Now, you might not think software geekery is a PH thing. And to be fair, most of the time you’d be right. But while I was at Mercedes-Benz World the other day, sampling the latest SL, I was also getting to grips with AMG’s Track Pace App. The latest in-car software will either come as standard if you buy a new Mercedes (with the higher-end stuff mainly), or, for a relatively small fee (around £200), you can add it as a factory option. And, if you’re buying second-hand, as long as the car’s running the correct MBUX software, it can be switched on as an aftermarket treat. The other side of it is a smartphone app, which is free to download.
So why would you want Track Pace? Well, most likely because you do a lot of track days – yes, the clue’s in the name – and you want to record your day for posterity and rifle through the data to work out where you were dropping time. You can also create leaderboards, so you can really wind up your mates. And, of course, this being 2022 – when everything has to be shareable – you can load all the footage straight to YouTube. How jolly marvellous. It will even wrap up highlights of the recorded footage, complete with a jazzy intro and outro, into an ‘emotional content video’. Alrighty then, who just got the shivers reading that?
Anyway, keep reading because there are some interesting elements to this new software. As with any form of datalogging and recording device, the primary purpose is to make you a better, faster driver. To hone your skills, down to the last millimetres of throttle application and lb ft of brake pressure, and get you carrying a bit more mid-corner speed.
It all starts with the circuit maps. These either come installed already, which will typically be the great and the good ones, or you can download others from the Track Pace database. And if you’re at some obscure venue that’s nothing more than a bunch of cones laid out on a runway, no bother. You can draw your own maps. I tried this because funnily enough one of the maps that wasn’t installed was Mercedes' own handling circuit at Brooklands. It’s dead easy to do. Simply tell it where the start is, set off at a modest speed and complete the lap. If you’re not on a looped circuit, and instead doing a point-to-point hill climb, you can also pin a separate finish point.
Once the system knows where you’re going, it relies on the rest of the car's sensors to ascertain how well you’ve gone. And when you think what’s installed on cars these days on top of the GPS positioning stuff – yaw sensors, accelerometers, a steering angle sensor, throttle position sensor, brake pressure sensor, readings for speed and revs – the app wants for nothing. It's taking information from over 100 sources, and the job of Track Pace is to digest all that incoming data and show it to you in easy-to-read numerical form and traces.
It can do that live, but that’s next to useless. I mean, can you drive a quick lap while you’re studying a screen? No, me neither. But when you’ve done a lap, or a series of them, and you’re back at the pits you can compare them to see where you’ve gained and lost time. That is useful. I know it is because that’s what I did, with the expert critical eye of racing driver and driving coach Nathan Wright, and it’s genuinely insightful.
For example, you can see that corner where the front started running wide, and reference it with the following lap, when you braked longer and deeper into the corner and picked up a tenth just by keeping more weight on the nose. It works in a straight line, too, recording drag race stats. And this is highly accurate information. Apparently, so accurate that Mercedes’ development engineers have started using it to cover the basics of vehicle development, because it means less equipment to lug about.
The other facet of the app, as I’ve mentioned, is the ability to record footage. In some markets, that’s done by the car’s onboard camera, but for legal reason here in the UK the footage is recorded by your smartphone. It uses both front and rear cameras, so you can see what’s happening on track and on your face – the pleasure, the concentration, but hopefully not the grimace as you career clumsily into the Armco.
Now, you may be thinking what's all the fuss is about - equipment for measuring and recording your track days is available already, and Porsche launched a similar OEM system called Porsche Track Precision just recently. Which is all true. But Mercedes claims its system is unique as it’s the only one that is fully integrated into the car’s hardware. All the information is displayed on the infotainment screen, but even more usefully, you can see your relative sector times in both the driver display and the head-up display. So, without taking your eyes off the road, you’ll know whether you doing better or worse around each lap. And if that’s still too much of a distraction, the car’s ambient dashboard lighting glows green or red depending on which side of the timeline you’re on. On top of that, it can provide you with a ghost car avatar, which avid gamers will know and love (or possibly hate) from racing simulators.
This isn’t the end to the app’s development, either. The team is working on integrating an e-boost feature for the latest C63. This will tell you the optimal place to deploy the car's electrical boost on a lap, and for how long to use it to gain the maximum lap time and avoid derating. On top of that, there’s talk of separate apps. Possible iterations include a road app, which for safety reasons isn’t about going faster. That will help you to plot grand tours and record the footage, possibly offering suggested routes that take in the best roads, scenery and photo opportunities. There may even be an off-road version, which will boost your green laning skills. It's all about using technology in a usable way to enhance your driving experience - and from my experience, it's already doing a good job.
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