Auto racing, and all broadcast spectator sports for that matter, has changed dramatically in the last decade. Thanks to telemetry, which is a fancy word for remote monitoring, race fans can monitor the individual performance of each racing team and listen in-car chatter with radio scanners or via official subscriptions to wireless data and streaming video feeds. Racing fans can switch between drivers’ in-car cameras, viewing from their mobile phones in the stands.
Telemetry for 80 or more sensors on one car is not uncommon in racing. Data from each sensor can be fed live from the car to the pit crew and driver at between 10 – 20 samples per second, or in more copious amounts to an on-board data logger at up to 100 samples per second; and this is in monitoring a single piece of data. Information is displayed to the driver, the pit crew, the fans, and recorded in a data logger and in a car “black box.” Multiply that by 80 or more sensors, and there’s a large amount of data to analyze, mainly for performance improvement.
Mouser Engineers met with Josh Fults and Matt Cummings, Data Acquisition Engineers from KV Racing, to talk shop about working with electronics in a racing environment. Hands-down, they said one of the biggest challenges is vibration. Vibration behaves differently at each new track. The team races more than half of the year at many different venues. When the car is going 200MPH, minor issues with each new track become like pot holes with respect to vibration, except they happen repetitively. The sensors have got to be tough.
What does an Indy series race team monitor? Information that is either displayed real time or recorded for post-race analysis is engine load or manifold absolute pressure (aka “boost”), RPMs, throttle position, air and water temperatures, fuel level, tire pressure, the percentage of oxygen in the exhaust (a measure of fuel/air mixture), roll bar position, and detailed information such as 3-axis acceleration, mechanical displacement, and rotational speed.
Cars race at 200MPH while maintaining a position within inches of each other, and race officials are tracking car positions to an accuracy of a couple of centimeters. Broadcasters flip a switch and an overlay of 6 or 7 stats on a driver pops up and fans can see pertinent telemetry data like MPH, RPM, the exact rotation of the steering wheel, and how much throttle, braking, and g-force is being applied at that moment. Reality has become virtual: the driver is experiencing the very real effects of that data right now. The virtual has become reality: it is easy to become a virtual back-seat driver, second-guessing the driver’ overtake strategies and feeling the limitations of the car right along with them.