INNER GEEK: FAST CARS, FAST PHYSICS

by Wayne Young

I love building stuff. I’ve been building stuff (and taking it apart) since I was a kid.  Back in 2000 I got the chance to build my ultimate toy: a Caterham Seven sports car. After taking it to a race track a couple of times, I began to wonder:

  • What performance I was actually getting?
  • Exactly how fast was I going?
  • How many “G”s was I pulling going round corners?
  • How much power was being delivered to the wheels?

….and that was how my data-logger project began.

Inner Geek - Wayne Young laguna_seca

Initially, I just planned on recording the “lateral” (side-to-side) and “longitudinal” (front-to-back) acceleration using one of the new micro-miniature “MEMS” accelerometers that had just come onto the market. However, like most projects, it seemed to take on a life of its own and I spent the next four years tinkering and adding capabilities until eventually I was measuring wheel speeds, engine RPM, and recording the data on a purpose-built solid-state disk.

Inner Geek - Wayne Young data_logger

All this involved designing and making several printed circuit boards, wheel rotation sensors, and learning Z80 assembly language for the micro-controller I was using.

Inner Geek - Wayne Young

I also added the ability to superimpose the data onto a live video feed from an in-car camera, so the data could be matched up with what I was doing on the track.

Inner Geek - Wayne Young

Of course, once you have the data, that’s when the real fun begins. I wrote special software to analyze the data and make lots of pretty graphs.

Inner Geek - Wayne Young Sears_Point_2m18s_lap_from_sp3_data

Now, I’m not sure any of this made me a better driver, but I do know it’s definitely been a lot of fun. I also now know much more about the physics of racing cars, and learning is what life is all about, right?