Knowledge is power, and in the case of data acquisition for race cars, knowledge is horsepower — and also faster lap times. Personally, I look at data acquisition this way, there are those who use it (and win races) and there are those who don’t use it (and lose races). The fact is the more you know about how you and your vehicle are performing on track the better your ability to make educated changes to the car (or your driving style) to improve performance.
For example, if you have dyno results and you know where your vehicle makes peak horsepower and torque, yet you routinely up-shift beyond the optimal horsepower/torque RPM while you are out on track, then you are simply losing time. Data acquisition can show you the errors of your ways so you can go back out, up-shift earlier, and thus go faster.
Racepak is known for making quality sensors and data loggers for a multitude of motorsports uses. It has a new cutting-edge data-acquisition system called the Vantage CL1. I had the opportunity to see the system in use while we were filming an episode of Horsepower Wars – Pony Wars. Right away, what struck me about the system was its ease-of-use, how quick it was to set up, and how simple it was to move from one car to another.
I’ve used many different data-acquisition systems over the years and they can be very technical, expensive, and have a learning curve that is more like a learning cliff. The Racepak Vantage CL1 is designed to work with the OBD2 port of today’s modern cars in conjunction with a mobile phone and a magnetic GPS antenna stuck to the roof.
Compared to the numerous other data acquisition systems I have played with over the years (from the original G-Tech Pro back in the day, to modern V-Box systems), the Racepak Vantage CL1 is the most intuitive system with extreme ease-of-setup. No tools were needed, an engineering degree wasn’t required to make it work, and I didn’t spend an hour on the phone with tech support. It was plug and play.
According to Chris Vopat, Racepak’s director of sales and event manager, ease-of-use was part of the design of the Vantage CL1. “I keep a CL1 in a Tupperware box in the trunk of my car. When I get to the track I pull it out, plug in my OBD2, attach my antenna to the roof, Bluetooth my phone in, and go racing.” That is important, because the goal is to go out on the track and play, not sit in the paddock scratching my head calling to talk to someone in India.
The CL1 system requires a mobile phone, but the phone is the easy part, because we all have one. Downloading Racepak’s free D3 app gets you going on any Android or iPhone device (including tablets). Because this is wireless technology, not only are you seeing data inside the car, this data is going to the Racepak cloud and can be seen by anyone you invite to be on your team. To put the phone in the car for Horsepower Wars we used a RAM mount stuck to the windshield.
You connect the phone by Bluetooth to the Racepak Vantage CL1 control box. The control box comes with rechargeable batteries that can be recharged using a USB cord (which comes with the kit). The control box can be mounted anywhere in the vehicle as long as the GPS wire and the OBD2 wire can reach it.
With the CL1 system, once you plug the control box into the OBD2 port under the dash and slap the antenna on the roof, you’re done. Congratulations, you now have an insane amount of data to look at — and the whole thing took less than five minutes to install and connect. All that, and the Racepak Vantage CL1 only sets you back 595 clams.
That might seem like a lot at first, however, professional racing teams using other systems that collect the same data spend over $20,000 for this exact same information. And they have a full-time engineer whose only job is to download and analyze the data. With the Vantage CL1 system there is no downloading necessary. All of the information is up in the cloud being streamed live through a cellphone.
Racepak’s Chris Vopat said live data is what really sets the Vantage CL1 apart from other data acquisition systems. “Using the cloud, there is no delay in accessing the data. The crew in the pits can watch the vehicle’s position on track, see speeds, G-loads, and engine temperatures on a tablet — live — while the cars is on track. Engineers can make decision without having to wait for the car to come back into the paddock and be downloaded.”
The next step was to get out on track and have some fun. I drove the Mustang first with the Racepak data-acquisition system installed and immediately found it was easy to understand from the driver’s seat. At that point, it was no longer time to mess around with the Racepak, it was time to drive hard.
One thing that is very nice about the Vantage CL1 system is the GPS location of the start/finish line of around 2,000 racetracks worldwide are already programmed into the software. This means I didn’t have to concentrate on hitting a button as I crossed the line or walk out on the track before the race to set a GPS start/finish marker. My only job was to drive the car like a madman and lap times were recording automatically. When I came back into the paddock, the crew could look at the data immediately and see what times the car ran. Those laps were instantly overlaid on a Google Maps image of Buttonwillow Raceway.
My favorite part about data acquisition is predictive lap timing. The concept is simple: you have gone around the track in a certain time. The next lap, the computer (which is the processor in your phone) is looking at your new lap time at each part of the track as your drive around it. From this information, it knows if you are faster or slower than your previous, or fastest lap.
The Racepak D3 app shows the driver on the phone’s screen whether you are running a faster lap (a good thing) or a slower lap (a bad thing). If I try a different apex in a corner, a later braking zone, or a short shift, instantly I know if that was a faster maneuver or a slower one. I always try to give the screen a quick glance to see if I am on the right track to go faster.
Once I finished some laps in the Mustang, we quickly moved the Racepak Vantage CL1 over to the Camaro. The set up was the same: plug in the OBD2 port, put the antenna on the roof, mount the control box in the car, and use a RAM mount to hold the phone on the windshield. Done.
After Drake and I drove both cars, each with the Vantage CL1 system inside logging data, the crew (and anyone connected on the Racepak cloud) knew right away which car was faster around the road course. And by looking at the data more carefully we could see why one car was faster than the other. So, which car was faster? The Camaro or the Mustang? Well, you’ll have to watch Horsepower Wars – Pony Wars to find out.
Racepak’s new high-tech, data-acquisition system has received some well-deserved kudos recently, namely two SEMA Awards in 2017 for their new product. After playing with its new toy, it is easy to see why. This system connects the dots on a lot of technology that already exists (vehicle OBD2, GPS, mobile phones, the Internet, and cloud-based data storage) and puts them together in an easy to use, powerful data-acquisition program to help race drivers get the most out of their sessions. Pretty smart.
I spoke with Chris Havill, who does technical support for Racepak, and he said the idea behind the Vantage CL1 is to help drivers improve. “Seeing data instantly will help drivers hone their skills. They can compare their fastest lap to a lap that wasn’t as quick and figure out what they did, or didn’t do, that kept them from their best possible time.”
If you are looking for a data-acquisition system the Racepak Vantage CL1 is a great system, not only for its simplicity in use, but its price point as well. Good luck out there, and enjoy pouring over every inch of data in the search for more speed. Remember, knowledge is horsepower.