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CART Data Acquisition Systems
There's a new kid on the block


 by Mark Cipolloni
April 17, 2001

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Champ car racing today is more competitive than it has ever been.  One reason is that rules stability has enabled manufacturers to all reach a relative equal level of performance.  However, buying the equipment that can get the job done is one thing, but how you set that equipment up come race day will ultimately determine just how competitive your team will be.  In this article we examine the importance of Data Acquisition systems

Whereas in years gone by the drivers seat of the pants input is what helped determine a cars setup, to optimize a cars setup today, engineers rely heavily on sophisticated data acquisition systems to tell them what a car is actually doing out on the track.  Not surprisingly, on some occasions the drivers tells you one thing, but the data tells an entirely different story.  Some people wonder why it's so hard to pass in Champ Car racing.  One big reason is almost all the teams are now able to hit upon a chassis setup that optimizes their car for a given track.  Gone are the days of really slow backmarkers out on the race track, barely able to get out of their own way.  Data Acquisition systems are truly an Engineer's right-hand man.

A Data Acquisition System is an invaluable tool to help a team's engineering staff perform many tasks, including:

  • Monitor and improve engine performance 

  • Evaluate driving style to lower lap times 

  • Analyze the vehicle's aerodynamic & mechanical characteristics 

  • Identify the exact track position to correct specific for handling problems 

  • Provide the driver with constant updates and early warning of potential problems 

  • Radio data back to the pit crew to monitor all the critical systems 

Long after the fans leave the race track, engineers and drivers will analyze the days data to try to understand what their car is doing out on the race track and make it better for the next day.  It also helps one driver on a team understand where they may be gaining or losing time vs. their teammate.  Perhaps it's a different line, or different gearing, etc.  

Up until this year PI Research has had a virtual monopoly on Data acquisitions for CART Champ Cars.  However, there's a new kid on the block, Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI).  EFI has entered the Champ Car arena working with Fernandez Racing. Although EFI started out in Engine Control systems, they have added Data Acquisition Systems to their repertoire.  Being strictly USA based they believe they can provide a superior level of service to the Champ car teams and they .

EFI Technology, Inc. was founded in 1988 by Graham Western and has grown rapidly to become a world leader in the development, manufacture and production of advanced electronic engine management and monitoring systems.

The company has become well recognized for innovative ideas and products in advanced digital electronics for racing applications.

EFI Technology produces products for all forms of racing including Indy cars, sportscars, GT, dragsters, motorcycles, offshore powerboats, desert trucks, rally and touring cars. It's impressive customer list keeps growing.

At Long Beach we had the chance to sit down with Rick Wilkinson, Vice President of EFI (Pictured right), to learn more about EFI, what they bring to the CART and, more importantly, what these Data Acquisition systems do for a team running a high performance thoroughbred Champ Car. We think you will enjoy what he has to say. Listen to interview (12:42 min.) Real Player format.

Dash Displays
This dash mounts directly on the steering wheel for improved visibility and displays critical engine data and lap times to the driver. He can select up to 3 pages of different information and receives alarms of any parameter out of range. The driver also receives split times as he goes round the track to provide him with instant feedback on his driving technique. 
  • 5 user-defined fields 
  • 3 driver-selectable pages 
  • Sequential shift lights 
  • (2) User-defined bargraphs 
  • Programmable pop-up alarms 
  • 4 System Warning Lights 
  • 2 Yellow Flag Warning Lights 
  • 2 Spare Warning Lights 
  • 6 user-defined fields 
  • 3 driver-selectable pages 
  • Programmable shift point 
  • User-defined RPM scale 
  • Fuel remaining bargraph 
  • Programmable pop-up alarms 
  • Backlighting (optional) 
  • External warning lights (optional)
Optimizes gear shift timing with:
  • Gear position indicator
  • 4 sequential shift lights
  • Warning Light 
Displays critical data with:
  • User-defined channels
  • 3 driver-selectable pages 
  • Up to 4 Numeric Module 
Data Analysis and Telemetry
The main Data Logging Control Unit records up to 16MB of data from over 100 sensors up to 1000 times per second. This data is downloaded to a computer in pit lane via USB link for the engineers to analyze the car performance. The main control unit also controls the dash display and real time telemetry system that provides the crew with critical engine and chassis data. The telemetry also sends fuel consumption information to enable the race engineer to decide the best time to make a pit stop.
Real-Time Telemetry Systems
Provides team engineers with one-way real-time data:
  • Fuel consumption
  • Temperature
  • Pressure
  • Linear displacement
  • Rotary displacement
  • Wheelspeed & RPM
  • Tire Temperature
  • Exhaust Gas Temperature
  • Strain gauge
  • Lambda
  • Aerodynamic pressures
  • Yaw rate gyros
  • Accelerometers
  • Ride Height
  • Tire Pressure
The Data Analysis program is a very powerful and versatile tool for the race engineer to review the data from every lap during the practice sessions. The data can be presented in many different modes and complex math operations can be performed to deduce the cars dynamic characteristics. Comparisons can be made from one driver to another or from one setup to another to assess where and how gains in performance can be achieved  The Analysis Module allows a rapid assessment of driver inputs and engine behavior in order to optimize the vehicle's performance. Any changes made to the engine, suspension or aerodynamic settings can be quickly quantified and fine-tuned. When used with one of EFI's data logging systems, data from over 100 sensors can be displayed in a number of formats to help visualize and analyze the vehicle's performance precisely
Track Mapping

Track mapping for both cars and motorcycles allows you to determine exactly where certain events occur. Data from different laps can be overlaid to highlight exactly where on the track improvements were gained. Data can be overlaid on an outline of the track to graphically show driver inputs or vehicle behavior around each lap. 
Graphical Reports

Graphical reports are particularly useful for debriefing drivers and other team members who can more easily identify data when it is presented relative to the track layout. Graphical Reports are user-definable to display the maximums or minimums of any channel in each section of the track.
Split Time Reports

The track can also be split into sections to monitor performance gains. The Split Time Report highlights the fastest section during an outing.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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