Race engineering tips

The role of a successful Race Engineer

The role of a Race Engineer is one of the most visible in the pitlane – they speak to the driver, analyse data on the pit wall and pour through the regulations in search of a competitive advantage. On track and in the garage, they are the race car ‘conductor’, orchestrating a team of mechanics and the driver themselves all on a strict timetable.

A good race engineer will possess skills such as a broad knowledge of engineering and physics, strong time planning and people management, such as your driver and car crew. And all of that in a highly pressurised and competitive environment.

Here are Jenner’s Top Three Tips for Race Engineering drivers to victory.

Tip #1: Preparation

The key to a successful weekend is preparation.

The preparation that comes with being a Race Engineer is substantial. It is often overlooked and starts long before you arrive at the circuit. The following list are some of the key prep items:

Vehicle build specification: if you haven’t run at this track before, compare it to similar venues.
Test plan: starting point is being clear on what you want to learn. Be specific.
Race weekend plan: each event will be different, the sessions may vary, regulations may change.
Set-up changes: communicate with your mechanics clearly and understand how long changes might take.

A decision matrix is also very helpful. For example, if you get particular feedback from the driver over the radio you know what change you’ll make, or, if it rains which tyre set you will use. The more questions you can answer prior to the session or weekend, the quicker you can react at the track where time is often at a premium.

‘Race meetings are compressed in terms of time, so it really pays to be prepared for all the eventualities that you will most likely face,’ says Jenner. ‘To begin with there are almost an infinite number of variables that you may come across. However over time you will begin to see the rhythm of a race weekend and be able to focus on the critical path decisions to ensure a smooth race weekend.’

Tip #2: Set-up changes

What’s the right set up change and by how much…?

If you have been working on the same car for years, you may know how sensitive each parameter is and may even be comfortable making multiple changes at the same time in the full confidence of what each change will do. However, what is the approach if you have a new race car you haven’t run before?
Our approach is to take one parameter and vary it in one direction and then the opposite. For example, you might start with increasing or decreasing camber, stiffening the corner springs or softening your anti roll bars. Every vehicle will respond differently and each category will have different regulations as to what you can change and what remains fixed. However, this approach will allow both the driver and Race Engineer to become accustomed to where on track the change has had an effect and by what magnitude.

Over time you will build up a pattern of what each parameter will do.

‘If your changes are too small the driver will find it difficult to assess the changes you’re making and could even take you in the wrong direction,’ says Jenner. ‘Whereas, if you made a bigger set-up change they could assess the change more easily. In testing especially, it doesn’t matter whether any particular change is better or worse. Your primary goal is for the driver and Race Engineer to learn: whether the change a positive or negative, where it affected the car on track and how sensitive it was. Armed with that, you now have set-up tools to deploy at the track.’

Tip #3: Use data carefully

There is so much data…what is most important?

Every race series is different and therefore what you have at your disposal varies. It might simply be lap and sector times, it might be logged vehicle data and you may also have the luxury of onboard videos of the driver at work. Even better, you could have another driver to compare with.

The Race Engineer is responsible for ensuring the vehicle is operating reliably and at the edge of the performance envelope. A secondary, but no less important responsibility is coaching the driver to maximise their inputs into the vehicle. Few Race Engineers have raced competitively making the process of building confidence between driver and Race Engineer more difficult. However, your approach in analysing and presenting the data will give both you and those around you more confidence and develop a strong bond with your driver.

‘Data is really powerful, but only when used in the right way,’ says Jenner. ‘You have to be 100% confident that you’re analysing the data correctly. Look at trends over several laps, ensure the sensors are providing accurate information and check the GPS or timing sheets to see if the driver was in traffic or overtaking. Only when you are fully confident in your analysis should you feed this back to the driver.’

‘This builds trust because the driver knows you’re presenting quality information. This helps both of you to be open minded and work together to provide reliable feedback and fix issues. When you’ve helped your driver achieve a faster lap time, it’s probably the most rewarding part of the job.’
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