Very often when working with drivers, I get the comment, “Yeah, I need to look into learning to understand data,” or, “I need to better utilize the data acquisition that I have.” Some drivers are using their data acquisition software just as a lap timer! I have expertise in data analysis that I share with my coaching clients, but here are a few easy tips for the untrained eye about how to interpret those squiggly lines.
You’ve taken the first step and actually downloaded the data, and now you’re looking at a speed trace (speed vs. distance), but what are you REALLY looking at? As you might assume, where you see the speed go up, you’re accelerating, and where the speed is going down, you’re braking. Where most of the potential for lap time improvement lies is in the details between the two.
First, look for anywhere the speed trace plateaus and stays flat for an extended length of time, realistically for 1-2 seconds (excluding on a long straightaway where the car is maxed out on speed). If the line is flat, this means you’re either coasting or—more likely—using maintenance throttle, which is when you’re maintaining the speed of the car at less than full throttle.
This flat line is a sure flag for where there is time improvement potential: if you jumped back to throttle but can’t commit to full throttle, then generally this means you’ve committed to your initial throttle input too soon. In other words, be more patient getting on the throttle so that when you do pick up the throttle, you can squeeze it to full rather than having to “maintain” that reduced throttle. Remember, a wise racer once said, “It’s not the driver who gets to power first that wins, it’s the driver who gets to fullpower first that wins.” You’ll find that being more patient will actually result in achieving wide-open throttle sooner than the driver who went to initial power sooner.
The other thing to consider when looking at a speed trace is the slope of the line under deceleration. How hard you’re braking will change how dramatically the line slopes. If that line isn’t consistent in heavy braking zones, you’ll know there’s room for improvement in consistency and efficiency. A flag for this could be if the slope of the line isn’t linear all the way to the corner. That means your brake pressure is varying in that brake zone, so you’re not achieving or maximizing your car’s braking potential.
The final tip to consider is the shape of your speed trace in the corner. Is it a “U” shape vs. a “V” shape? Not to contradict the first tip about having a flat area, like the bottom of a U might be, but the advantage of a U-shaped speed trace is that you’re releasing brake pressure in a way that carries momentum into the corner and down to the apex. The car is maximizing its cornering potential before you squeeze the throttle again. A V, on the other hand, means you are hard on the brakes all the way to the point that you can jump back onto full throttle. Although this sounds like the optimal way to corner—either on the brakes or on the gas with no coasting—this doesn’t maximize the car’s cornering speed potential. When diving deep into data, overlaying a V over a U shows that the U ends up having a higher minimum speed, and that results in a quicker corner sector for a faster lap.
Hopefully these are some quick and simple tips for you to be able to interpret your speed trace and determine if there are opportunities for improvement—even when you might not have a data coach or an additional data point reference to overlay in comparison.
Do you have any driving questions for me? Send me a message and let me know, and you might find the answer here in a future blog entry!