‘ECG’ on DTM car: Dream job – systems engineer

Tobias Pfeiffer
Tobias Pfeiffer

Tobias Pfeiffer knows the streets in and around Affalterbach like the back of his hand. It’s where he grew up and got the motor racing bug. He has many roles to fulfil within the team. As a systems engineer, Tobias works closely with the race engineer and the data engineer of each vehicle. He is responsible for the engine mapping and gearbox control systems on all six cars, while it’s more the job of two of his colleagues to attend to the sensors and display and sort out the hardware, the wiring loom and connectors.

Tobias, you are the one, to whom the data streams from the cars are sent. You’ve got your hand on the car’s ECG, its pulse, so to speak…

Tobias Pfeiffer: Yes, that’s right. I work closely with the data engineer to ensure that we use the data from all of the vehicle’s sensors to produce the best result. I give all the engineers the basis, on which to make their subsequent calculations, for example. The driver or the data engineer might come to me and say “This sensor is no longer working" or “I would like this optimized at this particular point." I then hook up my laptop to his car and alter the settings straightaway. I’m the only one who has direct electrical access to the car and can therefore change and optimize specific things to do with the driver, the weather or the track.

What exactly can you change?

Tobias Pfeiffer: As a DTM systems engineer, I’m also responsible for all engine mapping and gearbox control systems. It’s our job to adjust the engine to run at its best with regard to various external influences such as the weather, the driver’s requirements or the particular race track in question. A driver might say, for example, that he would like to modify the engine’s state of tune in order to improve the car’s drivability across the board. I then look at the specific point on the track and use the data I’ve acquired to optimize the relevant engine characteristics according to what the various sensors and the driver tell me. We also have to ensure that gear changes are smooth, fast and safe, so that the car is always travelling at optimum speed during each session.

The window you have to work on the cars must be quite restricted, I would think?

Tobias Pfeiffer: After qualifying, we have only a brief period when parc fermé conditions are lifted, just a 50-minute slot, to work on the cars. However, before each session, we can change or modify things to suit that particular session. We must also do that if, for example, the weather changes, or in between qualifying and a race, as we run different engine mapping programmes. We need access to the car in any case in order to make such setup changes.

Did you always want to work in motor racing?

Tobias Pfeiffer: Yes, I did. I grew up here in the village, and I think I’m the only one from Affalterbach, who still works here. Even as a child, I had Mercedes DTM posters hanging on the wall. It was always my dream to become a DTM engineer. This was my first job after studying automotive engineering in Esslingen. A series of coincidences led me straight to a job that suited me perfectly, testing engines on the test bench. It was brilliant for me to cut my teeth on various race-prepared engines, doing test bench and engine work. That was in 2011, five-and-a-half years ago. I joined the DTM two-and-a-half years ago. For me, it’s never been in any doubt, this is definitely my dream job.

Right! The DTM is your dream job, but do you have any hobbies?

Tobias Pfeiffer: I also really like to tinker with engines when I’ve got some free time, and have a 25-year-old Mercedes W124 to cruise around in on Sundays. Apart from that, I often go out on my motorbike. I’m also a big rock’n’roll fan and go with friends to rockabilly events and other rock concerts, which all makes for a nice work-life balance.

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