Engineer tightens up data nuts and bolts for racing


Bernie Ecclestone is frequently in the media, currently because of a kidnap saga concerning his mother-in-law. 

But mostly he’s in the media because he’s the main man of Formula 1 racing.

While not as famous as the F1 global phenomenon, the FIA World Endurance Championship circuit has millions of fans and admirers around the world.

And while the nine-race series may not be as well-known as the F1 season of Lewis Hamilton et al, one particular endurance race has earned unrivalled legendary status: Le Mans.

Le Mans is the 24-hour race held annually in France, and is the fourth endurance contest in the World Endurance Championship calendar.

The other eight races are each six hours long, and the next one is scheduled for Mexico, on September 3.

And like all top-level sporting contests, World Endurance Championship racing involves gathering and analysing data — lots and lots of data.

In this exclusive interview, EM360 speaks to Barclay Danaher, performance engineer at Strakka Racing, one of the teams taking part in the World Endurance Championship.

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EM360: Can you summarise what you do in terms of data collection and analysis for your sport — and how do you use that data? 

Barclay Danaher: We collect a range of data from our race car whilst it is competing. There can be up to 300 channels of information but of those about 100 are really the ones we are watching during the race. The rest are diagnostics and tell us if there is a problem on the car.

The type of data ranges from engine oil temperature right through to the amount of steering input or brake force the driver is applying. The data is crucial for extracting the most performance from the driver. We can see if they brake too early or if they are not on the right part of the track.

As per the regulations in our category we have a “gentleman” driver amongst our three-driver line up. These are not professional drivers so we can compare their data to our pro drivers to help them improve their performance.

From the car side the data helps us to keep the car running reliably, we can even see when the car needs a top up of oil during the race.

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EM360: With regard to data science, what changes have you seen and are likely to see going forward in the way data is collected and analysed? 

Danaher: With more and more testing in a virtual world we are increasingly trying to improve the accuracy of our simulator. The closer we can bring this simulator to the real car the better it is.

So we spend time correlating the data and getting the drivers to work with us to finesse the car.

We could use it for setting up the car before we arrive at the track by determining gear ratios and aero. The data can save us time and with track time so expensive, this is a good saving.

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EM360: What are the most valuable aspects of data science in terms of how it helps you run your business or organisation?

Danaher: The data we collect is now crucial to running the car. It helps us to unlock performance and how the car is performing. It can also identify safety issues.

Our bf1systems tyre pressure monitoring not only lets us set and verify the tyres are at the right temperature and pressure but gives an early warning to us on the pit wall and to the driver if there is a sudden change in tyre pressure/temperature before the tyre lets go.

The tyre temperature actually rises when the tyre is deflating and the sensors can identify this before the tyre fails completely. The driver can slow down to prevent an accident and bring the car back to the pits before it completely fails.