During the past few years import racers have gained new respect. What was once considered to be a niche market has grown in size and sophistication to the point that it has now garnered the attention of the so-called mainstream performance industry.
Much of the credit for this has to go to those individuals who paid the price in time and money to develop the state-of-the-art import racecars that are now seen on drag strips throughout the country.
Today's electronics also deserve a good deal of credit for accelerating this rapid advancement of import car technology. One of the technological shortcuts that has made it possible for import pioneers to speed the development and evolutionary process of quarter-mile performance is data acquisition. By monitoring the functions that were critical to their car's performance, import tuners were able to identify the areas that needed the most help, focus their attention on the modifications that produced the greatest results, and avoid those that paid little dividends. The fact that this acquisition of data also helped them steer clear of potential problems, while verifying their efforts, was an added bonus.
You don't have to be a heavily sponsored racer to reap the benefits of data acquisition. Racepak Data Systems of Lake Forest, Calif. wants to offer this technology to weekend warriors and even serious high-power street cars. In the past equipping a car with a data recorder was often beyond the budget, and sometimes abilities, of the average racer. That is no longer the case. More than 95 percent of all professional drag racers use a Racepak data recorder. Recently Racepak has developed a new line of recorders that not only satisfies the needs of the most demanding pro, but also covers the budget-minded weekend sportsman racers as well. This series of data recorders came about as the result of new technology that the company calls V-Net.
In essence, the V-Net (an acronym for vehicle network) integrates many of the vehicle's electrical components into a network system, much like a computer network. The result is an amazingly simple system that is capable of performing a multitude of tasks. The primary function of these V-Series recorders is still to log data, but now they do it with a greater degree of efficiency. The user gets more channels of information, for a longer period of time, at faster sampling rates, and all from a smaller and lighter package. In addition, they are capable of using the acquired data to perform functions by out-putting the signals obtained from single or combined sources. Another feature of the V-Series recorders that will immediately grab your attention is the lack of wiring that is required. This is a byproduct of the V-Net.
The V-Net has the unique ability to transfer the signals from all sensors, regardless of whether they are analog or digital, to the recorder over a single cable. Running individual wires from every sensor to the recorder, which can result in some massive wire looms, is thankfully a thing of the past. Now all of the sensors simply clip onto a single main cable that runs from sensor to sensor and on to the recorder. Finally, you will be surprised to find that you can now integrate the gauges in your car with these systems. Racepak makes some unusually talented gauges, called Intelli-Gauges, that also snap right onto that single V-Net cable, allowing the gauges to make use of the wiring network and data acquisition quality sensors to source their signals.
The heart of a V-Net system is so cleverly integrated that it is almost overlooked at first glance. Each of the blue connector modules that link the sensors into the V-Net cable appears to be nothing more than a simple connector.
That couldn't be further from the truth. Housed within each of the connectors are circuit boards and a microprocessor, which are the brains of the V-Net. It is these mini-computers that process the signals from each sensors, performing signal conditioning and attaching identification tags to every sample's signal, that then allows the signal to travel on the V-Net cable without getting lost or mixed up with the other signals traveling simultaneously on the cable. This is also one reason why, when adding a sensor to your system, you will not need to return the recorder to the manufacturer for the upgrade. When you plug a new sensor and it's connector module onto the system, the module informs the recorder and its software of its arrival.
There are two critical aspects of datalogging-data compiling and data display. Data compiling or retrieval is executed by the sensors and hardware of the system and is a pretty straightforward set of events. Data display is the ability to organize and configure the data in a manner that will allow the data to be properly utilized. A tuner must understand the meaning of the data if he is to make informed decisions regarding changes. The success of data display comes down to software, pure and simple. Racepak has made certain that its software delivers all the hardware promises. The company made a commitment years ago that they would develop and control its software in-house, and that commitment has paid off. Nearly two decades of working hand in hand with racers has produced a software package that is user friendly, yet contains all the tools one will ever need.
The Racepak DataLink data analysis software is a Windows(r)-based program that is available in four levels of sophistication.
The base version is called DataLink File Viewer and it is only used with the utilitarian V50 systems. Think of the V50 and File Viewer as a get-your-feet-wet system and software. File Viewer will supply the user with all of the usual on-screen graphs displaying numeric and timeline information that most people use, along with a logbook section for recording the vehicle/track/weather/run data.
All other recorders (V100/ V300/V500) will be delivered with the next higher version of software, which is called DataLink Lite. This software contains all the features of File Viewer, plus some other helpful tools. For example, Lite has the ability to overlay one graph upon another for comparison purposes. It also has an expanded logbook section. Another big plus is the ability of DataLink Lite to display real time data on a computer screen. This means the user can connect a data recorder to a laptop or PC and display up to 10 gauges and bar graphs of events as they are actually happening. This dynamometer-style screen is very useful when warming a car in the pits.
The next higher version of DataLink is the Standard version. Once again this option gives the tuner all the features of the lower versions plus more. Standard allows full access to all math channels so the user can create graphs using a combination of known and/or acquired information. As an example, one could create a graph that combined the front wheel rpm (acquired data), with the tire circumference (known information), to display either speed or distance traveled.
Finally there is DataLink Pro, which opens up a whole list of options, such as full access to the logbook where log pages including spreadsheets, x-y plots, histograms, custom display gauges, and much more. It is possible to upgrade to any higher version of Racepak currently offers V Series recorders in four levels. This span of recorders, each their various capabilities and customizable nature, is the reason is able to tailor systems fit virtually anyone's requirements or budget. The simplest of the V-Net systems is called a V50. It is aimed at the budget racer who may only want to look at a limited number of functions, for example the engine RPM and drive shaft RPM to check on his torque converter performance. This unit has no preinstalled sensors, so the user can attach just the sensors he wants or needs.
The V50 is capable of recording data at either 10 or 25 sample per second, which will yield recording times of 800 or 320 second respectively. Data collected by the V50 can be displayed on computer using the aforementioned DataLink File Viewer software.
The V100 data recorder is next in the line of V-Series recorders that comes with packaged sensors and some enhanced capabilities. In addition to the up to 32 devices (think of sensors or channels of information) that can be attached to the V-Net cable of the V100, it also contains two G-meters and a battery voltage sensor that are mounted internally. One G-meter measures longitudinal movement (acceleration or braking) while the other is a lateral G-meter (side to side movement). All sensors monitored by the V100 can be sampled at user programmable rates up to 100 samples per second. The V100 contains 512 Kilobytes of memory, giving this small 8-ounce package a lot of recording time. All V100s come equipped with the DataLink Lite software, with upgrades to the Standard or Pro version available.
The most popular of the recorders has proven to be the V300. It just seems to be ideally suited to most applications. This recorder contains everything found in the V100 plus more. For starters it has provisions for an additional four hardwired digital inputs and four hardwired analog inputs. This brings the channel capacity up to a total of 43. Additionally, the four hardwired analog channels can be sampled at rates up to 1000 times per second. This is handy should you want to do some ultra high-speed sampling, suspension travel. With the V300, or its larger sibling the V500, you also have the option of using a device called a data cartridge to do your downloading. This cigarette package sized cartridge is used to transfer the recorded data from the onboard recorder to the computer in the trailer without the need to connect the two with a serial cable. Adding to the two G-meters and battery voltage sensor that are internally mounted, the V300 is bundled with the hardware required for monitoring the engine RPM and driveshaft RPM, plus the DataLink Lite software. Even with all of this the V300 is still a diminutive 1.2 x 3.1 x 3.9 inches in size and weighs only 10 ounces.
The flagship of the recorders is the V500. This recorder is identical to the V300 with the exception of a few important differences. The first is the increase to eight more hardwired digital and analog channels. This brings the V500 channel capability up to a whopping total of 51. Memory, which is important to such functions as the amount of recording time available, is doubled to two full megabytes, with four megabytes optional. V500s also possess one feature not found on any other recorders. They can be equipped to monitor ignition timing. With all of this the size is only increased to 1.2 x 5.3 x 5.5 inches with a weight of 17 ounces.
All recorders are very modular. They use what Racepak calls plug-n-play sensors. This makes it easy to add any function that you are not currently monitoring. By purchasing a sensor and module combination for the function you wish to add you simply install the sensor, plug it's module onto the V-Net cable, and the next time you record the system recognizes the addition you have made. The software will ask you to confirm the addition, but otherwise that is all there is to upgrading your data recorder. There is no need to return the recorder to the factory for upgrades as in the past.
Intelli-Gauges are like no other gauges you have seen or used. They feature both an analog and a digital display, and you should think of them zas the electrical equivalent of a liquid filled gauge. In addition to functioning as a typical real time display gauge, they can also issue warning alarms. Through your software you can program these gauges to alert you whenever your high or low limits have been exceeded. The gauge's digital display can be used as the warning light, or you can connect them to a remote warning light. Furthermore, if your system is equipped with a V50 Record/Playback module you can recall recorded data and replay it on the gauges. Using a remote keypad you can replay the recorded data in real time, fast forward, fast reverse, step forward, or step reverse. Believe it or not, all of this intelligence is available in a gauge that weighs only 49 grams. All Intelli-Gauges are sonic welded to seal out contaminants and feature a unique radial lighting for nighttime use.
Technology has been the driving force behind the rapid growth of the import performance scene. How else can one explain generating 750 flywheel horsepower from a four-cylinder engine that could have started life as a 109-hp commuter engine? Datalogging puts vital information in a tuner's hands and affords him the luxury of learning lessons without breaking parts. Remember, knowledge is power.