Experiments in Coaching, Part 1

I have the opportunity this month to have two events on the same track. At the beginning of June I instructed with PCA at the Shenandoah Circuit, Summit Point Motorsports Park, and at the end of June I return with BMW. I’ve always wanted to see if I could gather data to answer two common questions: How much faster will I be on track tires? And, how effective is coaching an experienced driver?

So the answer to the first one is fairly straight forward, but since this track can have several different layouts, let’s establish some controls. We will not use the banked Karussel, but instead take the inside line. We will run the Old Ram cut-off instead of running through the hot grid, and we will drive the Range Straight instead of the Range Esses.

I have 75+ days on this track and data on several hundred laps, that until now, were always on max performance summer tires (treadler 200 or greater.) My best recorded time was 1:44.73. At the start of this first weekend in June, I did a few sessions on Falken 615Ks (treadwear 200) and then switched to Toyo RRs (treadwear 40.) The best on the Falkens was 1:44.87 (so 0.14 sec off of my best). The best on the Toyos was 1:42.96, an improvement of 1.77 sec over my best, and 1.91 sec better than the Falkens on the same day. Average the two together and that’s a 1.84 sec improvement or just about 1.75%. So, just by spending money on better tires, I was faster, but that doesn’t mean I was better.

Armed with my new faster tires, I then asked one of my fellow instructors, Paul Bylis to ride along and coach me. I listened to his advice for a session, and then went out on my own again. This time, my best lap was a 1:41.97. A further improvement of 0.99 sec. So now I have a rough comparison of the value of coaching (which for me is free since I just have to ask for it) vs. spending money on more expensive tires.

Part two of this experiment is to let the Garmin Catalyst Coach me and see what further improvements can be made. The Catalyst tells me I’m still leaving a three fourths of a second on the table. To account for differing conditions at the end of the month, I’ll set a new control time, and then let the Catalyst coach me. Stay tuned.

Garmin Catalyst on the Jefferson Extended Circuit

Lap from recent HPDE with NCC BMW CCA on the Jefferson Extended Circuit, Summit Point WV. E46 M3 on Michelin Pilot PS2 tires with full tread. Only my sixth track day in this car.

Video is interesting because you can see my struggles as a former front wheel driver. I’m leaving about 3/4 of a second on the table as I try to find the right way to deal with the road crown on turn-in. Watch the red time in the lower right of the frame. That’s the delta to my optimal lap. I loose time on the turn in for Turns 1, 4, and 14. I do get a good launch out of T14 at the end, where I’m immediately up on the next lap which was ultimately not completed due to the end of the session.

My best lap ever in the MINI on Pilot Super Sports was a 1:27.5. Previous best in this car was 1:26.2. New best is 1:24.9. I continue to be impressed with how easy and effective the Garmin Catalyst coach is to use.

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Garmin Catalyst First Use

Track season is finally upon us here in the mid-Atlantic. I had the chance to spend three days at Summit Point Main with PCA at the end of March. Here’s a 12 minute video I put together talking about how I used the Catalyst to improve. Please let me know in the comments if you have any features you’ve found especially useful.

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Introducing the Garmin Catalyst Performance Driving Optimizer

From the first time we read Ross Bentley’s summary about the Garmin Catalyst, we knew we had to add it to our product catalog. So we’re proud to announce that GeorgeCo Motorsports is now an authorized Garmin Dealer. We’ve gotten our first few units in stock and as soon as we update the inventory database, they’re gone.

So let’s back up. What’s the Garmin Catalyst and why get so excited about a tablet computer? There are many lap timers and data acquisition systems out on the market, some better than the others. Some (most) are complicated to use, and require off-track analysis. The Garmin Catalyst takes a different approach, offering real-time feedback to improve your driving. It’s not about RPMs, brake pedal pressure, or throttle position. It’s about pace and form and line.

The Catalyst isn’t for every HPDE driver. A beginning student is going to be too inconsistent lap-to-lap and would find the feedback “carry more speed” is probably dangerous. And on the other extreme, the experienced racer looking for that final tenth isn’t likely to find it here either. (My go-to coaching advice: it’s your pedal release….) But the advanced intermediate to experienced advanced HPDE driver who knows there’s .5 to 2 seconds a lap to still be gained — that’s the target. You get the benefit of an experienced AI coach riding in the right seat, without the additional weight penalty of carrying a passenger. This could be a great tool for an enduro team to use in practice, especially if there’s a huge range of skills among the drivers that have teamed up for the race.

Too many lap timers give you an “optimum” lap time by pasting together your best times through every corner on a track. But that’s not how the real world works. Fast out of one corner often means a compromise into the next. The Catalyst gives you realistic track segments, and offers not only advice on line, speed, turn in, apex and exit, but can also show you what that line looks like. You can also choose how much coaching feedback you want to receive as you’re driving. Turn off the audio coaching and use it as a more traditional lap timer and review your session back in the paddock. Turn on basic coaching for feedback as you drive, or enable the advanced coaching feedback to fine tune your line.

Read about the details or purchase over on our product page. Look for upcoming posts as we unbox and install it. Garmin offers several mounting options and more accessories are coming out in the coming weeks.

Gauge cluster button fix

I’ve seen this happen in a couple of cars now and I’m not sure why. Perhaps someone who is unfamiliar with how they work gets in the car and tries to set the clock by spinning the knob, or a previous owner took the cluster apart and broke the tabs? Usually both knobs are affected though only one side is supposed to twist. Here’s how to take out the cluster and assess what’s wrong. As per usual disclaimer, the following is provided for information use only — no wagering. Disconnect the battery before working on any electrical system in your car.

It helps to have the steering wheel lowered and pulled forward as far as possible to get as much space as possible to work, or in this case, remove the steering wheel. The cluster is held in place with two T-20 Torx screws.

Cluster is held in by two T-20 screws

Remove them, and gently pull the cluster forward until you can reach the electrical connectors on the rear. The connectors have lock-levers. Gently depress the lock, and slide the lever forward to remove the connector. They are different sizes so you don’t have to remember which is which. Remove the cluster and set it on a cloth.

Press down on the white wedge and pull the black arm toward the top of the cluster to release

Gently pull off the two rubber outer buttons.

Gently pull away from the face to remove

Flip the cluster over and you will see a series of T-10 Torx screws (mine was missing a few of them). Remove the screws and gently lift the back off the cluster. The plastic button plungers should stay with the instrument cluster. Avoid touching any of the circuits or the circuit board and gently lift the board from the front housing.

My cluster just had four screws. One at the top, one in the middle and one on either end. I suspect the others were lost over the years.

Remove the screens which have the icons for the various warning lights along the bottom of the cluster. (More on these later.)

This shows where the plungers fit. The one on the right twists, the one on the left does not.

Now is a good time to clean the inside of the glass on the front half of the cluster. Use a clean micro-fiber cloth and a screw driver to reach all of the areas inside the cluster. Turn our attention to the reset mechanisms.

Circle shows broken spike.

They are delicate plastic plungers with a plastic spring on one end and a T section in the middle and should have a spike which activates a small button recessed in the instrument face. When you look at the instrument face, you can see how they work. The one on the left does not twist. The T is held in place so the only action is the plunger. The one on the right is used to reset the clock. It too has a plunger action, but also twists left or right about 45 degrees to move the time forward or back. It does not spin. If the plungers are in good nick, then chances are they just came out of their slots and careful reassembly should get you working again. More than likely, however, one or both plungers have lost their spikes. You can’t buy new ones, and if you buy a used cluster for parts, chances are they will also be missing their spikes as well. Fortunately, the internet has an answer. See this post on e46fanatics. We used it to fabricate new spikes.

Following the instructions, we wrapped a paperclip around a 1/8 in drill bit, then trimmed and bent it to match the photos. (I decided to paint the windings black to better hide them when reassembled.) Slide it on the plunger (tight fit), position, and glue in place. The one on the right side needs a larger surface area to activate the recessed button from various degrees of twist.

Circle shows where the spike activates the recessed button

Use some glue to secure the winding to the plunger and then paint. Before you reassemble the cluster, you may also want to use black electrical tape to block out any annoying lights from systems you may have disabled such as the low washer fluid light if you removed the reservoir, or the seat belt light because you’re using different buckle receptacles (in my case, those from an E30 M3.)

Before reattaching the screws on the back, check that the plunger has seated in the slot.

Assembly is the reverse of removal.

When complete, the winding is barely visible.