Vehicle Performance Engineering

Powerslide's Andrew Kinsella and Adam Blocker crossing the line in 1rst and 2nd at the 2020 Lionheart Indy 500

In this page, I will walk you through some of the skills and tools I have developed as a Vehicle Performance Engineer for the Powerslide Motorsports Esports team.

Introduction

One of my goals after arriving to the UK was to gain trackside experience with a competitive racing team. Unfortunately, the country has been in lockdown for most of the time I have been here, which has severely limited my opportunity to leave the house or attend race events. I decided to focus on finding the next best thing, and in the Winter of 2020 I joined the Powerslide Motorsports eSports team as a Vehicle Performance engineer!

Even though there is no replacement for real trackside experience, this has been a valuable arena for me to develop many relevant skills that I can take with me to my future career – including communication, test development, setup building, race strategy, reverse engineering, and data analysis. For this entry, I want to show some of the tools I have developed in the last 6 months to help boost performance for the team.

The Powerslide squad in a group testing session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Powerslide Motorsports is an Esports racing team founded in 2016, and today consists of drivers from 8 countries spanning 4 continents. Although they are a versatile squad, they primarily compete with the Dallara IR-18 Indycar in top international Esports series including:

  • Indy Elite Series

  • Lionheart IndyCar Series

  • NTT Indycar Series – Open Setup

  • Indycar Series – Oval Fixed Setup

  • International Simulated Open Wheel Championship (ISOWC)  (Upcoming)

The Powerslide Team has a long list or notable results, with a very small sample including:

  • 1-2 finish 2020 Open-Wheels 500 (Major broadcasted Indy 500 Race), with 4 drivers finishing in the top 8.

  • 1rst place finish MegaDriver66 Indy Series 2020A Indy 500

  • 1rst place team championship in the 2020 Indy Elite Series

  • 1rst place team and driver’s championship in the 2020 Lionheart IndyCar Series

  • 6 consecutive 1rst place team championship in the NTT IndyCar Series Open Setup Series

  • 2nd place finish in the top-split 2019 iRacing Indy 500

About the Team

Powerslide's Hugo Olsson performing obligatory celebration donuts after wining the Open Wheels 500, the team's first major televised Indy 500 victory. Adam Blocker also finished in a close second.

Be sure to follow them on social media and stay tuned to the action! Clearly, this team has an accomplished history and already performs at a high level, but that doesn’t mean there was no scope for me to help them improve.

Responsibilities and Challenges

Initially, I was brought on to the team alongside long-time colleague Derek Moore to help develop race and qualifying setups for upcoming events. This is still my primary responsibility. I participate in regular test sessions where I watch onboard footage, review logged data, analyse performance metrics, and collect driver feedback to help build competitive setups. Often times I am working with several drivers simultaneously! Collaborating together enables us to execute batch setup experiments or pursue different setup ideologies simultaneously, which helps us efficiently converge to an optimal solution.

Joining the team was a unique challenge for me because I had to simultaneously learn to work with new teammates and learn a completely new vehicle. The Powerslide team consists of incredibly skilled drivers with years of setup experience specific to the Dallara IR18. This means that by now they have fine-tuned their intuitive understanding of what setup strategies worked best for the IR18, especially for specific track characteristics.

Powerslide's Andrew Kinsella and Adam Blocker finishing 1-2 at Auto Club Speedway in the Lionheart Racing Series. Adam and Andrew would go on to finish 1rst and 2nd in the 2020 driver's championship, respectively.

This means that, for the first phase of our relationship, they were the ones teaching me! What I was able to contribute was the vehicle dynamics knowledge and explanations behind how their setup decisions worked, helping everyone gain a better understanding of the car. By taking detailed notes after each session, I worked to quickly familiarize myself with the car, eventually reaching the point where I could take the lead during a testing session.

Today, my responsibilities involve much more than setup building! I have begun my first foray into race engineering, helping with live fuel and tyre strategy. I have also designed and led detailed testing procedures to reverse engineer vehicle performance characteristics, using the data to help validate setups and narrow in on the IR18’s working window. I have even begun helping other Esports racers on the side with data analysis and driver coaching. Along the way, I have developed several tools that I keep in my arsenal for maximum effectiveness, that I will now share with you!

Note: I would love to share all the detail I can, but sadly some information will be removed or hidden for competitive reasons.

Jonathan Vogel's Performance Toolbox

MoTeC Data Analysis

My first step was to create a dedicated MoTeC workspace to help analyse track sessions. In iRacing, everyone can get access to the same data – what sets people apart is how well they can organize and display the data to present important performance insights.

To meet this end, I set up dedicated pages to help me narrow into key areas of vehicle performance. These include:

  • Lap Overview (Pictured Below)

  • Driver Inputs and Tool Usage

  • Tyre Temperatures

  • Tyre Pressures

  • Ride Heights, Pitch and Roll

  • Wheel Speeds

  • Damper Histograms

  • Gearing Plot

Snapshot of one of my MoTeC analysis pages. Recognize the track? Contact me with your guess!

The main purpose of these graphs is to help me connect the dots between a setup adjustment, its effect on the car and tyres, and subjective driver feedback. A large component of this included the creation of math channels to create additional insight. While there isn’t enough space to discuss all of them, I will use an example to demonstrate the value gained.

 

During testing at one track, drivers were complaining that the balance of the car was constantly fluctuating during corners. Data from my ride heights page immediately caught my eye, where I had set up a math channel to indicate when the heave springs were engaging. iRacing provides frustratingly few vehicle parameters for the IR18, and creating this channel required some cleverness, such as reverse engineering the heave spring motion ratios.

 

Look at a snapshot of two corners from a baseline run in the image below. The front and rear ride height channels are programmed to turn yellow whenever the third spring is engaged. In the image it is evident that during the corners, the heave springs were constantly engaging and disengaging, causing the handling inconsistency that the drivers complained about.

Baseline vehicle setup

We adjusted the third spring gaps to hit the sweet spot where they disengage completely in the corners to improve mechanical grip, while engaging at high speed to improve ride height control:

Improved heave spring gap setup

The result from that change alone was an improvement of almost two tenths in race pace, or 0.33%!

Automated Session Data Reports

As helpful as the MoTeC pages can be, it can be hard to sift through all the data quickly and extract a broad summary of how the run went. I addressed this by creating an automated MATLAB tool that generates data reports for each run and compiles them onto a spreadsheet. Later, I could add in notes from the drivers, and the result was a detailed logbook of the test session to track progress and setup changes. A generic report example is shown below:

Originally this was meant to be a complete one-stop tool, but I found myself constantly updating it to meet new requirements. These days, I have different versions for various specific applications. For example, here is a report template made specifically to analyse Indy 500 qualifying sessions, which last for exactly 4 laps:

Aero Map Development

Since very few IR18 vehicle parameters are provided, I have had to get creative to reverse-engineer these properties from the data available. My proudest example of this was the development of aero maps to help understand the optimal ride height windows for different areas of the track. Having knowledge of how downforce, drag and balance change with different suspension configurations has enabled a much more methodical approach to dialling in our ride heights, spring rates and weight jacker configurations for each track.

To get this information, I designed and organized test procedures to collect straight line speed and coast down testing data for a variety of ride height, rake and tilt combinations. Since this information has proved to be so monumental in improving our setup philosophies, I am afraid it is very sensitive information. I am not in a position publicly post details about the test procedures, data processing techniques or final outputs, but if you want to learn more shoot me an email and I would be happy to have a chat!

Aero map development has also helped us make setups for traffic and dirty air.

Driver Analysis Reports

The first automated report tool I made focused on vehicle performance metrics, but I later found a use to create an automated tool to focus on driver performance instead. This tool uses GPS, track and driver data to help drivers understand where they are gaining and losing time.

Even though this data is easily accessible in MoTeC, having the ability to auto-process and organize this data creates a convenient report that I can give to drivers to review in their spare time. Since starting with Powerslide, I have begun to volunteer my services to help out other Esports racers looking to improve their setup or driving, and this is where I get the most use from this tool.

Sample of an analysis report I made for the CUFSAE Simsports team during their preparation for the 12 Hours of Sebring

Closing Thoughts

Working with Powerslide, I drew heavily on my vehicle dynamics knowledge and experience tuning FSAE cars to hit the ground running. However, transitioning to an IndyCar led to a significant learning curve, as I had to learn to manage new variables such as driver tools, tyre wear, traffic, and an order of magnitude of more adjustment options. Throughout the experience, I was able to develop and improve on many skills, including:

  • Driver data analysis

  • Basic fuel and tyre race strategy

  • Data and file organization

  • Automatic report generation and continuous tool development

  • Setting up for performance in clean air and traffic

  • Managing tyre wear and temperature through a stint

  • Asymmetrical and oval setups

  • Setting up the chassis for driver tool adjustment

These skills will help me be more prepared than ever to attack a future career in professional motorsports, and I am excited to keep pushing with this fantastic team!