Training Test Drivers with Data Acquisition 2000-01-3568
Test-driving is a specialized art. Automotive manufactures, parts suppliers, and tire manufacturers employ test drivers to evaluate their products in a variety of circumstances. But Honda and some other firms prefer the automotive engineer test his own product. This gives direct feedback and provides a better “feel” for how the vehicle reacts. It produces a better car and a better engineer. Some Formula One teams send their race engineers to a racing school.
Test drivers can be trained at commercial racing schools. These effectively teach students to drive at high speeds near the limit of the vehicle. The test driver must have the skills to perform a test with minimal danger to the driver and the vehicle.
But the demands of a test driver are not the same as a racing car driver, though many test drivers also race. The test driver must evaluate the vehicle as well as drive fast. The test driver must faithfully execute a test plan while observing vehicle behavior. The successful racing driver will recognize the failings of the vehicle and find a way to drive around them. The test driver must recognize the failings and find a way to fix them.
Honda and TRC recognized the difference and developed a driver training program to address these needs. The program was developed primarily to make sure Honda's test engineers have the skills necessary to assure the car being delivered to the market is safe. In order to address these special needs Honda and TRC's program is designed to provide high skill levels but more importantly to provide high safety levels.
Honda and The Transportation Research Center (TRC) use a four-step program to train automotive engineers as test drivers. The process described in this paper was used to help the test engineers improve their driving skills. The four students had a wide range of driving experience. One had raced Karts while another had never been to a race track.
The students completed one day at TRC and one at Mid-Ohio in a variety of cars, one of which had an on-board data acquisition system. The instructors rode with the students and used video and data analysis to reinforce and clarify their comments.
The students also learned how to analyze and evaluate driving techniques with a data acquisition system. The instructors learned how their subjective evaluation of a student can be supported with data.
This paper also shows common mistakes made by students of varying experience levels and how these can be detected in the data. This type of analysis is performed every race weekend by multi-driver race teams but is rarely documented because the data is proprietary.
The paper also demonstrates how simple statistics, including maximum speed, minimum speed in a turn and average throttle use, can be used to quickly spot and correct driving techniques. These statistics can direct the analyst's attention to important portions of the data.
TRC and Honda developed an effective process that will be used for future events. TRC, as an independent organization, will continue to develop driver training programs.