CHAMPCAR/CART: Miami: This week in Ford Racing

This Week in Ford Racing September 23, 2003 CART Champ Car World Series With Ford's sponsorship of the Champ Car World Series the engine manufacturer has taken on more than just the development of the new XFE engine package that every Champ...

This Week in Ford Racing
September 23, 2003

CART Champ Car World Series

With Ford's sponsorship of the Champ Car World Series the engine manufacturer has taken on more than just the development of the new XFE engine package that every Champ Car team is running. Ford has also been instrumental in developing a telemetry system that will enhance the television broadcast for the viewers. This new telemetry system differentiates itself from others currently being used in other racing series by using actual data from the teams pit box for broadcast use. John Probst, Ford Racing Technology, Kevin Vander Laan, CART Champ Car Sr. Manager of Electronics and Terry Lingner, President of the Lingner Group, explained how this new technology separates itself from others and how the viewers experience will be enhanced by this new data.

John Probst - Ford Racing Program Manager

HOW DID THIS PROGRAM GET STARTED?

"It started down at spring training this year when we met with Terry Lingner and his crew. CART was looking for ways to improve their race broadcasts this year and they came to us basically looking for suggestions. We knew what kind of benefit we wanted out of this so we came up with a few different ways to do it, including some of the ways that are employed in other series. For one reason or another we excluded them based on cost or just pure logistics of just getting things done and ended up with the solution that we have as sort of a group effort. It would be hard to say that this was any one person's idea. That's another part of the project that makes this so unique, is that we don't have one group that's doing the whole thing, we're all working together. We have CART doing their stuff and Ford doing our stuff and we've had to hire a software company to write the software and we've hired other computer consultants that are helping us set up the different networks to help us insure the security of the program. We've got the TV guys involved with the graphics and all the teams who are running this voluntarily and that just shows a new cooperation in CART. Everybody recognizes. that we need to do something to improve the show, and this is a step in the right direction. We haven't had to say you have to run this or else, and we haven't had anyone refuse, so I think it speaks very highly of the series as a whole."

WHAT MADE IT POSSIBLE TO GET THIS PROGRAM GOING THIS YEAR

"We thought that media telemetry would be a cool thing and the one thing that kept this from happening in the past was that different engine manufactures were involved. Whenever you have an engine battle going on no one is going to want to give you the cool stuff, so no one is going to give you RPM's or if you do get the data it's not going to be real. That's one of the things that sets this apart from some of the other systems is that some of the other systems let you believe that you're seeing more than you actually are. The other systems make inferences about throttle positions and break on and off not based on any sensor. So the driver might not actually be hitting the brake at that point, they'll just look at the rate of speed and say, 'Oh that's changing so fast he must be hitting the brake so lets put the brake light on.' Where we're actually looking at the brake pressure and saying, 'Is the brake pressure over a certain percentage, if it is then that's one little bar that lights up. If it's over the next percentage, then let's light up the next bar until we get full pressure.' So that's one thing that sets this off, is that we are looking at the real thing."

EXPLAIN HOW THE TELEMETRY THAT YOU'RE USING IN CART WORKS?

"I think that at the highest level you can simplify it. We have basically written a piece of software and set up the computer network needed to "peek" into the telemetry streams that the teams are getting as the normal course of business. That's what makes this different from how other venues have implemented telemetry in several areas. One is that if you take the NASCAR type solution, they actually have to put electronics into the cars and set up their own receiving mechanisms around the track to get the telemetry data into their system. This method is very expensive and it requires a lot of people to go to the track and install this thing on every car. The IRL uses a similar set up to us but they use their own receiving stations, and that requires a lot of hardware and someone to run up and down the pit lane to get a bunch of information from the teams so they can actually receive the data. That's where the whole novelty of this concept comes in. All we do is run a piece of software on the team's computer that just grabs the information that we want to show on TV and spits it down a pipe that ends up showing up at the TV guys. Then they put it in a format that they want to show it in, and that's the graphic that you see."

IS THIS JUST SCRATCHING THE SURFACE OF WHAT YOU CAN DO WITH THIS TYPE OF PROGRAM?

"This is the very tip of the iceberg. What we show now are the things that are fairly harmless pieces of data to show in areas where the teams have shown no concern. We have had concerns with brake pressure. The limiting factor to how far we can push this is the access that the teams will give us to their information. Because of the way we've done it we have access to anything that the team has access to. There are things like wheel travel, for all four corners. We could actually show the brake pressure and accelerations in three dimensions. There's also tire pressures which would be pretty interesting, however, right now we still have to get over the hurdle of the teams wanting to give that information up, which will be the big hurdle to overcome. We could look at things like boost pressure, wheel speeds from the front to the rear to see if there's any kind of slip going on. We could see how much a particular driver slips coming out of a corner and you could then get a measure to how good different drivers are at modulating the throttle to minimize the slip. You can dream up anything and if you can put a sensor on it in a car you can measure it. We've thought of doing driver heart rate. We are actually in the process to get a sensor developed that would actually do this for us in the manner that we would like. There are a lot of heart rate monitors out there but getting the actual signal coming from the heart rate monitor into a form that we could fit into the teams data logger is the challenge, but I think we will have that next year.

WHAT IS THE BENEFIT TO SHOWING THE DATA IN THIS MANNER?

"I wouldn't say that this way is better, I would just say that it's different. Certainly the value in terms of cost benefit we've got the maximum you can get in that we've spent relatively little money to get the majority of the benefit. Because of the method that we chose we are subject to certain issues that come up. A thing like coverage is a big problem. Because we don't have our own radios and we don't control where we put them to maximize the coverage the teams are limited to put their receivers in the pit lane with them so we are limited to the coverage that we get. It's kind of a hard analogy to draw since the other series run on ovals, their coverage can easily be a hundred percent. Where we run on streets there can be things like aquariums and casinos and bridges and buildings and you lose all kinds of coverage that way. The other thing that we are battling is the delay on TV. That's completely a function of the way the radios work and the way the onboard data systems operate. The teams all run the same electronics, there are some variations in the radios, but for the most part they all run the same electronics and we're doing everything we can to minimize the delay. I do think that's also some of the novelty in what we're doing, because you're actually looking at what the teams are looking at and you're seeing when they are seeing. It's not necessarily a super polished system but from a cost benefit I think it's superior. To do the NASCAR version it would be ten times more expensive."

Kevin Vander Laan - CART Champ Car Sr. Manager of Electronics

HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT THAN WHAT OTHER SERIES ARE USING?

"There are two big benefits to what we can do with this system. We are able to have all 19 cars using this set-up. With NASCAR and the GPS Sportvision System that they use, it's a very expensive box that gets installed in all the cars at about $50,000 or $60,000 per car. If you compare this to what the IRL is using, that's just a set-up that they're only able to do on four or five cars because they actually duplicate the teams telemetry receiver hardware which is a cumbersome and expensive solution. What we've created is a solution that's applicable to all cars instead of buying per car hardware. The other part that's different will be the fact that we are able to take all of this data from all these different cars and build displays that we haven't been able to do before. This will allow us to do all kinds of behind the scenes things. There is the very visible element of the TV graphic but there's also gonna be a lot more behind the scenes type things where this data can help us. This can be used by the guys in the TV booth, not for display, but to let them know that, this car is catching this car because now we have lap distances coming from all the cars and pit stop timers so there's a data piece to this as well. That capability is unique to this application. It's just more behind the scenes helping the TV guys out."

HAS IT BEEN DIFFICULT GETTING ALL OF THE TEAMS TO GIVE YOU ACCESS TO THIS DATA?

"Overall every team has been willing to work with us and in general every team has been more than happy to support us on this project. Its been a two way street as well. What we have designed is a system that doesn't have much of an impact on the team because it's not difficult for them to install. There are no pieces that go on the car and that's the beauty of this system, that there is no on car hardware that's necessary. All we did was look at the data sitting there in pit lane make it useful to a lot of people, including TV. All we need to do is install some hardware and some software on pit lane, with the teams cooperation, and its all really for free without too much impact on the teams, just a little hardware on the pit stands. The teams have been really good, but in the world of computers sometimes people are paranoid about doing stuff like this so once they understood that all of the data that we are taking isn't sensitive or secret then there really has been no issue."

WHY IS THIS TECHNOLOGY IMPORTANT TO CART AS THE SANCTIONING BODY?

"There are a number of reasons. This series is about the technology of the cars and what it takes to drive these cars and that is not always conveyed through a TV image. If you really want to know that a certain car is going quite fast in one corner or if that car is breaking quite hard going into a turn, you need some numbers to really tell you what is going on. That needs to be a part of our broadcast, that data needs to be out there and part of every broadcast so it's always driven home just what these cars are doing on the track. More from the series and sanctioning body side is that any data that we can get off of these cars and get onto TV or even just get to race control is good. Just to have data that we can use to manage the event, the more we know about the cars the more we know about what is going on on the track will help us. We know what we can see with our eyes and with video so the data is a good third point of reference for us."

Terry Lingner - President Lingner Group

HOW WILL THE NEW TELEMETRY PACKAGE ENHANCE THE BROADCAST FOR THE VIEWERS?

"I think that any information flow that we can provide to viewers will help the broadcast. This kind of thing helps a knowledgeable viewer bring somebody into hopefully being a new fan. In other words, to race fans or to people that understand racing it's always so much more fun when your with your child or another casual friend that says these guys just aren't athletes, it just really helps the ardent fan bring a casual fan along. I'm not sure it helps the fan that we already have, but I certainly think it helps bring some others along and help them talk about the sport more. So from that standpoint I think it's invaluable. You can't start advancing technology if you don't play in it and that might be the most important thing. I certainly understand that what we are doing right now is not earth shattering, but your also not going to cure cancer if you don't start trying to figure some of the cause."

HOW IS THIS TELELMETRY PACKAGE DIFFERENT THAN OTHERS?

"Our numbers are true, it's not a secondary box and it's not any type of additional sensors, it's the exact information from the cars, which in a sense might make it more tricky as we go ahead. With all of the hard work that Ford and CART have put forth to get us the Pi-Research telemetry and that relationship with Ford owning Pi-Research is what really makes it unique. Ultimately there could be 50 more things that we pull off of the system, so it just gives us a boundless opportunity in the future."

WHAT HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE BEEN THIS YEAR IN TRYING TO GET THIS PROGRAM UP AND RUNNING?

"This is more of stepping stone for us to open more doors in the future. To have the teams trust us and actually ask for their help, that's been the one thing that I've really enjoyed about CART. It reminds me of my early days with NASCAR just how much free access I've had to deal with teams and deal with the drives and deal with the sanctioning body. I'm seeing the same things with these teams now, people are coming up to us saying have you thought about this, have you thought about this, and we'll help you do that, which is just so unlike any other professional sports that I'm around. It has been great and it is really a common agenda that everyone has to make this thing work. It's just been a complete pleasure."

-ford racing-

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