CHAMPCAR/CART: High-tech communications aids Mercedes-Benz drivers

MONTVALE, N.J. (July 20, 2000) -- The abilities of the driver will always be key to winning races, but in the high-tech environment of the CART FedEx Championship Series, the role of voice and data communication has become increasingly important...

MONTVALE, N.J. (July 20, 2000) -- The abilities of the driver will always be key to winning races, but in the high-tech environment of the CART FedEx Championship Series, the role of voice and data communication has become increasingly important to maximize the performance and safety of racing a Champ Car at speeds approaching 240 mph.

Mercedes-Benz and Motorola are two companies that can trace their respective origins to historic firsts, and today are partners in racing and street-car technology. Daimler (now DaimlerChrysler and Mercedes-Benz) captured the victory in the world's first auto race in 1894, while Motorola enabled the world to hear the famous communication from astronaut Neil Armstrong, "The Eagle has landed," during the 1969 lunar mission. The partnership of these two technology pioneers has brought new levels of innovation and performance to voice and data communications in both racing and street cars.

Voice Communication

In a race car, the radio is the primary link between the driver and his crew.

"We make a lot of decisions on the radio, but most importantly, we discuss strategy regarding fuel consumption," said Mark Blundell, whose Mercedes-Benz powered Champ Car is also sponsored by Motorola. "My crew can tell me how much fuel we're using. That's critical, because we can adjust our fuel mixture from the cockpit of the race car. If we know we need to conserve fuel, we can lean the mixture and run a conservative pace. But if we are getting good fuel mileage we can richen the fuel mixture, which turns up the horsepower. Either strategy can mean the difference between winning and losing."

Blundell's Champ Car has as many as eight Motorola radios in operation at any one time, sending performance and safety information. This includes the single-channel, two-way radio that Blundell uses to talk with his crew in the pit lane, just as similar equipment allows NFL quarterbacks to talk over plays with coaches. In the Mercedes-powered Champ Car, a push-to-talk control button is integrated into the Mercedes-Benz steering wheel and the headset is integrated into Blundell's helmet.

Team spotters placed around the racing circuit use the radio to alert Blundell about on-track incidents and how to avoid them. "The radio enhances my safety, the safety of the driver in a disabled race car and the emergency crews who might be assisting him," says Blundell. Other radios located on the car's chassis transmit data about tires and vital engine performance, allowing Blundell's engineers to make race-strategy decisions on the fly.

Like a race car pilot, drivers of Mercedes' production automobiles also have access to a "pit crew" through the Tele Aid system, in addition to Motorola's optional integrated cellular phone. Tele Aid is a unique communications system that uses global positioning and can * at the push of a button * immediately summon a Tele Aid specialist on its own dedicated cell line. That specialist can then summon emergency personnel to the car's location using GPS tracking to transmit the vehicle's exact location. As a significant safety benefit, the deployment of any airbag in the vehicle automatically contacts a Tele Aid specialist. Motorola's Telematics Communication Unit (TCUTM) which incorporates Motorola's GPS receiver and voice and data wireless communication provides the foundation for the Tele Aid system. Drivers can also access Mercedes-Benz USA's Client Assistance Center for vehicle operation information or for roadside assistance via Tele Aid.

For the 2001 model year, Mercedes-Benz automobiles, such as the E55 AMG high-performance sedan that serves as CART's official Safety Car, include the new Motorola TimeportTM digital telephone. This fully integrated phone contains unique features such as phonebook memory and optional voice recognition software. Steering wheel controls and the integrated microphone allow hands-free calling * similar to Blundell's racing-car radio * ensuring that the driver is not distracted from the road ahead.

Data Communication

The Mercedes/Motorola partnership involves more than just audio communications. Motorola's "DigitalDNATM" technology is part of the system that drives the electronic communication inside the engine control unit (ECU). The ECU is truly the "brains" of the engine, combining input from the driver - such as engine speed, gear selected and throttle position - with feedback from the car's sensors to communicate with different vehicle systems. This regulation function is similar whether the vehicle is a Mercedes-Benz-powered Champ Car on the race track or an S-Class sedan on the freeway, and the result for both is improved power and performance.

In a Champ Car, the goal is to maximize engine performance by improving throttle response, ignition timing and fuel delivery. In a production automobile, performance and fuel economy are primary concerns. For example, in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, a Motorola chip in the car's ECU helps process thousands of signals gleaned from sensors located throughout the vehicle. The smart technology then directs specific responses from a network of linked controllers, from activating the traction control system to increasing the volume of the radio as the vehicle accelerates. The ECU also monitors the driver's style and adjusts the engine and transmission software programs over time to mesh with the driver's habits.

"If the driver has a light foot, the ECU will signal the transmission to upshift early to keep the RPMs low," said Peter Patrone, department manager, advanced product planning for Mercedes-Benz USA. "If the driver has a lead foot, the transmission adjusts to a sportier program, and lets the engine reach a higher RPM before it shifts. The systems adapt, so they do more for you."

In addition to competing in CART, Mercedes-Benz supplies high-performance racing engines to two-time defending Formula One driving champion Mika Hakkinen and his West McLaren Mercedes teammate, David Coulthard. Formula One returns to America for the first time in nine years when the green flag waves at the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on September 24.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers David Coulthard , Mark Blundell