Computer geeks are helping the No. 4 Corvette C6.R team win races.
In a world where a fraction of a second sometimes determines the outcome, it only makes sense that usually it’s the little things that can make the difference.
That’s where people like Chuck Houghton, race engineer for the Corvette Racing team in the American Le Mans Series GT class, can have a big influence on what happens on the track, even though they’re not behind the wheel of the car or even on the pit crew.
Houghton and his team of computer engineers have come up with sophisticated algorithms that can help decide when to make changes to the car or even how much fuel to put in the tank.
That’s what happened at the Petit Le Mans in Georgia two years ago.
“(The two leading cars had) stopped at the same time for our last stop,” Houghton says. “We put just a tiny bit more fuel in our car, so they beat us out of the pit. And on the last lap, the Ferrari ended up running out of fuel. We were in second, and passed them on the track, and won.”
He’s convinced his staff and their decision on how much fuel to put in the tank made the difference.
But the work doesn’t just happen during the race.
In the days before, Houghton and his team actually “run” hundreds of laps during a simulated race to evaluate all the information they have gathered. Then on race day, they put their knowledge to the real test, bringing a truckload of servers and laptops with them to the track to monitor the critical data.
Sometimes that means they have to stay awake for 36 hours or more during a race like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but Houghton says the adrenaline, especially in a close race, keeps them alert. It can be a different story, however, if their car is not in contention.
In long races like that, however, their work is even more critical.
“During the race we get live telemetry from the car,” Houghton says. “We can see exactly what the tire pressures are, the temperature of the tires, what gear the driver is in, we can see all that in real time and we can adjust quick things like tire pressure for the next stop.” While the team keeps pit stop times to a minimum during short races, in longer ones Houghton might take more time to adjust things like the overall balance of the car by changing the “rake,” the difference in ride height between the front and rear.