An Introduction to Data Systems: Buyer’s Guide

If you’re a racer, a track day junkie, or just love teasing your car’s limits, you’ve probably never said: “I’m fine with not going any faster.” We’re all on a constant hunt for more speed and quicker lap times, be it through traction, horsepower, or the one factor that no one wants to admit to, the driver. A fast car can fool a mediocre driver into thinking they have chops, but a skilled driver can turn any slow car into a fast one. But where does one get started in honing their skills? The common first step lies in racing schools, lots of reading, and private coaching to get you started on the right foot. Second, comes a tool that every driver at every level should never overlook. The key to moving on from good to great lies in data, and today there are more options than ever to keep you covered.

Some of you may be asking, “but seriously, how big of a difference could data make?” The advantage that data systems bring to the table is that you can study your driving down to the hard numbers. A lap timer only tells you if a lap was slower or faster, onboard videos tend to only reveal big mistakes but not small bad habits, and a coach in the right seat is limited by trying to watch your eyes, hands, feet, and the track all at once. Data, however, puts all of the information together in a format that allows you to pick apart your driving technique and car setup in extreme detail. This way, you can learn that perhaps you’re not using the brakes to their full capacity, or you’re too slow to get on the throttle, or just that you simply aren’t carrying enough momentum in the corners. No matter what the areas of improvement are, the data will reveal it.

Before digging into how to analyze this information, the first step is selecting the right hardware to gather it. “Data” is a broad term in the Motorsports world, as it often refers to a mobile app, a complicated system of sensors and wires, and everything in between. As with most things with cars and Motorsports, accomplishing more calls for deeper pockets, but the return can be massive. Here’s a look at some of the most popular options for beginners, experienced enthusiasts, and those looking to go pro.

Mobile Apps

Just getting started? Looking for something easy and affordable? Mobile apps have gained a lot of traction with the track day and HPDE crowd, as most of them are simple to set up and require nothing beyond your cell phone. At $10-$30, it’s low risk and has the potential for big payoff with how much information it can actually provide. A major plus with this option is that your phone can double as an onboard video camera as well as a data logger in many cases. This means that you can use your videos with the data overlay to brag on social media, or to learn how to improve your driving.

Mobile apps are affordable, easy to use, and carry a surprising amount of functionality, so what’s the catch? Like with most technologies, if there’s dedicated hardware that exists to do a job, there’s a good chance that a phone app can check off most of the same boxes but not all of them. The amount of data that can be collected is limited, and the rate at which it is logged will rarely measure up to the more serious tools. Adding to that, how in-depth do you want to get when you review your lap data? Mobile apps are catching up with graphing and chart functionality, but for the most part, you’ll still end up with a bigger picture story rather than the finer details on where you can shave off fractions of a second from corner to corner.

If you’re in it just for the lap times, speed readouts, and video, you can probably call it good right here. If you’re feeling competitive and want to dial in both driver and car setup, it’s time to upgrade to the next step.

Harry’s Lap Timer

Harry’s Lap Timer brings more than what’s in the name. There are multiple options for timing, track mapping data, and speed traces.

Harry’s Lap Timer sits among the more popular options if you aren’t willing to throw the money at a dedicated piece of hardware. However, don’t judge too quickly as this mobile app is constantly receiving updates and additional features. Although it’s popularly used as a lap timer and video recorder with data overlay, its functionality reaches much deeper. The app starts at $8.99 with your basic timing data, plus external GPS and OBD support. The next step up, the Petrolhead Edition, adds video recording and overlay, plus real-time online sharing for $12.99. The Laptimer Grand Prix Edition is the most expensive version available at $27.99, but it also allows for multi-camera setups, data analytics, and custom sensors for extra data.

RaceChrono

RaceChrono’s layouts and screens may be less flashy, but they are direct and easy to digest when it comes to timing and data comparisons.

RaceChrono has been around for a while, dating back to 2007 first for Nokia phones before making its way to Android and iOS devices. Like the competition, it readily functions as a basic lap timer, but has plenty of room to get more serious if you want it to. RaceChrono currently offers two levels of software, with the fully-featured version costing $17.99. While the basic version delivers the bare essentials of lap timing and GPS data, the Pro version offers a whole lot more.  RaceChrono Pro brings with it predictive lap timing, multi-camera recording (plus picture-in-picture export), support for wireless OBD-II readers, and more.

1 comment

  1. I’m very interested in the Fueltech FT series Dash/datalogger/ECUs, I like the idea of an all-in-one system both for the simplicity and for the ease of installation/debugging/tuning. The only thing holding me back is support, its a Brazilian company with little representation or support outside south america. If AiM offered a similar product I would buy it in a heartbeat.

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