Getting technical with chassis refinements, gearing changes, and engine tweaks involves a) an in-depth knowledge about the specifications of a particular race car, and b) a solid understanding of various mathematical formulas and how they relate to performance.
Computer programs that specialize in maximizing race car performance can help clear up some of the confusion by applying accepted formulas to multiple areas of a race car simultaneously. The most confusing part for many racers who are new to racing software is finding the right software for the job. Generally speaking, two types of racing software exist: software designed with qualified race car engineers in mind, and software that caters more to the serious-minded amateur. An inquisitive rookie could learn much from racing software too, but the results should be even more cautiously applied and not interpreted as gospel.
As a word of caution, all race car simulation programs are only as good as the information going into it (from the user) and the formulas and theories used by the programmer. All these programs warn the user that certain relationships simply can't be estimated. Also, each program advises against its use as the only source of making decisions on any race car. To add more mystery to the electronic stew, some programmers (who often are respected race car engineers, but not always) apply theories that may or may not be universally accepted.
Now that we've discussed the obligatory dark side of these programs in general terms, let's examine what they can do in more specific terms. Many times, the results are eye-openers, and a new level of understanding can be achieved by people at all levels of the sport. Simply put, racing software can test more "what if" situations in a nanosecond than a race team could test in a week of 24-hour testing.
Nowadays, a person searching for race car software has more options than ever. Here is a listing (in alphabetical order) with descriptions of some of the better-known companies that have tackled this complex genre of simulation software. Prices range significantly from less than $40 to more than $1,000. Most of the these programs run under Windows 95/98. None of them come with a robot that will actually do all of the physical work, either. The big advantage to racing software revolves around the fact that the user is getting a lifetime of experience out of the software's programmer, who often is a prominent race car engineer.
AutowareAutoware produces a variety of simulation software that examines everything from front suspension geometry to theoretical engine performance (28 programs were listed on the company's Web site). Front Suspension Geometry Pro is a 3-D software program that emulates dirt or asphalt race car front suspension geometry. Designed for ease of use, it features photographic aids that help the user identify specific components that need to be measured, and also shows how to measure each piece. It can be used with many different suspensions, including popular Ford- and GM-style suspensions.
The Engine Shop software also utilizes photographic inputs and is designed for amateur users. It allows the user to put together engines based on brand-name parts. The program is engineering-based and conducts a detailed analysis when-ever an engine change is made. It formulates values for overall engine efficiency, indexing the crankshaft, and many more mechanical aspects that could be cumbersome and confusing to do by hand.
The highly advanced cousin of Engine Shop is Engine Analyzer Pro, which is designed for high-level engine development and would probably require an engineering degree to use. Autoware also has the Tire Temperature Analyzer, which serves both as an information tracker and as a means of making observations and recommendations.
Chassis R&DChassis R&D offers two well-respected racing software packages that have been used in all types of racing from stock cars to sprint cars to sports cars on both dirt and asphalt. The company has a U.S. patent on the methods developed and used in the software. The Advanced Chassis Geometry Software for Auto Racing examines the roll center characteristics of an individual car and allows the user to quickly redesign a chassis for optimum racing performance. The software allows the user to change arm angles, arm lengths, dive, and roll. It then recalculates chassis coordinates and shows how far each point has moved after the redesign process. The other program, The Advanced Chassis Set-Up Software for Auto Racing, is designed to set the race car up for maximum performance and make all four tires work by maximizing the use of spring rates, sway bar diameter, Panhard bar height, and many other factors. Both programs offer convenient data-entry, and help files include listings of facts on demand.
IntercompIntercomp has developed Race Car 1.0, a program that works with the company's scales (or any scale system with a RS-232 output). In addition to tracking scale information, the user can also record data on chassis geometry, suspension setup, weights, center of gravity, track data, and tire management. The program utilizes a timing system that compiles the data into a detailed performance summary.
Performance TrendsPerformance Trends offers many software packages for circle-track applications, engine building, street performance, car design, and drag racing. Many demos are available for download from the company's Web site. The Circle Track Analyzer V2.0 (see Quick Tech, April 2000 Circle Track) simulates many types of vehicles on any type of asphalt racetrack. Items that can be analyzed include power curves, gear ratios, aerodynamics, and bank angle. The program has a built-in roll-center calculator, rear suspension inputs and layout screen, and the effects of dive and roll are animated as the car goes around the track. The results of most modifications can be tracked through estimated lap times. The company also offers three engine analyzers designed to facilitate novice, intermediate, or advanced engine builders. The user can pick from hundreds of preloaded sample parts while building a theoretical engine, and the final product can be imported into Performance Trends' other products such as Circle Track Analyzer. The company's full product line also includes an on-board data logger, port flow analyzer, compression ratio calculator, and a transmission gear calculator.
Steve Smith AutosportsSteve Smith Autosports offers a vast assortment of resources for racers, including computer programs designed in-house (although some of the programs are designed by outside sources, as well). Ten programs are available that can analyze overall and individual areas of setup and design. Chassis, tire, front suspension geometry, rear suspension geometry, lap tracking software, engine analyzers, and brake calculators are designed to help set up just about any race car on either oval tracks (dirt or asphalt) or road courses. The Computerized Chassis Set-Up program can calculate proper spring, shock, and anti-rollbar rates based on the dimensions and measurements from almost any type of race car. It then makes recommendations for ballast weight placement, proper final gear ratio, spring rates, and numerous other critical areas.
The Brake Calculator processes data relating to a race car's disc brake system. It determines the pressure in each brake line as well as the forces applied to the rotor, and the forces applied to each tire. The program also calculates loads under various dynamic conditions. The Racing Chassis Analysis program does a complete bumpsteer analysis of a car in addition to a complete dynamic cornering analysis on both double A-arm and strut suspensions. Steve Smith Autosports has many other programs-we just don't have the space to mention all of them.
WM. C. Mitchell SoftwareWilliam C. Mitchell is one of the pioneers in race car engineering software. He developed his first program in 1983 and has continued to refine and create a variety of general-purpose race car programs under the Racing by the Numbers product family. The Racing by the Numbers programs are intended for engineers and experienced crew members. Formula 1, Winston Cup, and auto manufacturers have all used Mitchell's software, so this is serious stuff. WinGeo3 is a suspension geometry program that provides 3-D views of the chassis from any angle. The user can specify ride height and roll angle or spring length, shock length, or rocker panel height, among other factors, and then compute the suspension parameters corresponding to a specified situation. A complete design feature lets the user create a suspension with characteristics such as instant center location or roll center placement. Other software includes a gear ratio calculator, an engine and chassis calculator, a brake calculator, and a race car simulator.