How To Make the Most of Onboard Video

Photography by Scott R. Lear and David S. Wallens

Biologists have shown that Homo sapiens is a highly visual species. We use our eyes to choose dinner, companionship and even transportation. 

The visual cortex, where all of that analysis happens, comprises nearly 30 percent of the total volume in our brains. It’s what made television take over from radio in the 1950s—and why “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles was the first programming to air on one of the most successful TV channels in history. 

In our daily lives, we see more than we hear, smell, taste or feel—and the same goes for when we’re racing. We use our eyes to find the correct line, decide when to pass, and when to nail the brakes for a corner. It stands to reason that analyzing our performance is best done visually. 

Thanks to inexpensive digital video setups, we can record our performance with a push of a button. Onboard video has become extremely prevalent in motorsports, from the grids at the highest levels of professional racing down to local autocross events. 

A typical racer’s first foray into video collection tends to be at the novelty level—something to share the excitement with friends and family. That morphs into posting video on social networking sites and YouTube for the whole world to see. But that’s not all video can do. Video can—and should—make you a faster driver.

Driver Training

For obvious safety and weight reasons, race cars rarely take passengers on track. Onboard video makes allows an instructor to “ride along.”

 

Video is almost essential as a driver training tool, especially in competition. Most setups now either incorporate a wide-angle lens or multiple cameras to capture the driver’s inputs, the forward edges of the car, and the “tail gunner” view. The accompanying audio track can be a great telltale of driver confidence, comfort and smoothness. These are not always evident in only reading the data.

Peter Krause
owner and lead coach, Krause & Associates

 

Video is very useful for driver training. A camera mounted inside the cockpit to view the driver inputs will show you how smooth—or not—a driver’s inputs are and how extreme they are.

Also, a camera mounted on the helmet, rather than on the front bumper, will better show you the course as the driver is seeing it. If you find that you aren’t seeing course elements soon enough, then you weren’t looking ahead effectively.

Andy Hollis
eight-time SCCA Solo champion

 

In-car video has proved an invaluable tool for training up-and-coming drivers. I routinely use in-car video during driver coaching to help students find better racecraft techniques, improve driver inputs, and find out just how they are driving the car. 

One of the most valuable parts of any coaching session is reviewing a video right after the student comes off track because the session is fresh in their mind. It’s simply the best time to talk about improving their lines around the track and how the car setup “feels” around each turn while watching the video.

Video is useful at every stage of driver development. I routinely review my own videos post-race to find instances where I could have done something slightly different to improve my overall pace. 

Jeremy Croiset
driver and sponsorship manager, NASA

Comparing Runs

Comparing your inputs or lines with those of another driver often helps driver training. Video makes that super easy. 

 

Having the ability to look at a faster driver’s video in comparison to yours can prove to be a very enlightening experience. In many cases, students will have that “aha” moment where they see just what they weren’t doing in a specific section of the track to get that little extra lap time out of the car and themselves. They can take that newfound knowledge and try to duplicate it in their next session. 

Jeremy Croiset

 

My wife, Patty, and I have been capturing video of our autocrosses and road races since cameras were as big as a mailbox. At first, we used it as great post-race entertainment. Now we use it to compare our runs at the end of the day to see where one of us is doing certain maneuvers better than the other, in hopes of improving both our runs the next day.

Bob Tunnell
12-time SCCA Solo champion

 

The new crop of side-by-side video comparison capability is terrific! Not only can you see the placement of the car, but the attitude and heading of the car at key points on track. In comparing different drivers and cars, or different runs with the same driver, the overlay of speed, throttle position—if so equipped—and friction circle data can be a huge help to bootstrap improvement. These systems can justify video comparisons to a particular GPS position to make comparisons quite accurate and useful. 

Peter Krause

Learning New Tracks

Most drivers only see a few tracks a year. That can be a problem if you’re headed to a new track and want a leg up on the local competition. Luckily, you can find thousands of onboard videos from around the world on the Internet. 

 

I use video a lot for learning new tracks. This was critical for my successful One Lap of America efforts where we went to many tracks I had never seen before. I review multiple laps from multiple cars until I can visualize a lap through the track in my head.

Andy Hollis 

 

I do more than just review other people’s video of a new track. I use it in practice sessions to review before the main race. I analyze my braking and turn-in points to determine if I’m hitting my marks and if my marks can be moved to improve overall lap times or track position. 

Randy Pobst
multi-time World Challenge, Daytona champion

Data Integration

Video has become a wonderful addition to data acquisition, bridging the gap between the cold, hard numbers and the loose nut behind the steering wheel.

 

As someone with an engineering background, I tend to rely more on data and graphs to review and improve my driving. However, those tools tell you decisively what to do and how to do it, but you are still left with how specifically to implement the changes.

Before I go on track, I visualize my lap with the changes the data has told me to make—it is like getting free laps on the field. This visualization requires recreating the car environment completely, and watching video helps keep your mind on track through the process, not straying too far from the actual picture you are visualizing.

James Clay
Grand-Am driver, owner of BimmerWorld

 

Data is how you leverage video from being entertainment to becoming an incredibly valuable tool. With features like Traqmate’s Theoretical Best Lap rendered in ChaseCam or GoPro HD video, you can see where and how the time is lost. The side-by-side video comparison of better segments than the session’s best lap in both Race-Keeper and Video VBox are crucial in determining where to focus next and to establish the most concrete goal. The Race Technology Video4 is a nice, powerful one-box solution. The anomalies you may see in the data are easily explained by a situation revealed in the accompanying video.

Peter Krause 

Post-Race Protest

Not sure who’s at fault regarding an on-track incident? A picture is worth a thousand words—but video can often prove your case. 

 

We use video after the race to properly handle on-track altercations. Videos can help improve on-track relations and enforcement: If someone is using video, their competitors are far less likely to force a pass. It is always best to watch your video before marching off to confront a competitor or the chief steward.

Jeremy Croiset

 

Onboard video can be a deterrent to dumb moves. Multiple views of an incident really ease the burden on the stewards and series administrators. Often, drivers react emotionally because they remember incidents unfolding differently than they really happened, which is what the video shows.

Peter Krause 

 

Not only can video be useful in proving your case after the race, in many instances it can be just as useful in showing you a completely different version of the incident than what you can recall. I’ve personally been involved in on-track incidents where my own recollection was that I had made the right call and the other driver was at fault. Upon review of their video after the race, it was clear to me that I had indeed caused the incident! Every good driver is forever a student at the race track.

Randy Pobst

 

Video is very useful in competition for defense with regards to hitting of cones. “Mystery cones” can be verified—or contradicted—with much more certainty.

Andy Hollis

Unfair Advantage?

Learning new tracks is a constant battle in autocross—after all, the tracks are different for every single event. In a sport where drivers have limited access to the course, can video replace a good course walk?

 

Some have argued that you can learn an autocross course by watching a competitor’s runs before you get yours. I see much less value in that exercise. The cones don’t provide the same continuous context that the landmarks of a race track do. The distances are also much more compressed, so you can’t really rely on others’ braking points to help your own time.

Andy Hollis 

 

Allowing people to watch video or examine data from a particular course prior to running that course is a tricky matter. A rule that would prohibit the viewing would be unenforceable, and rules that would limit video capture would cause mutiny within the autocross scene. I’m also not convinced it’s a game changer. It might help an A-list driver refine his strategy prior to a run, but it will not help a back-marker win a trophy.

Bob Tunnell

Car Setup and Troubleshooting

Video can do more than measure a driver. It can also record a car’s behavior. 

 

Video can also be quite revealing for setup diagnosis. Pointing a camera at a coil-over will reveal how the suspension is moving and to what extremes—much like a poor man’s shock potentiometer for data acquisition. Also, you can see how things like sway bar mountings stand up to the loads produced by the suspension. With video, a number of Street Touring Civic owners found that their rear sway bar mounts were distorting during hard cornering. 

Andy Hollis

 

Driving your own car without video is a little like living in solitary. Most people don’t realize how much a “push” slows them down or delays throttle application until they watch somebody else in a better-handling example of their car. 

Peter Krause 

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