The Staff of Motorsport Marketing
The Staff of Motorsport Marketing Writer
10/6/20 8:00 a.m.

Sponsored Content presented by Garmin.

 

We’ve long been proponents of data acquisition systems. Whether we’re developing a project car, testing a hot new model out of the media press fleet, or just enjoying a track day or race weekend, having objective, reliable and easy-to-digest data makes our jobs easier and our lives better. 

Garmin—long a fixture in the marine and aviation sectors—knows this as well. “At Garmin, we’re encouraged to follow our passion,” says Garmin development engineer Adam Spence. “It almost sounds trite, but the result is some amazing products.” Spence is part of Garmin’s Area 51, the in-house department tasked with expanding the brand’s offerings into new segments and pushing development on existing products to allow users to get the most out of their experiences. 

Spence is also an active motorsports participant, having grown up in karting before moving on to autocross and now road racing. Like so many of us, he’s also seen the recent boom in the affordability—and the resultant popularity—of high-quality data acquisition devices and software packages. 

But also like many of us, he has met frustration in a tangle of cables, boxes, laptop chargers and obtuse software. “I had reached my own personal pain point to some extent,” he says of his early experience with data acquisition. “There was a level of frustration with the complexity of the hardware and the difficulty in quickly absorbing the data, especially when you have limited crew or you’re on your own.”

Enter the just-released Garmin Catalyst Driving Performance Optimizer, a one-box solution retailing for $999.99. “The Catalyst was a clean-slate project, even as it leverages technologies from all across our company.” Spence explains. “I saw that we had the resources to assemble a device that could really appeal to a growing segment of the motorsports community that wasn’t being served. Not everyone wants to carry a dedicated laptop to the track to decipher data. Not everyone needs highly granular data on esoteric vehicle functions. What we wanted was a device that could help a driver build their skills in real time, as well as being an easy-to-digest way to review data and find opportunities for improvement between sessions.”

The Catalyst draws on Spence’s own experience being both a student and a driving coach. Shipped with thousands of existing tracks in its database, plus the ability to “learn” any new contiguous circuit, the Catalyst analyzes GPS and accelerometer data in real time and provides voice prompts to the driver analyzing their performance. It’s essentially a virtual right-seat coach, but without the need to have another person in the car.

“After a session, you can look at data and provide feedback, but it’s difficult to get yourself back in that moment as a driver, then have to go out later and execute on that feedback,” he continues. “Now we have the ability to provide instant positive feedback on a corner-by-corner basis. So the driver can execute while the information is still fresh.” 

But while the Catalyst is building a profile on the driver, the focus is improvement, not any objective standard. “The device will ‘learn’ the habits of the driver, and it will retain that information from session to session, and even from weekend to weekend and season to season, but the immediate data is prioritized,” Spence explains. “So if conditions or weather are different on one track visit than another, it’s not going to be giving incorrect feedback. 

“Still, the focus is improvement and fine-tuning a driver’s technique, so it’s going to provide coaching based on your individual improvement curve. It’s never going to tell you to do something you haven’t done before. It will tell you when you’ve done something well—or better than you had previously—and keep reinforcing those improvements, though.” 

In addition to providing feedback, the Catalyst will also analyze your segment times during a session to produce a real-time predictive lap time. At any point on track, you can analyze your pace at a glance and see whether you’re ahead or behind your benchmark lap time.

And after the session, the experience continues. Not requiring any additional hardware, session data can be reviewed right on the unit’s 7-inch touch screen. The key screen in the data review mode is the Opportunities section, which identifies key portions of the track where pace was left on the table. 

“With the Opportunities, we sort of bypass traditional performance data analysis and interpretation and give the driver a way to look at that information in a way they can apply more directly,” Spence explains. “We wanted it to be like having an advanced coach look over your data beforehand and present it all in a way that’s easy to understand in the context of approaching the track itself. You can also generate an ideal lap time that takes your best executions and combines them into a theoretical best lap.”

Regular sim racers will certainly recognize features like predictive lap timing and the theoretical best lap time from the interfaces on popular sim platforms. And while other data acquisition systems have included these features, Garmin has sought to make them easily accessible through a single device with a minimum of fuss necessary–plus the Garmin uses its unique True Optimal Lap technology to generate a lap and line that can be driven based on lines that you actually drove and can repeat. The Catalyst is all about taking the data you can best use to improve your performance and presenting it to you in the most easy-to-manage way possible. 

Of course, we haven’t even mentioned video yet. Following in the footsteps of the Garmin VIRB—long one of our favorite action cameras here at GRM—the Catalyst provides exceptional HD video via a remote camera. Videos can be used for review purposes, of course, but they can also archived or shared on social media. The Garmin Connect online platform can also be used to link users and share data. 

We’ve got a Garmin Catalyst in our kit, and we’ll be taking it to the track shortly to provide a full, hands-on review. And yes, we’ve already checked, and the Florida International Rally and Motorsports Park—GRM’s official test track—is in its database.

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Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
10/6/20 10:55 a.m.

The future is here!

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 UberDork
10/6/20 11:37 a.m.

Can you add multiple drivers to it? Will it last the test of time in a 14 hour crap can race? Can you make it display any other data? 

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
10/6/20 11:45 a.m.
DirtyBird222 said:

Can you add multiple drivers to it? Will it last the test of time in a 14 hour crap can race? Can you make it display any other data? 

1. Yes. You can set up multiple driver and car combinations and profiles, and switching between them is pretty easy.

2. ???? It seems as durable at least as ay iPad or Android tablet. Unless it's getting crazy heat or vibrations, it should hold up as well as any other electronics.

3. The way it actually displays data is kind of limited to someone who is familiar to "traditional" data traces. It doesn't give you really high resolution traces to analyze, instead it does the analysis for you and shows you a less-resolved trace as reference. For someone who has never used data acq before, it puts them immensely ahead of the curve. For a more experienced data user, though, it could seem limiting at first. It's strength is not in the granular trce analysis, but in the highly efficient communication of that analysis in real time.

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 UberDork
10/6/20 11:52 a.m.
JG Pasterjak said:
DirtyBird222 said:

Can you add multiple drivers to it? Will it last the test of time in a 14 hour crap can race? Can you make it display any other data? 

1. Yes. You can set up multiple driver and car combinations and profiles, and switching between them is pretty easy.

2. ???? It seems as durable at least as ay iPad or Android tablet. Unless it's getting crazy heat or vibrations, it should hold up as well as any other electronics.

3. The way it actually displays data is kind of limited to someone who is familiar to "traditional" data traces. It doesn't give you really high resolution traces to analyze, instead it does the analysis for you and shows you a less-resolved trace as reference. For someone who has never used data acq before, it puts them immensely ahead of the curve. For a more experienced data user, though, it could seem limiting at first. It's strength is not in the granular trce analysis, but in the highly efficient communication of that analysis in real time.

Thanks JG. I'd bite the bullet on this in a heartbeat if I could somehow integrate data from the ECU to make it an all encompassing display. I.e. streaming bluetooth data from a Hondata ecu. 

John Prieve
John Prieve
10/6/20 4:28 p.m.

Can it be used for autocrossing?

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
10/6/20 4:35 p.m.
John Prieve said:

Can it be used for autocrossing?

At the moment, no. Garmin is prioritizing the "driver improvement" features of the unit seemingly above all-else, and that functionality requires data input, and the whole point of autocross is highly limited data input. It doesn't really even start making suggestions until after a couple laps, and the more you drive the more granulat the suggestions get. So it's a difficult task to bring that functionality to an autocross situation.

That said, we definitely inquired about point-to-point functionality and autocross functionality, and the Garmin devs definitely know it's a thing people want. For example, it can do Bridge-to-Gantry on the Nurburgring, meaning it's comfortable with different start and finish lines. Whether that eventually translates into usability for hillclimbs and autocross remains to be seen, but they know we're out here asking for it.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
10/6/20 5:18 p.m.

If it can do point to point, hillclimb should be accessible once the existing courses are mapped out. Autox is going to be really difficult for it to learn.

This is seriously cool tech, and I suspect I'd benefit from it. I've had access to data acquisition for years but I've never been able to make any real use of it to improve my driving.

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 UberDork
10/6/20 5:32 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

If it can do point to point, hillclimb should be accessible once the existing courses are mapped out. Autox is going to be really difficult for it to learn.

This is seriously cool tech, and I suspect I'd benefit from it. I've had access to data acquisition for years but I've never been able to make any real use of it to improve my driving.

It is cool tech. Not sure it will help you become a better driver....

Auto Sport Labs/Race Connect have some really rad products as well; however, they involve a bit more hands on work to get everything up and running. This Garmin seems like a great plug and play for basic data logging. With the size of the screen, the ability to integrate more data would make it a great one stop shop for a racecar. This seems to be better suited for HPDEs or arrive and drive peeps. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
10/6/20 5:50 p.m.

I'm not seeing this as a datalogger at all. It's a coach. 

Race Capture (etc) are great for analyzing the car. You can see how the platform is behaving by sifting through a bunch of data. And with some practice and the right kind of mind, you can use it to develop the driver.

But that has a major weakness - the feedback loop is too delayed. Other than a predictive lap timer, you can't use that logged data until you get out of the car. That's where this is different. It gives a suggestion, you act on the suggestion, you get immediate feedback both verbally and with a predictive lap time. It also helps you assemble your best sectors in real time. This isn't a race engineer, it's an instructor. You don't need to know throttle position vs cornering load or oil temperature, you need to know "am I turning in too early?".

If by "good for HPDE", you mean people who are not pro-level...well, there are a lot of people in that group. If you could benefit from a ride-along instructor and this is well implemented, it could probably benefit you.

I've been driving the same track here for about 15 years. I suspect (okay, I know) that there's more speed in there for me, but I've been stuck in the same motions forever. This could help bump me out of that. 

docwyte
docwyte UberDork
10/6/20 7:57 p.m.

I plan to pick one of these up in the Spring

Cedricn
Cedricn New Reader
10/8/20 2:53 a.m.

I had high hopes for this unit, but after all I read about it adn the testing it just istn worth the big lump of money yet (for me). I hope they continue improving it and bring in some needed basic functionality, the concept has great potential.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
10/8/20 9:49 a.m.

And in case you wanted to see it in action:

 

RJStanford
RJStanford New Reader
10/12/20 5:59 p.m.

I've done a couple of days with mine now.  Actually I did a weekend in Houston with it right after it was released, but I failed to get the audio sorted for the in-car coaching.  Even with that, it gave me useful feedback after each session especially considering that I was on a track I'd only driven once before.

I have to say that I like it.  Like many intermediate drivers I have data capture (that I tend to ignore, or spend hours getting bogged down in).  This really does cut to the chase.  Think of it like having a Peter Krause looking over your traces and just picking out the ones with the biggest room for improvement.

Sidebar: wouldn't it be cool to have the same thing for OBD data?  Don't make me wade through trace after trace, but send me an alert that says, "Hey, you're beginning to experience oil starvation on high speed left hand sweepers.  Maybe consider baffling or an Accusump?"  That's an actual example from one of his AiM seminars I was in btw of something that data can tell you but only if you know to look for it, and how to look for it.

Back to the Catalyst.  Once I got the audio properly sorted, I have to say that I'm enjoying it.  I ran it for two casual track days where I was working out of Harris Hill and jumping in to do a few sessions here and there.  I know that track but its just been repaved and reconfigured, so it feels very different and most of my reference points have disappeared.  

Its interesting.  First, as a visual lap timer, the delta display is about as clear as you can get.  Big, easy to read red and green background deltas meant that I always knew how I was doing (unlike the Solo that I've had mounted for far longer that somehow I always had to remember to check).  The audio coaching was good too.  3-4 laps in it started suggesting "apex earlier/later." or "brake earlier."  I had what felt like a few drop outs, where I'd just hear "later" without the noun, but by and large it was useful without being intrusive.

Did it help?  Too early to say, honestly, since I don't have a good baseline on this track.  My times did drop 1-2 seconds per session but I'd intentionally started out easy and kept dialing it in throughout the day, so I can't say that I wouldn't have done as well without it.  I did feel that it gave me some interesting advice though, and following it generally seemed to work well.

Will it make me a better driver?  I'll probably know that in another few weeks.  I will say that its likely getting me back to my "current" skill level at that track faster than I would have progressed without it, but the real test will be how much it keeps helping me after the repave-newness wears off.

Still, I'm a Miata-driving cheapskate, and I don't begrudge the $1K.  I'll likely be selling the Solo 2 as well.  Not that it doesn't complement the Catalyst, but since I was rarely using it fully before now I don't see that I'll get more interested in digging out my own datapoints any time soon.

Lap times were consistently within 0.01 seconds between the two devices, btw.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
10/12/20 6:27 p.m.

I wonder if the drop-outs you report are congitive. I've found that when I'm listening to audiobooks while driving cross-country, I will lose chunks of the book if I have to deal with something like navigate. The narration continues, my brain just doesn't bother to process it because it's not high enough on the priority list. With a live instructor, you've got some person waving around and making non-verbal cues. With this thing, you've got nothing but a robot voice and that's easy to shunt to the background if you're fully engaged in something else.

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