Data acquisition helps push GM racing teams to winner's circle. INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 10, 2002 - Step into any GM Racing Pro Stock team transporter the next time you're at an NHRA national event and chances are you'll see an array of high-tech ...
Data acquisition helps push GM racing teams to winner's circle.
INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 10, 2002 - Step into any GM Racing Pro Stock team transporter the next time you're at an NHRA national event and chances are you'll see an array of high-tech appliances and gadgets being utilized with one goal in mind - to beat the opponent to the finish line. From the latest in computer software, to state-of-the-art weather stations, to old-fashioned, hand-written log books, data acquisition, interpretation, and maintenance of the subsequent data base are essential elements in developing a championship NHRA Pro Stock racing program.
"There are certain primary factors we like to look at when we set up the race car," said Rob Downing, crew chief on the Summit Racing Pontiac SC/T Grand Am. "But having a good data base is the key to being competitive. We always have things that we use in the data base that helps us out down the road, and as close as this category is, you can never have too much information."
The widespread use of computers and data sensors in the Pro Stock category is one of the fundamental ways in which race teams gather information about their car's performance. On Jim Yates' Splitfire/Peak Pontiac SC/T Grand Am, four different computers are used to record data. During a run, a computer on the race car records shock-sensor data, fuel pressure, engine rpm, drive-shaft rpm and clutch rpm, and then that information is downloaded onto another system inside the team transporter where it can be viewed and evaluated.
Another computer in the Yates' pits is hooked up to a weather station that monitors changing atmospheric conditions, but the computer is also used on the Splitfire Grand Am to compare incremental runs of each qualifying session taking into account gear ratios, tire sizes, and other factors. A fourth computer is used to set up a digital ignition system where the timing can be changed on any cylinder at any rpm.
On Mark Pawuk's Summit Racing Pontiac, crew chief Rob Downing has 32 sensors at his disposal strategically placed on and around the race car that monitors all of the vital engine functions including temperature, oil pressure, carburetors and vacuum. If an engine is losing ring seal or is starting to go away, the vacuum indicator will plummet. Air fuel sensors also allow the Summit Racing team to determine what sort of carburetor tune up they will use.
"Mark might feel a miss in second gear," explained Downing. "The computer data points us in the right direction. For example, we can look at the exhaust temperatures and sure enough, the No. 7 cylinder may have missed two-tenths of a second after he shifted into second gear. We'll look, and hopefully find a bad spark plug wire, or a bad spark plug, or something that might have been wrong with the carburetor. Our computers are tools that help us stay competitive."
There are four sensors placed on all four corners of the Summit Racing Pontiac that measure shock travel. On bumpy racetracks, this allows the team to change their gearing allowing the car to hit the bump in the middle instead of at the top of the gear. Or the shock can be changed to allow the car to better handle the bump.
"A lot of times we'll come back to the shop on Monday or Tuesday after a race," explained Downing. "We'll look at the runs, and it's always hindsight, but you see things that you should've done or could've done. If nothing else, we're better prepared the next time we encounter similar situations."
In Pro Stock racing, the ability to make horsepower in naturally-aspirated engines is held hostage by the ambient atmospheric conditions such as air temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. That is why teams serious about battling for a POWERade championship are outfitted with the latest meteorological reporting technology.
The Splitfire Pontiac team has a system that continuously queries the weather station on the roof of its transporter. Information is constantly downloaded so that the team has the most up-to-date information available in order to make adjustments on the race car.
"The weather station keeps a running tab so we know exactly what the conditions are and how much horsepower we're going to see when we get the starting line," said Yates.
Pawuk's Summit Racing Pontiac team also utilizes a weather station that is mounted to the roof of the transporter. It monitors everything from barometric pressure, humidity, temperature, dew point, vapor pressure and other atmospheric factors. The weather station updates every 10 minutes and can page Downing in the staging lanes with any changes in conditions. Downing also utilizes much simpler devices including a wet and dry bulb temperature indicator, an altimeter and some old-fashioned number crunching to measure weather conditions.
"Our weather station is crucial," said Downing. "The biggest thing we use it for is tuning both the clutch and the engine. As the air changes, the clutch and engine requirements change. I mostly use the density of the air to tune the clutch. As the adjusted altitude changes, and the humidity and barometric pressure change, we use that information along with vapor pressure to tune the engine.
"The pager becomes crucial when we've been in the staging lanes a long time. If we're in the staging lanes 30 minutes or more before a night qualifying session, the air may be 100 feet better than it was when we left the trailer. Or if a storm front comes through and the temperature drops 15 degrees, if we have to, we can make adjustments to the race car right up to the last minute."
Track temperature is also recorded before every run because the amount of rubber on the track is affected by an increase or decrease in heat. If the track is cold, more clutch is added to raise the rpm and make the car more aggressive on the starting line. As the track gets hotter, clutch is taken away because the tires will slip more on the starting line.
"We use a temperature gun that tells us how hot the track is," said Yates. "We also like to walk the track to see how thick the rubber is and to check for bald spots where the rubber has completely come off the track. We use all of this information to determine how much clutch we'll use in the car."
On Yates' Pontiac, computer, weather and other pertinent information for each run is recorded in log books, best described by Yates as the team's history. Yates utilizes a run sheet that records every bit of information each time the car makes a lap down the race track. This enables the crew to pull up data from races with similar conditions to help make an accurate set up on the car whether it's the same track or a different facility.
"The run sheet has several things on it," explained Yates, "including performance levels, mile-per-hour, dimensions of the kind of jets we've got in the engine, what kind of timing we're running in the motor, what tires we've got on and how big they are, what gear ratios we have in the transmission, where the wheelie bars are set, where we've got the weight in the car, carburetors - it's kind of like our set up sheet for our car.
"Other things we write down are the atmospheric pressure, temperature, what lane we were in, what time of day it was and if it was overcast or sunny. Every time the car goes down the racetrack whether at a race or testing, we're recording data."
The 16-car fields in Pro Stock are now separated by mere thousandths of a second and GM Racing teams must be incessant in their search for performance advantages that will keep them ahead of the competition. Data acquisition and interpretation are indispensable in giving them that extra push to the winner's circle.