anger. “How can we be that far off the pace?” It seems like an impossible jump to the leader’s time. And, to make it more of a pisser, we aren’t even near our own best time.

Instantly, justification attribution kicks in and we start racer bingo. The leader is (insert favorite):

  1. cheating
  2. spending more money
  3. using better tires
  4. using a better motor
  5. got a tow
  6. had better track conditions
  7. has the newer car
  8. did we suggest cheating?

At the minimum, anxiety is setting in, if not full blown panic.

Racer Excuse Generator: The winner is a) cheating, b) spending more money, c) using better tires... Click To Tweet
Before the next session, we have to tweak something on the car such as tire pressure, shocks, anything that will make us go faster and try to catch the leader. Alas, we run the next session and we don’t go faster, but we actually go slower! AAARG!!

We have all been there. But what really happened?

Even though we all are quick to make changes to the car, thinking something is wrong with it, or the ambient conditions require a change, there is a high likelihood the car is not the reason for slower times. At this point, we must admit that the biggest variable in racing is driving, and chances are someone else is doing a better job at driving than we are. So what can be done to improve our driving?

Driver control bandwidth is a concept that we rarely think about, if ever. This relates to the specific tasks we perform in the seat and where they occur on the track. In the case mentioned above, it’s likely that our car control points have migrated or have a wider operating range of repeatability. So, we actually end up going slower, not because of setup, but rather less bandwidth for driver control. Just like your internet connection, more bandwidth is more capacity.

We end up going slower, not because of setup, but because of less driver control Click To Tweet

From an engineering standpoint, we can manipulate thrust angles, roll centers, frequency responses, or many other engineering factors by tweaking on the car; however, improving the car in a particular situation requires that it be consistently operated in that situation.

For example: If we have corner brake application points (or any driver task) that vary with each lap, then the handling for that corner becomes a statistical problem rather than a precision engineering challenge, as can be seen in these real-life examples below.

These graphs are the distance traveled per lap from the start/finish line in feet to where the brake pedal was first depressed.

The distance from the start/finish line on each lap where the amateur driver pressed the brake pedal approaching turn 1

The distance from the start/finish line on each lap where the experienced driver pressed the brake pedal approaching turn 1

The top graph is from a young inexperienced driver struggling to grasp the concept of reference points and is basically driving by the seat of his pants. The graph on the bottom is one of the best professional drivers I’ve ever worked with who is usually on the pole and often wins. It is easy to see that one is very consistent with driver control tasks and the other is…. well, all over the place and consistently at the back of the pack. Granted, the data is not from the same track, but the trend is obvious. Hint: Which one of these drivers has more consistent apex speeds?

It is easy to embrace and employ this concept to improve your own driving. The goal is to create and use a driving aid that shows us the repeatability of a task or its migration. It really is just that simple, so don’t try to make it hard.

How To Measure for Improvement

A good way to do this is with an objective metric that is readily available to most all racers, which is data. Relax, we’re not talking about those confusing squiggly lines, just a row of numbers listing the feet traveled to the brake (application and/or release) point, lap after lap for a given corner.

Use a driving aid that shows the repeatability of a task on track to improve the driver Click To Tweet

This doesn’t require an exotic data system or a complex engineering process. Any of the most basic systems from AiM, CDS, MoTec, Pi or any other brand that will allow you to create a “math channel” will do the job. No special sensors are required, although a brake pressure sensor makes it more clear, but it’s not absolutely required.

It is also nice if the data acquisition software has an export function to take the brake point listing and put it in an Excel spreadsheet (as shown above), but again, that is just eye candy and icing on the cake.

To create this driver aid, start by looking at your data. Identify a distance to the corner in question and pick a point that is a bit short of any anticipated braking point. Remember this distance. You can call it “corner entry.” Next, look through several laps to find a good average distance where the peak brake pressure or peak deceleration G occurs, and remember that number.

Use the math function in your software and create two constants, one for the corner entry distance and the other for the corner mid-distance, using the numbers from above.

Next, create a math channel that uses nested “IF” statements to see if the distance traveled (lap distance) falls between the two constants you created. If so, then check to see if the brake pressure or deceleration G has exceeded a specific value. I like to use 40 psi as my specific threshold value. Once that specific value has been exceeded, we can use this lap distance as the brake application point (as shown in the graphs above) and then make the value of the math channel return to zero for the remainder of the lap.

All that is left to do is to display the maximum value of the math channel in a table style display on your data software. Now you have distance traveled to the brake point for that corner during every lap of the run.

Creating a math channel such as this and using it to improve your driving consistency can result in a major improvement to your lap times.

Struggling on track & unsure whether to change the driver or the car? Start with this graph. Click To Tweet

Written by John Block from Auto-Ware for Speed Secrets Weekly. Follow John on Twitter at @autowareinc.

Updates from the NASA Western Championships

NASA Western Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on RaceHero

I was on site yesterday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca supporting the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) Western Championships. Walking through Timing and Scoring, NASA Officials had at least one device in front of them and in many cases had secondary tablets or laptops dedicated to displaying RaceHero while they performed official duties on their primary computer. I personally saw dozens of shares on Facebook, all which included a large NASA logo, helping to promote their organization and event.

Since everything was running smoothly, I pulled out my laptop and put the finishing touches on some new features and bug fixes for live timing. These improvements are now live:

  • Gaps in collapsed view – on phones, the Gap to the racer ahead now displays in the collapsed view. On tablets and larger devices, you’ll also see Gap to P1. This provides more context without having to tap a racer and see all of their details.
  • Better handling for the Finish (Checkered) Flag and Stop Flag in Orbits – the clock now stops properly once the Stop Flag has been clicked in the timing program.
  • Results notification stays longer – whenever results are posted, we display a notification at the bottom of live timing that lets you view them if interested. This message disappeared way too fast so now it hangs around for a minute. If it’s in the way, you can dismiss it by tapping the X. The entire notification is now clickable making it much easier to tap with your thumb.
  • In certain Orbits configurations, the Overall/By Class toggle might go missing when starting a new run. They now stay visible unless you’re watching a single-class session in which case we hide them.
  • Lap time and position charts no longer look like they ate an extra helping of fried chicken early in a run. They now stay nice and skinny whether you have a 3-lap qualifying run or a 500-lap endurance race.
  • When embedding our live timing widget in a website, we fixed some browsers from displaying a duplicate scrollbar to clean up the look

That’s all for now! If you are a race organizer or promoter or timing and scoring person, you can download our Relay and start offering RaceHero to your racers free of charge.

Embed Live Timing & Results in your Website

Super excited to share some new features we’ve been working on! One of our goals is to push race data everywhere people want it. Race groups are becoming more web savvy and we know you want to direct racers, spectators, officials and sponsors to your website to build your brand and audience. That’s where our embedded website widgets come in!

Live Timing Widget

Organizers can copy and paste a short snippet into any web page to embed an automatically-updating live timing feed. If you’re not currently racing, we’ll show previous race results. Here’s an example from a sports car racing organization. They bundled our live timing widget with an announcer stream, play-by-play Twitter feed and Disqus forums to build a single experience for race weekends.

Screenshot of SCCA live timing using RaceHero website widget

Our widget is responsive and automatically adjusts to your web page height and width. It does not require Flash or plugins meaning it works on any device – smartphones, tablets and computers.

Current RaceHero users can grab the code here. New to RaceHero? Get started here.

Race Results Widget

Who loves coming home from a long weekend at the track only to have to update your website with all of your results? Didn’t you just print and publish them at the event? Why do you need to take an extra step?

We didn’t know either.

We created an obvious industry first – when you end a session in your timing and scoring software, RaceHero automatically publishes provisional race results within seconds to every device. And that now includes your website! As fast as results appear on your phone, they also appear on your website using our results embed.

Screenshot of RaceHero automatic results widget embedded in World Racing League website

Like all results, timing and scoring officials can mark results as official which instantly updates your website eliminating any Monday-morning duties for T&S or race directors while keeping anxious racers and spectators perfectly satisfied.

From trackside to racers and fans on the web – automatically and instantly!

Current RaceHero users can grab the code here. New clubs, tracks and sanctioning bodies can get started here.

If you’re a racer and would be interested in embedding a live timing widget whenever you’re racing into your website or Facebook fan page, let us know in the comments!

RaceHero Debuts Leader Light Demo at 25 Hours of Thunderhill

IMSA-style system built with off-the-shelf parts brings pro technology and excitement to amateur racing

#6 Stammer Inc / Bavarian Performance BMW M3 hopes to cross the finish line with their RaceHero leader light showing P1

San Rafael, CA: The National Auto Sport Association (NASA) 25 Hours of Thunderhill presented by Hawk Performance will be easier to follow this weekend with live timing app RaceHero and the introduction of a low-cost leader light system. Unlike proprietary, expensive systems that display a car’s running position using LED lights as seen in the TUDOR Sports Car Series and 24 Hours of Spa, the RaceHero light system is built with off-the-shelf parts and updates continuously around the 3-mile Northern California circuit using an inexpensive mobile phone connection.

The longest North American sports car race is also the darkest with more than 12 hours of nighttime driving. Participants and fans have a difficult time following the storylines and positions of the cars as they circulate in mixed-class racing for more than 600 laps. The RaceHero app keeps everyone – teams, officials and spectators – up to date by delivering real-time race data to smartphones, tablets and computers.

“The amateurs at Thunderhill battle just as fiercely as the pros at Daytona and we’ve designed RaceHero to capture and tell those stories with our advanced timing and scoring integration,” said founder Brian Ghidinelli. “With live timing, race results, entry lists and schedules in one mobile app, it’s the only thing you need during a race weekend to follow the action.”

The leader lights connect the racers in the app to the cars on track creating an exciting second screen experience for motorsport events. The system uses low-cost Arduino computers connected via Bluetooth to an in-car smartphone app that retrieves position data for each car from the RaceHero servers. The total system cost is $75 and was developed in the four weeks prior to the race as a technology showcase.

“I have so much love for professional racing and what their resources let them add to the experience,” said Ghidinelli, “but our leader light demo shows what is possible using smartphones and consumer-grade technology to make racing – at any level – more appealing to both the current and next generation of motorsport enthusiasts.”

The in-car smartphone app is not limited to displaying position on the LED board. It can also provide the racer with tactical and strategic data including lap times, gaps to racers ahead and behind, flag status and official race clock.

NASA co-founder Jerry Kunzman said, “The 25 Hours of Thunderhill has become a premier event attended by drivers and teams from as far away as New Zealand, Europe and Japan. The RaceHero app makes it fun to follow the action and the leader lights will add additional excitement to our TV coverage scheduled to air early 2015.”

The teams running the demonstration leader lights are:

  • ES – #6 Stammer Inc / Bavarian Performance BMW M3
  • E0 – #31 Hankook Tires / El Diablo Motorsports BMW M3
  • E0 – #82 BimmerWorld / Red Line Oil BMW 330i

The 25 Hours of Thunderhill begins Friday, December 5th at 4:45pm Pacific time with a one-hour combined practice/qualifying session. The 25-hour race begins Saturday, December 6th at 11:00am.

Entry lists, schedule, live timing and results will be available on RaceHero at http://racehero.io/orgs/nasa-norcal.

About RaceHero: RaceHero brings everything about race day to your pocket in a fun, social way. By looking beyond simple finishing position, RaceHero highlights big passes, personal bests and epic battles. Access entry lists, schedules, live timing and results from smartphones, tablets and laptops all driven automatically from the existing timing and scoring system. RaceHero is free to event organizers, promoters and racetracks and is available today at http://racehero.io.

Follow RaceHero at twitter.com/RaceHeroApp and facebook.com/RaceHeroApp

About NASA: The National Auto Sport Association (NASA) was formed in 1991 with the premise of delivering high-quality motorsports events to enthusiasts at major racing venues throughout the nation. NASA has created programs that allow owners of both racecars and high-performance street-driven vehicles to enjoy the full performance capabilities of their cars in a controlled professionally managed environment. NASA offers many different programs that will allow you to enjoy motorsports on a number of different levels, including our High Performance Driving Events (HPDE), Rally Sport, Time Trial, NASA-X and Competition Racing programs. For more information, log onto www.nasaproracing.com and connect with the community at Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Publish Race Results Before You Leave the Track

Has this happened to you or your timing team?

You finish another great weekend at the track as the Chief of Timing and Scoring. You load up your laptops, decoders and gear at 5pm and make the drive home safely.  You dump everything in the garage and go to bed exhausted but smiling. Monday is a blur of getting caught up and Tuesday is meetings all day long.  The “couple of minutes” you need to open up the timing laptop, generate the result PDFs and upload them to the website are scarce. Friends come over for dinner Wednesday and it’s Thursday night before you finally get a chance to unpack and publish the official race results.

The frustrating feel when No Race Results Found!

Unless you make your living in timing and scoring, you’ve got other obligations and interests Monday through Friday. Booting up the computer to spit out a bunch of PDFs and update a website is not high on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, let alone your To-Do list.  So let us cross it off for you… permanently.

Introducing the RaceHero Results Plugin for Websites

Our Results Plugin automatically updates race results on your website without any action on your part!  Provisional results are automatically posted as each session ends.  Official results can be uploaded anytime: as they are certified, at the end of each day or the end of the race meeting depending on your schedule and officiating.  Adding it to your website requires a one-time cut and paste of a few of lines of HTML.

As soon as results become final, one click replaces provisional results with official results including penalties, adjustments and comments made in the timing software.  For most race organizations, your official results will be on your website before you leave the track.

Image of race results on SCCA club racing website generated by RaceHero plugin Our Plugin is a win-win – it eliminates the tedious job of generating and uploading PDF results to your website while also getting results into the hands of your racers, officials and spectators as soon as the checkered flag is thrown.  By giving something fun and timely to your racers and fans, you will see more sharing on forums and social media which is free marketing for your race series.

How much happier will your racers be without having to wonder when the results will be posted?!?  How much happier will your T&S team be without having to come home from a long day at the race track to face more tedious computer work?  Those were rhetorical questions, we already know the answers. 🙂

Current RaceHero users, you can get the HTML snippet here. If you’re not using RaceHero yet, see what else you’re missing out on.

Live Timing Relay for MYLAPS Orbits Updated

At least here in the Northern hemisphere, it’s the thick of race season.  And race season is always a blur.  We’ve been at the track nearly every weekend running RaceHero in private and public tests across North America.  Our live timing and results app was run at the Toronto IndyCar weekend, SCCA June Sprints and Pirelli World Challenge in Sonoma plus dozens of club races and kart showdowns like NASA NorCal at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Championship Enduro Series at Blackhawk Farms plus a 4-Hour Enduro.

Screenshot of relay for Race Hero

Just like battle on track helps sharpen racecraft, live testing with flaky Internet connections, busy timing and scoring chiefs and racers with weak transponders have helped us improve our relay software. We’re excited to announce a significant upgrade and the immediate availability of version 2.13.1.  The latest update brings the following benefits:

  • Finds all MyLaps Orbits timing computers on the local network and presents a list with name and IP address for easy selection
  • Automatically reconnects to Orbits if the timing computer is restarted or the connection is lost
  • Newly redesigned “Live Event” screen helps you stream your event to the world in just two fast steps
  • Still runs 100% hands-free once connected: identifies runs as they start, the type (practice, qual or race) and automatically uploads provisional results when each run ends.
  • Added highly visible notifications if connections are lost plus system tray bubbles when the application is minimized
  • RaceHero asks for the venue you’re racing at so we can compare results from weekend to weekend.  We improved this selection and matching process.
  • Ran successful tests against latest MyLaps X2 Decoders and Orbits 5
  • Download size reduced 25% and packaged with a proper installer to create a desktop shortcut and Start Menu icon.

Screenshot of lap and position chart with pit stops from live timing for Race Hero

It’s the new late summer hotness! Download it now and start streaming your next race live to the pits and the world with RaceHero!

Download RaceHero Relay v2.13.1 for Timing & Scoring Operators

Racers, ask your race director or timing chief to download our relay so you can use RaceHero at your next race!

Public Sneak Peek

Burn the midnight oil.  Nose to the grindstone.  Shoulder to the wheel.  Pick your saying because we are squashing bug after bug as we move closer to our official release.

We’ve run dozens of live tests with friendly timing and scoring teams but this weekend marks the first time we’re both running RaceHero and telling racers about it.  There are two high-profile events this weekend where you can see race heroes in action:

SCCA Chicago's June Sprints logo

The June Sprints, “Not Just Another Race”, is running for the 59th consecutive time at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The legendary 4-mile circuit is hosting a SCCA Majors race where 300 top amateur racers will be competing for a piece of the SCCA Triple Crown. Competition starts with testing on Thursday and practice, qualifying and races on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Logo for VARAC Canadian Historic Gran Prix sanctioned by CASC

The Canadian Historic Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (formerly Mosport) will be hosting 220 vintage racers from Thursday to Sunday.  Featuring an enduro and a special Can-Am Showdown, anyone with memories of a famous car from their past will probably see something that makes them think about the good ol’ days.

Point your phone, tablet or laptop to http://RaceHero.io and you’ll find these events complete with entry lists, schedules, live timing and race results as soon as timing begins.

While you’re here, drop in your email address and we’ll notify you first when we start taking signups for Racer accounts where all of your results will be collected for you automatically!

Real-time Electronic Official Results

Picture of a race car crossing the finish lineOne feature that sets RaceHero apart from the alternatives is our ability to capture and post official race results.  Typically electronic results are marked as unofficial because the timing and scoring staff have not certified them as complete and accurate.

During a race, the RaceHero Relay is no different: we grab and display what the T&S computers see for live timing and provisional results.  Those rankings are subject to change due to many issues such as a missed transponder, a trip through the pits without a separate pit lane loop or post-race penalties and adjustments.

As soon as the checkered flag is thrown and the last racer crosses the finish line, the timing and scoring team begins a detailed process of making adjustments and verifying accuracy.  As quickly as possible, they publish provisional results.  For most sanctioning bodies, there is some fixed period of time for competitors to file protests or for post-race technical inspections where scrutineers may check the legality of parts, weigh competitors or perform other checks.  Once the racers clear tech and the stewards settle any protests or penalties, results become official.

It is at this moment that RaceHero becomes a true race hero.  When the T&S team clicks “print” for official results, they also click “publish” in the RaceHero relay to post the official results online, complete with flags, announcements and scorekeeper certification.  It is a, pardon the pun, carbon copy of the printed version except it is immediately available online for everyone to see and we can notify in real-time any interested party that the race results are final.  No more wandering the paddock.

Photo of fast motorcycle speeding byWe’ve been hacking through a huge number of event files provided to us by friends from sports car racing and karting organizations.  Today we reached a new parsing record: eight years of events for a karting club comprising 70 race weekends and 3,034 timed sessions in two seconds!  Now that’s fast.

If you’re interested in distributing official race results on RaceHero to all of your attendees with a single click, subscribe to our launch mailing list or drop us a line.

Photo credits: Flickr, hugojcardoso

Highlighting Race Heroes at Canadian Motorsport Expo

Race Hero booth at Canadian Motorsports Expo in TorontoWe’ve just returned from the wintry, snowy, cold Canadian Motorsport Expo where we showed off the latest development version of RaceHero ahead of our official March launch.

Using data recorded from actual races, we created a looping demo to demonstrate live timing features like up to date position, best time and lap as well as a complete lap time and position history for each racer.  Results for runs along with entry lists and event schedules are all driven directly from the timing and scoring software, in this case MyLaps Orbits 4, however our service can work with any T&S software that exposes a suitable data stream.

Our goal is to capture the story of race heroes.  Whether that is the battle for the lead or a scrap for 15th, we are highlighting the best racing of the event in a way that is personal and contextual.  But if you don’t know any of the people involved in the race, it can be hard to get excited about a new personal best or track record.  Besides, who doesn’t love cheering and jeering for the Pros?  So for our launch we’re pulling in data from a well-known series to showcase the analytics and stories with names and teams that are familiar to everyone.  Keep an eye out for some tweet-worthy stats and screens!

Startup Notes

For startup enthusiasts, we learned a “how to work the crowd” lesson from PRI where we had remote-controlled trucks with MyLaps decoder boxes and transponders running live around a miniature course.  It was a lot of fun but the size of the booth restricted the number of simultaneous participants. In a two-truck race, there can really only be one race hero and that’s not much fun!  This time we used an Apple TV with Airplay mirroring to let anyone play with the iPad and see the results on the big screen TV.  When explaining how we identify and display race heroes to groups, it was far more effective to use the TV where everyone could easily see what we were talking about.  For one-on-one conversations the iPad was perfect.  Plus, anyone could pull out a phone and connect to our wifi spot to check it out on their own.  As a bonus, this took half the number of people as it did to keep a bunch of racers and their R/C trucks on course and in control!  Thanks go to Developer Dan for packaging it in time for the crowds.