Dashcam: An onboard camera fitted to the front windscreen of a car, prevalent amongst Russians where the courts prefer video evidence of one’s foolishness rather than blind testimony. Driving enthusiasts often stick GoPros to the windshield to achieve a similar effect, most with an aim to document their unsurpassed awesomeness behind the wheel.
But short of watching an HD video and bragging to their friends about how they were “totally flat out in turn two,” it doesn’t offer much in terms of information that can help a track day warrior improve their lap time.
For that, you need an expensive vBox, something only the most hardcore trackgoers would ever buy. But Chevrolet, in an industry first, has developed what it calls a Performance Data Recorder (PDR), capable of recording video, audio and on-track telemetry just like — and in many cases more thoroughly than — the systems used by pro race teams.
It’s now optional on the 2015 Corvette Stingray. And we’ve tested it on track at Sebring raceway in Florida.
The 720p HD camera is hidden within the windshield header trim, and all wiring comes integrated into the Corvette’s interior. There’s an external microphone concealed in the cabin to pick up audio. When you start the car, you have an option to select PDR in the center touch screen. There, you’re presented with four layouts for recording:
Track Mode – this overlays all the data available over a video of you driving, like in a videogame. This includes speed, rpm, g-force, track map, lap time, throttle and brake position, gear selection and more.
Sport Mode – this ditches some metrics but keeps key statistics like speed and g-force.
Touring Mode – this simply records the drive and offers no overlaid data, just like a GoPro.
Performance Mode – for the dragster in you, this records metrics such as 0-60 mph runs, quarter mile speed/time, and 0-100-0 mph runs.
The video you see below is of my run in the new Corvette around Sebring, with PDR set to Track Mode. Just insert an SD card into a tucked away reader, click record on the infotainment screen, put the car into gear, and off you go.
Disclaimer: we only received three laps on-track and I had no idea which way the full circuit went. Please keep the racing critiques to a minimum, thankyouverymuch.
As you can see the detailed metrics on-screen are impressive. In fact, I’d say it’s better than vBox (and you don’t have wires everywhere). The clarity on the video is nice, but the vignettes are a little over bearing and the audio is plain terrible. It sounds like the microphone is shoved up the nether region of a hamster.
Regardless, as a driver, what can we learn from that video?
Firstly, there are some sections of the track that I knew, like the hairpin and subsequent couple of bends from my time racing IndyCars. (We’d often use the short track at Sebring as a winter testing ground for street courses—it’s tight, twisty and very bumpy, and often low grip.) And in those areas, it looks like I was pretty solid. But turn one, for instance, I was blind, and my line was horrible. I was also way too tentative on entry, carrying too little speed at the mid corner. In fact, I’d say I could probably carry 10 mph more to apex. What's best, I could view the run immediately on the car’s infotainment system in the pit lane.
But here’s where things get really clever.
Back at your computer you can import the data into Cosworth’s software. Cosworth, the company responsible for the industry standard race car data system know as Pi toolbox, has developed PDR for Chevy. And using its experience, the data system remains remarkably similar, only with fewer channels, seeing as you likely aren’t an engineer — or driver — for Roger Penske.
The telemetry shows your throttle trace, brake pressure trace, steering trace and speed as a graph. You can also add rpm and cumulative time, along with other options. See the picture above for an example:
By viewing your speed trace (although it’s not shown as the default trace, which is weird) you can see, in graph format, exactly how you drove the lap. The throttle and brake trace correlate, making these the three most important metrics. You can then overlay multiple runs at once, deciphering the difference; why were you quicker here, and why were you slower there? You can also overlay you lap with other drivers (Chevy will release laps from its pro drivers for comparison).
What’s most impressive is the video syncs with this data, so when you jump to a certain sector in the lap and see where you improved, you can view the video at the same time as the graph and discover why. Maybe you carried more speed down to the apex. By checking the video you can see that you turned into the corner slightly earlier, something that's hard to tell in graph format. Then, perhaps you were faster coming out of the turn. The graph shows you that you went back to power a fraction earlier, something you can't see in the video. This could lead to a net gain of, let’s say, 0.1 tenths of a second. By simultaneously studying the graph and watching the synced videos, you have a far greater chance of understanding exactly why you improved, allowing you to replicate it next time out.
It’s very clever stuff, and a similar Pi system costs around $50,000. In all the teams I’ve raced for over the years, including Newman-Haas and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, we never had this option. Now you do in stock Corvette.
GPS data, too, draws a track map using bing and shows your exact line. Again, you can overlay this, seeing subtle differences between drivers, as well as comparing this with the on-board footage.
For track enthusiasts or autocrossers, this level of detail is fascinating, and a huge asset when attempting to improve. For a price expected to land around $1,500, it's a relative bargain.
It won’t go on sale as an option until the fourth quarter of this year, but when it does, expect it to be a huge hit within the track day community, as well as making its way onto the upcoming Corvette Z-something iteration and Camaro Z/28, at some point. And if you don’t care for this level of data, that’s fine—just record yourself driving. Share YouTube videos of yourself hitting a cow, or a stop sign, or a Prius. It’s still worth the dough, and it might just grant you Internet stardom.
It baffles me why it’s taken so long for an automaker to come up with something like this. But I bet it won't take quite so long to become the norm.