Data Coaching 2023

This year I’m teaming up with Chris White and Josh Herbert to offer data coaching at Watkins Glen International, for events organized by Niagara PCA. Other dates and tracks are TBD, get in touch with us if you’d like us to bring our data program to your event.

5/29-30Mike Bohan Memorial HPDE
7/26-27July Advanced HPDE
8/23-24Midsummer Advanced HPDE
9/25-26Octoberfast HPDE
Data coaching dates

What is data coaching?

Data coaching is using GPS and car telemetry data to understand what the driver is doing in minute detail, and suggest ways to improve speed, consistency, and safety. Data coaching has benefits to students, coaches, and HPDE organizations.

  • For students, data coaching is an individualized, actionable improvement plan, using the best information possible. Every student has unique strengths and weaknesses, and data coaching pinpoints exactly what the student needs to work on.
  • To driving instructors, data coaching is a way to teach more than one student per day. As a right-seat instructor, I can only focus on one student at a time, but as a data coach, I can coach several people per day, and follow up with them afterwards.
  • For HPDE organizations, data coaching is an effective way to reinforce the curriculum. If you want to see if the student is releasing the brakes gradually, or following a prescribed racing line, or anything else you are teaching in class or on track, it’s as simple as looking at the data.

Data is not only useful as a coaching tool, but as a snapshot from a point in time. For example, if you suspect that your car is down on power compared to a previous date, you can look back at the data and see if your longitudinal acceleration has changed. Likewise, you might change parts on your car, and by comparing with previous points in time, you can quantify the differences each part makes.

Who is data coaching for?

  • Novice drivers don’t need data; they need to listen to their instructor. In rare cases a highly analytical student might learn primarily through seeing graphs and numbers, but for the 95% case, data is not a useful learning tool at the novice level.
  • Intermediate drivers absolutely need data coaching. Most HPDE organizations only have enough instructors for novice drivers, so there’s very little in-car instruction or coaching after the novice level. As a result, intermediate drivers often plateau for a long time using only the skills they learned as a novice.
  • Advanced drivers are in one of three camps: 1) those who understand that data is essential, 2) those who have never tried it, and 3) those who don’t want to know how bad they suck. For the first group, you might book a data coaching session with one of us as a second opinion, but you’re probably already on the right track. The second group is why we have this program! We’ll provide the hardware, software, and know-how to make you a better driver. If you’re in the third group, we have a new program to help break the ice: vMin coaching.

vMin coaching

The largest hurdle to data coaching isn’t the hardware, the software, or the ability to read the data. It’s “I don’t want to know how bad I suck.” I’m not being flippant, these are the exact words I hear all the time.

Listen, we all suck at driving. Every one of us has some corner we can’t get our head around or are afraid of. For me, it’s Turn 6 at Watkins Glen. I had a racing incident there with another car (my fault), and I still pussyfoot my way into and out of that corner. If I’m being completely honest, I also underdrive the bus stop and T11. “Hello, my name is Mario and I suck at driving.”

What’s also normal is that you have one or more corners you’re really good at. I have a lot of confidence in T7. You probably also have corners that you’re really good at, too. But is that a good corner, or do you just think so? And by the same measure, are the corners you suck at really that bad?

So you don’t want anyone to know how bad you suck, but you want to find out which corners you need to work on. You can do that by looking (privately) at your minimum corner speeds.

The importance of vMin

Pretty much everyone knows who Ross Bentley is, and I’d wager a good percentage of us have read Ultimate Speed Secrets. Aside from publishing books and teaching classes, Ross also had a subscription series called Speed Secrets Weekly, which was a weekly email of driving advice. On his 500th and final installment of Speed Secrets Weekly, Ross Bentley chose to save the best for last, and focus on what is arguably the most important aspect of performance driving: minimum corner speed.

Minimum corner speed, often abbreviated vMin, is the lowest speed you achieve in a corner. Why did Ross choose to write about vMin in his final SSW?

  • Min corner speed is one of the best measures of driver experience: Intermediate drivers throw away speed to optimize late braking; Advanced drivers hoard min speed like it’s gold
  • Raising your min speed is often the easiest way to go faster.

Earlier I wrote that intermediate drivers need data coaching. The primary reason is because they place too much importance on late threshold braking. Brakes are not just for slowing the car – brakes are for adding front grip, changing weight balance, turning the car, and above all, setting the ideal minimum speed for each corner.

If your vMin is too low, you can’t make it up by driving harder: applying throttle early in the corner results in oversteer or understeer. If your vMin is too high, you’ll have to roll off the throttle mid corner, or be later to full throttle. If your vMin is just right, the car is easy to turn and your car corners effortlessly. So how do we find the minimum corner speed for each corner?

Estimating vMin in every corner

At Watkins Glen, you can estimate your vMin in every corner by looking at turns 7 and 8. The vMin in these corners are usually within 1 mph of each other, and you can use the greater of the two vMin values to determine your min speed in every other corner. For example, Turn 1 is typically 108% faster than Turns 7 and 8. Turn 10 is about 135% faster. It doesn’t matter if you’re on R-comps or all-season tires, it’s the same ratio.

To data coach yourself, I’ll give you a lookup table, and you’ll start by circling your vMin in each corner. Then read from left to right across from T7-8 and you’ll probably see that most corners are in the same row. However, some corners will be above that line – those are corners you can improve on. In the example below, this person could raise their vMin in the bus stop, T6, and T11.

You might have noticed that the table says “No Aero” at the top. Tire compound doesn’t change the ratio between the speeds in each corner, but downforce does. So I’ve created different lookup charts for cars with no aero, and varying levels of downforce.

You might be wondering how I got all this data. A lot of it comes from looking at professional drivers on YouTube. That’s right, you don’t need a fancy data gathering devices to log vMin. A phone app or video camera showing the MPH is enough to get the min speed. Of course I also backed this up with lots of Aim Solo data from veteran drivers. I put all this data into a spreadsheet and averaged the values and came up with the ratios for each corner. It was surprisingly consistent.

If you want to coach yourself on vMin I’ll be offering a classroom lecture once per day. I’ll explain the concept in more detail and hand out the the lookup tables and a cheat sheet of strategies (mostly coming from Ross Bentley) that will help raise your vMin. You can choose to share that with other people, or keep the data private.

By working on your min corner speed, you can see huge gains in terminal speed. It won’t surprise me when one of you tells me that a 1 mph increase in vMin gave you 3-5 MPH at the end of a straight. Once you see how important data is as a feedback mechanism, some of you may want to go deeper into one-on-one data coaching.

One-on-one data coaching

If you schedule a one-on-one data session with me, Chris, or Josh, this is how a typical data coaching day goes.

First we’ll give you an AIM Solo and mount it securely in your car so that you can reach the power button and see the display. We have suction cup mounts and rollbar mounts, or can use any 1″ RAM style mount that’s already in your car.

In the first session, just drive as you normally would. We need to make sure the unit is functioning 100% correctly, and get some baseline laps. We also want to make sure you can see the delta timer, if you choose to use that.

Delta timer

If you’ve never used a delta timer, you’re in for a treat. Any decent motorsports data logger (or phone-based lap timer) can be set for predictive or delta time.

  • In predictive mode, the main display shows the lap time that the Aim Solo thinks you’ll do if you continue at this pace. I don’t like this setting, because lap times are not something we need to focus on – there’s too much importance put on this metric, and it’s too granular to be useful.
  • I much prefer the delta timer mode, in which the display shows a + or – sign with the amount of seconds that is different from your best effort at that particular point on track. So, if you roll through T1 at Watkins sGlen and glance at the delta timer going up to the esses and see -00.55, you’ll know that whatever you did in T1 this time was a lot better than before. You can use the delta timer to try different lines and techniques and get immediate feedback on whether it was a good idea and execution… or not.

The delta timer is a distraction, so don’t look at it unless you have clear track around you and you’ve unwound the steering wheel. But once you’ve gotten the hang of looking at deltas, it can be difficult to drive without that feedback.

Race studio analysis

After a couple track sessions, bring the unit back so we can download and review the data. The first thing we’ll do is load your best lap into Race Studio and look at the speed trace. The shape of the speed trace shows where you brake and how hard, where you get on the gas, and how smooth you are.

Next we’ll load up some more laps to see how consistently you’re driving. Consistency isn’t necessarily the goal here, because it’s good to experiment with lines, braking points, etc. But if you’re repeatedly doing something good or bad, it’s worth noting.

Next we might look at all your laps and split them into sectors. Analyzing sector times is a great way to stitch together different laps. In a crowded run group, it can be difficult to get a clean lap, and by using sectors, we can estimate what your runs would look like, even on a crowded day.

There are a lot of other things we can look at during our 1:1 sessions. Most of it will depend on what we see in the data, which tells us what you need to work on.

Advanced data coaching

There’s a limited amount of coaching we can accomplish in one day, but once we have your data, we can do follow-up sessions afterwards.

  • Comparisons – Similar car and tires, different drivers. What can you learn from other people? What can you teach us?
  • Lat and Long G – Are you braking and cornering at the limit?
  • Friction circle – How well are you blending inputs?
  • Areas for improvement – Backing up the corner, compromise corners, racing line, etc.

One of the great things about data coaching is that it keeps you engaged between events. So instead of going home and not thinking about driving until your next event, you can make a plan for what you’ll do on your next DE. Using data feels like it shortens the time between events, and makes you faster in the interim.

Computer simulations

Another thing we can do with advanced data analysis is to create a computer model of your car and simulate your car on track in the virtual world. This allows us to change the tires, aero, weight, power, etc, and see what potential benefit this provides.

For example, I see a lot of people focusing on weight reduction. If you could remove 100 lbs of weight, what will that do? Well, I can tell you exactly (or rather the computer can tell you). And that goes for adding power, decreasing drag, increasing downforce, switching to softer tires, and many other variables.

Like advanced data coaching, this is a service we’d have to do in a follow-up session. But it all starts with getting the data.

Get signed up!

If you want data coaching at Watkins Glen, sign up for one of the Niagara PCA events. The vMin coaching is free, and the 1:1 data coaching is a modest $50.

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