2015 Chevrolet Corvette Performance Data Recorder Quick Drive
One Step Closer to "Racecar for the Street"
Racers, from weekend amateurs to best of the pros, have been putting cameras on their cars and recording lap times for as long as the technology has allowed, all in hopes of improving their next performance. What separates amateurs from pros is money. The pros have thousands of dollars of data-acquisition equipment on their cars and while some of that technology is available at the amateur level, it ain't cheap. Chevrolet and Cosworth are changing that with the Performance Data Recorder, available on all Corvettes starting in the 2015 model year.
If you're a racer, you know there are data acquisition devices on the market like the VBox and Racepak, which can run anywhere from $700 to $11,500 depending on the quality and quantity of information you're looking for, plus at least minimal effort to install the equipment safely in your car. The better equipment can interface with your car's onboard computer to collect data while the more affordable stuff uses only sensors built into the unit, limiting the amount of data you can collect (or requires you to buy expensive additional equipment to interface with the onboard computer).
Chevrolet and Cosworth simplify all that by simply building the data recorder into the car. The recorder itself is hidden under the dash, while its dedicated GPS antenna hides under a fender. In addition to the antenna, the recorder is also connected to the car's Controller Area Network (CAN), giving it access to all the onboard computer's sensors. All the data is augmented by a forward-looking camera integrated into the rearview mirror and a cabin microphone. Everything is stored on an SD card, the slot for which is mounted in the glove box.
What all that means is when the Performance Data Recorder (PDR) is activated, you get 720p video of your driving, in-car audio (useful if you have a driving instructor onboard giving tips), GPS telemetry (sampled at five Hz, which is five-times faster than your standard in-car navigation system) and vehicle performance data overlaid on top, all of it neatly packaged on an SD card you can plug into your laptop the second you jump out of the car. Or, you can simply replay the video on the car's eight-inch infotainment screen. 200 minutes of driving will fit on an eight-gigabyte SD card while you can cram 800 minutes (over 13 hours) on a 32-gigabyte card.
Using the PDR is achingly simple. On the infotainment screen, find the PDR app and press it. Choose the recording mode and press start. If you've already been to the current track, it's as easy as that. If it's your first time at a new track, you'll need to mark the start/finish line by pressing an on-screen button when you cross the start/finish line. Hit stop when you're done.
Changing the recording mode simply changes what data will be overlaid on your video (all data will be recorded, regardless). Touring Mode gives you audio and video only. Sport Mode adds a few bits of data like speed and g forces. Track Mode gets you all the data, including RPM, a track map, lap time, gear position, steering angle, brake and throttle pedal positions, g forces and speed. Performance Mode is designed for drag racing and will display things like quarter-mile speed and elapsed time, zero-to-60 mph acceleration time and zero-to-100-mph-to-zero runs. You can change modes while you're driving if you decide you want more or less data overlaid on your video.
Check out the video below from my first lapping session ever at Sebring International Raceway with a PDR prototype. Note that this is an early version of the software and the GPS Tracking Map and Lap Time functions are not working.
But wait, there's more. Stored on that SD card is a simple MP4 video file you can open and watch on your computer and share with your friends, but there's more than that. All the data that's collected can be imported into Cosworth Toolbox, a consumer-friendly version of the software Cosworth sells to racing teams of all stripes. The consumer version will be free to download.
This software isn't data analysis for dummies, either. You can dig into as little or as much data as you please. A basic stats page will give you the highlights of all your laps in the session with the maximum values highlighted. Get deeper into it and you can view graphs of your speed, throttle and brake application and more, lap-by-lap, as raw values or deltas. If you have internet access, the software will use the GPS data to draw your laps over Bing satellite maps. The software automatically recognizes straights and corners, allowing you to zoom in on a corner and compare your cornering speeds and other data lap-to-lap. You can also bring up your track video, synced with the GPS map and the data graphs, so you can watch your driving while you evaluate the data, even when comparing two laps.
Currently, the PDR records 30 channels of data, though not all will be available in the software. Cosworth is currently hiding some data channels at Chevrolets request but will make them available as Chevrolet permits. Such data includes things like the Corvette's unique tire temperature monitoring system. Some of this data may be unlocked by the time the PDR goes on-sale as an option in the 2015 Corvettes.
The software will also allow you to import a reference lap, which means you and your friends (or driving instructor) can all share your data and analyze where you're each gaining or losing time compared to one another. Chevrolet is planning on providing some free-to-download reference laps with Corvette Racing drivers behind the wheel of stock Corvettes at various tracks so you can see how close you are to the pros. The company is also planning to create an online forum where Corvette owners can share their lap data with each other.
Another handy feature will allow you to make notes on your laps, so you can record things like tire choice and temperature, ambient temperature, and more.
As I sampled this technology nine months before it will go on sale, there are a few features missing I hope will be added by the time it reaches production. Right now, neither Cosworth nor Chevrolet is offering pre-loaded track maps. This means you have to make sure to record the start/finish line at every track you go to or the software won't be able to track your lap times. Once you've defined a start/finish line at the track, though, the software will remember it forever (or until you record a different one at the same track). Also missing is the ability to record a point-to-point race. This will be a problem for autocrossers, whose tracks almost never start and end in the same place. Cosworth says this should be addressed by the time the PDR goes on-sale.
In case you're wondering, Chevrolet hasn't built a GPS lock-out into PDR. As you'll recall, Nissan built a lockout into the GT-R's software in Japan that allows the car to recognize when it's entered a race track and removes the speed limiter, then reinstates it when you leave. Chevy hasn't done anything like that. The more mischievous of you have already realized this will allow you to record your drive down any road you like, which could breed competition with other local Vette owners. To anyone who's planning to set the fast lap around downtown or down the Tail of the Dragon, Chevrolet says keep it on the track and don't break the law.
From Chevrolet - How To: Performance Data Recorder:
From Chevrolet - Milford Proving Grounds: Performance Data Recorder:
From Chevrolet - Sebring Raceway: Performance Data Recorder: