24 hour race prep: part 2, lights, camera, action!

Lights

In order to race for a full 24 hours, I have to add a lot of lights to the car. These include (a) headlights (b) emergency beacon (c) lighted numbers. In the picture below, you can see the additional headlights and beacon. The lights at the bottom are PIAA LED floods that are pointed outward as apex lights. The two on the hood are PIAA halogen bullets that are made for motorcycles. The beacon is the Jacques Advanced Warning System, which is a mandatory item. It blinks with about a 1 second periodicity.

Lighted number panels are expensive. I thought about shining a light on reflector tape, but it turns out reflector tape doesn’t disperse light as much as reflect it back at the source. So I came up with a new idea: LED strip lights and corrugated plastic. The lights were $19 from amazon. There are 2 chains of 100 lights. I taped them in a 12×8 grid to the corrugated plastic. I then used electrical tape to mask out the unwanted areas. It worked out okay. I’m going to mount these to the inside rear windows where they will be protected from rain (or contact). The power supply they came with is 4.5v, so I’ll connect them to USB.

Camera

Every racecar should have at least one video camera. Not only is it a great way to capture memories, but it’s also a critical tool for driver training and sorting out fault in an incident. In the past, I’ve used Mobius and Blackbox dashcams and a TomTom Bandit with varying success. This variation is generally user error. In the heat of the moment, it’s sometimes hard to remember to change the memory card or turn on the camera. With that in mind, I set out to build a camera that can record for at least 24 hours. And being both cheap and adventurous, I wanted to build it myself. Thankfully, this kind of thing has been done before. An ingenious racer, whose blog is titled externalhippocampus wrote a guide on how to turn a Raspberry Pi into a live streaming video device. I like the idea of streaming, but the quality is rarely very good. It’s more important for me to have high quality video than to watch live. So I modified the streaming instructions for a static video camera.

Here’s what you need to buy.

  • Raspberry Pi 3 Model B with 2 heatsinks $40
  • Raspberry Pi camera $14
  • 64G micro SD card $24
  • USB microphone $9

In addition, you’ll need typical computer stuff like USB keyboard and mouse, monitor (with HDMI port or an adapter), and headphones/speaker. This is just for installation, so borrow, don’t buy if you don’t have them handy. Eventually, you’ll have to figure out how to mount it in the car and provide it USB power. I have lots of RAM mounts and my car already has multiple USB outlets, so that was trivial for me, but it might incur some extra expense for you.

The instructions/log for the build is linked at the top of this page as RaceCam.

Action!

I just wanted to use “lights, camera, action” in the subtitle. There is no action. Maybe next time.

 

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24 hour race prep: part 1

In just 4 weeks I’ll be in my first full 24 hour race. As car owner and team captain, there’s quite a bit to do to get ready. The next posts will describe all the prep going into the race. The car is my cute little B-Spec Yaris. There’s a lot of new stuff planned for this race including:

  • Radios – We often race without radios, but this time everyone will have them wired into their helmets.
  • Telemetry – I usually run a RumbleStrip and AiM Solo DL. This time I’ll be broadcasting telemetry from the car to the pit. The system also allows sending text messages from pit to driver, which may be useful if the radio system goes down.
  • Lights – The Yaris has stock headlights, but it’s not enough for a twisty race track with no lighting. In addition to extra headlights, it needs lighted numbers.
  • Camera – I hate changing cameras or cards and doing that at night will be doubly painful. So I’m building a set-n-forget camera that will run for 24 hours using components that cost under $100.
  • Transportation & Accommodation – The team needs an HQ to monitor the race and sleep when possible.

So last item first. The team will be staying in a rental RV. I went to rvshare.com and found that there are tons of RVs for rent near Buttonwillow. The owner lives maybe 15 miles away from the track. He’s going to drop it off on Friday and pick it up on Sunday. The all-inclusive price is just under $400, which is a bargain for the whole team. The RV will serve as team HQ during the race. It sleeps about 6 people, so there should be plenty of space to hang out, eat, or nap as necessary.

If that wasn’t enough, an RV that I had admired a few times at previous Lemons races became available when the owner decided to upgrade. The “Van Cave” as it was called, is kind of old (1991) and small (1-3 people) but well sorted. And it has both racing stripes and flames! How could I say no? So now I’ve got my own RV. It’s got a big 7.5L engine, so it doubles as the tow vehicle. I can’t wait to have all sorts of adventures in this thing, racing and otherwise.

2017 in review

2017 was supposed to be the year I was going to the SCCA Runoffs. I was turning 50 years old and in preparation, I built the cheapest street legal SCCA car I could. Those plans didn’t quite work out as my deteriorating right knee had a loose piece of cartilage about the size of quarter swimming around in it. I needed to use a cane for a couple months before surgery and another afterwards. Fun times.

So it wasn’t until May that I finally got in a racecar, and it wasn’t even my car, but rather my brother’s Miata. Despite growing up 20 miles away, I had never been to Watkins Glen in person (I had driven it many times in iRacing of course). It’s a great track with a lot of history. It’s on most peoples’ bucket list. Later, in September, we raced at Thompson Motorsports Park and had just as much fun at a much less storied venue for a lot less money.

The WGI and TMP events were run by ChumpCar, which has now rebranded itself as ChampCar Endurance Series. ChampCar was an open wheel racing series that ran into financial trouble, and when the name became available, ChumpCar decided to take it. There is absolutely zero overlap in the history of these organizations. Personally, I find the new name morally repugnant. Apparently, most of the ChumpCar membership approves of the name. If you recall the Eddie Murphy movie “The Distinguished Gentleman”, Eddie gets elected to Congress using the campaign slogan “the name you know” because his name is the same as the former, deceased Congressman. It’s a comedy. I guess the ChampCar people think “the name you know” is a valid way of appropriating credibility. I do not.

On a lark, I decided to race in Lemons at Buttonwillow. I had only turned 2 laps at Buttonwillow previously because the MR2 we had rebuilt decided to break our hearts one more time. This time I was in a 1980s Celica with a Ford 5 liter, automatic transmission, hard tires, and OEM brakes. It was a terrible car, but once I embraced the terror, I actually started to enjoy it. I had never been in a car that could accelerate past most of the field on any straight. Stopping before the next corner was something else entirely. I came away with a newfound appreciation of Buttonwillow. I tend to like technical tracks, and while Buttonwillow is mostly flat, it does require you to connect the corners much more so than Laguna Seca, for example.

I raced my Yaris for this first time at Laguna Seca in a Lucky Dog race. It was quite the party with several drivers I had never been teamed up with and one who joined mid-race. Shortly after, I raced an SCCA Regional in B-Spec at Thunderhill. So finally, I had raced in the class the car was built for. And it wasn’t that much fun. Sprint racing at the back of the pack is less fun than an HPDE session and a lot more expensive.

So as I close the book on 2017 and start looking toward 2018, I find myself in a bit of a quandary. The SCCA Runoffs are going to be at Sonoma. It’s one of my favorite tracks and is less than an hour away. It’s a unique opportunity. I’m sure it would be fun to race with a bunch of B-Spec cars, but the costs are high. 3 Majors weekends to qualify plus the Runoffs itself will set me back about $3000 in entry fees and travel costs, never mind the consumables. Sprint racing is about 3x as expensive as endurance racing… So will 2018 be my solo sprint racing effort or another year of track parties? I still don’t know.

I’m also not sure how much coaching I will do in 2018. The cars are getting faster and faster and the rare but disturbing accidents make me take notice. Do I really want to be in the wrong seat when a car without full safety equipment goes out of control?

Oculus Rift Review: Part 1

If you saw my post last week, you know that I gifted myself an Oculus Rift system as a holiday present. I opened it a couple days ago because it’s the holiday season and I don’t follow any religions (but I do follow Black Friday sales).

Magical. That’s the word that kept popping into my head while exploring the tutorial. The immersion is stunning. Movies take you on a journey, but VR puts you in the story. It’s breathtaking. I was grinning and giggling the whole time. Magical.

So what’s VR like in a driving simulator? To find out, I started up Assetto Corsa. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the latest update makes Laguna Seca an official track from Kunos Simulazioni and  a free download. Previously I had used Laguna Seca from an external source. As I had just updated my system, I had to go through the usual wheel, pedal, and FFB tuning. Then I took it for a spin in 2D to see the new Laguna Seca. I was shocked to find that they have the new asphalt with extended aprons. Way to go KS!

Switching the video from 2D to Oculus Rift is a simple as selecting the video source in a drop-down menu. So I did and put the Rift on my head…

OH MY GOD. I hadn’t realized how much difference there was between 2D and 3D. The world is so much fuller in 3D. 2D has a way of squashing elevation. In 3D, you’re fucking there.

Then I started to get a head ache and motion sick. Well that sucks. Somehow I have to train myself out of this because it’s truly amazing. Next week I’ll report on how my training is going.

Gift Yourself

So it’s that time of the year for holiday gifts. We have an unusual practice in my family that we give some presents to ourselves and don’t tell anyone what they are. The joy of opening a secret (to everyone else) present and sharing it with your loved ones is a fun alternative to the disingenuous “buy me this” or the “oh, how nice”. Try it, I guaranty you’ll like it. May I suggest that the gift is a simulation rig? There’s basically 3 ways to go with this (1) basic 1 monitor desktop PC setup (2) VR (3) triple monitor cockpit (I don’t advise consoles).

Basic Setup

You don’t need a very expensive PC to play Assetto Corsa, iRacing, etc. If you want to go bargain hunting, you can find used or refurbished stuff cheap. However, if you want a warranty and the ability to ship back for free, shopping at Amazon is a good way to go. They have plenty of gaming PCs under $500 that have GPU benchmarks over 3000. Check your videocard performance at https://www.videocardbenchmark.net/high_end_gpus.html to find your specific card. I did a lot of iRacing with a card that had a 726 rating, but I don’t recommend that now. Shoot for 2000 or more. You’ll need a 1080P monitor as well, which you can find under $100. For steering wheel and pedals, the Logitech G29 is a great value that lasts years. At $300, it’s the best bang for the buck. All told, it’s about $900 to buy a completely serviceable desktop sim rig brand new. People have won simulation championships with this kind of rig. You don’t really need anything more. And if you have the patience to look on craigslist or online racing forums, you can pick up components for half the price or less.

VR

In order to operate simulators with a VR setup, you’ll need the VR system and a computer that can drive it. The Oculus Rift is $400. Oculus says you need at least an nVidia 1060 but people in the know say 1070 or better. That equates to a benchmark rating of 11K or more. You can find these on Amazon for $1200. You could use the same G29 wheel in the base setup, but if you want something a little better, you could go with a Thrustmaster ($400) or Fanatec ($700) rig. For more immersion, you might add a shifter ($100) and a cockpit ($200-500). All told, it’s $2000-3000 to buy a VR sim rig. I just upgraded my kit for VR and it cost me $1350.

Triple Monitors

Sim racers have been using triple monitors for a long time. It gives a better sense of immersion than a single monitor and doesn’t have the propensity to induce motion sickness the way VR can for some people. The main downside of a triple monitor system is all the space it takes up. These things are wide! Also, the cockpits can be $1000-2000 even before you get to the wheel-pedals-shifter combo. You also need a decent computer to drive 3 displays. It’s more expensive to build a triple monitor rig than a VR rig. The entire build will set you back $2500-$4000.

VR Review…

I haven’t opened my present to myself yet. So I can’t tell you how good VR is. Stay tuned for my Oculus Rift review and a VR Simulator Shootout.

Stay the fuck home

Last weekend I was working at the Lemons race at Sonoma. I’ve stopped racing Lemons events at Sonoma because I can’t afford the risk to my car. There are lots of walls, the weather is often rainy, it’s always crowded, and there’s something in the air that makes people drive like ass idiots. Like take this one for example.

This guy has no business being on a race track. Stay the fuck home until you learn how to drive. The event is better off without you. OK, that’s not entirely true. The more the merrier. But honestly, it’s a lot of property damage and an opportunity for serious injury. I’m sure the driver will be much safer next time. It’s too bad the lesson had to be so expensive.

Speaking of the event, I was working at track-out giving drivers a final check before letting them on track. What exactly does this mean?

  1. Check that the car has the correct event sticker. Most people tech their cars properly, but some small fraction forget to put the sticker on, or put it somewhere we can’t see it. It also sometimes falls off in the middle of the race.
  2. Check the driver’s wristband. Some people forget to put it on or don’t realize you have to register the driver as well as tech the gear. I doubt many people are trying to sneak onto the track, but I have to check just in case.
  3. Check the helmet for tech sticker. This indicates the safety equipment went through tech inspection. That doesn’t mean the safety equipment is worn properly…
  4. Check the helmet strap and HANS tethers. Sometimes the helmet strap is loose or completely off. About 2% of drivers don’t have their HANS connected properly. I saw harnesses under HANS, incorrectly installed posts and one or zero tethers connected.
  5. Quick scan of other safety stuff. I’ve seen people wearing plasticky running shoes, helmets that don’t fit at all, drivers too tall for their cages, fire systems with the safety pin still in, drivers without gloves, etc.

If everything is in order, it takes about 10 seconds to check them out, but if I have to have a conversation it can take a while to sort out. We try to keep the traffic flowing on track as quickly as possible, which may mean shuttling cars with difficulties off to the side. It’s a fun way to spend the weekend. Not nearly as fun as driving though.

Passing Thoughts: Part 3 (Best Practices)

Last week I blogged about the rules for overtaking/passing in a variety of racing series. This week let’s talk about best practices.

  • Assume the other drivers are incompetent
  • Prefer passing on straights
  • It’s not about being right, it’s about being on track
  • “I didn’t see” means you shouldn’t be on track
  • “I didn’t expect” means you make poor decisions
  • When in doubt, stay in your lane
  • Take control of the corner

Back to NASA examples

Let’s go back and look at the NASA examples from last week. This time I’ll give my thoughts on how I would handle each situation. This is the perspective of an amateur endurance racer whose priorities are (1) keep the car in perfect running condition for the next driver (2) drive consistently fast laps. YMMV.

Figure 1: Punt

  • This is probably the #1 most common case of car-to-car contact.
  • Car A: You’ve done nothing wrong per se. As the lead car, you “own” the right to choose your racing line. Furthermore, you’ve left enough room on the inside just in case. But you got hit anyway. You have to expect the car behind you is an ass-idiot and will hit you if you let him. Yes, the rules state that you’re supposed to “drive the line”. You know what, the jackass behind you might not follow the rules. Protect the car! Move left and block car B well before the corner. Don’t let him pass you on the inside.
  • Car B. You’re an idiot. The only way this isn’t your fault is for driver A to give a point-by to the inside and then drive the inside anyway. Unfortunately, stuff like that happens sometimes. The driver ahead may have been adjusting a mirror and you thought it was a point-by.

Figure 2: CDFS

  • This is basically the same as the punt except that the reason car B hits car A is more physical than mental. Yeah, driver B can’t drive for shit.
  • Car A: The problem occurs at point (1). You’ve given an invitation to the driver behind you to pass you in the corner. You’re supposed to give racing room to other drivers. Give room on the outside of the corner.
  • Car B: Don’t pass in corners until you learn to drive.

Figures 3 & 4: Slamming the Door

  • There are two reasons driver A gets into this situation (1) isn’t watching mirrors (2) is sending a message to driver B. If the reason is (1), driver A has no business being on a race track. It’s your job to see other drivers. “I didn’t see” is an admission of incompetence. If you’re so wound up in keeping the car on course that you can’t keep track of the other cars, slow the fuck down. If the reason is (2), you’re a dick.
  • Although the rules state that the car ahead of you must give you racing room, getting hit isn’t worth being right. It’s much better to take position on the straight BEFORE the corner.

 

Figure 5: Attempted Murder

  • If you slam the door on a driver in a dangerous area, you should probably go to jail, not the penalty box. Here’s a video of such.

Figure 6: Punt Redux

  • Car A is well ahead of B and assumes it is therefore okay to take the typical outside-inside-outside maximum radius racing line. That assumption could get you into trouble. If it’s physically possible for the person behind you to ram you, it’s a possibility.
  • Car B, you’re an idiot who can’t drive for shit. Someone let you on the racetrack anyway. Sadly, there are many others like you. What goes around comes around. Enjoy the karma.

Figures 7 & 8: Control Drag Races

  • You’re SUPPOSED to pass on straights because it’s safer. That doesn’t make it always safe. Cars jockeying for position on the way to a corner make contact all the time.
  • If you’re in car B the safest thing to do is maintain your lane and match speeds with car A. If you do that, you control the entire corner. Driver A can see you but can’t turn into the corner until you do. If you drive a slightly later apex than normal, driver A, will be forced to slow up mid-corner while you’re accelerating.

Figures 9-11: Maintain Your Lane

  • Driving door to door with other cars on a racetrack is truly exhilarating., but door to door in a corner is 10x as dangerous as on a straight. When in doubt, maintain your lane. The incidents below occur because someone changed lanes either on purpose or by accident.

Figure 12: Tricky

  • This example is tricky because the aggressive car possibly driving beyond capability is not the one given fault!
  • Car A is not in control of the corner. It could be had it taken the inside line. The time to turn into a corner is when it’s safe, not when you normally do.

Those best practices again

  • Assume the other drivers are incompetent
  • Prefer passing on straights
  • It’s not about being right, it’s about being on track
  • “I didn’t see” means you shouldn’t be on track
  • “I didn’t expect” means you make poor decisions
  • When in doubt, stay in your lane
  • Take control of the corner