The already fragile egos of HPDE drivers are about to take another hit. Shelley, the autonomous Audi TT-S developed by Stanford, has tried her first lapping day, and the results were promising.
Shelley is capable of lapping in Thunderhill in well under two and a half minutes, which won’t win her any SCCA trophies. According to the article at Singularity Hub, however, she’s within a few seconds of “professional drivers” already. The exact laptimes aren’t available, so it’s impossible to know if she is running 2:29 or 2:14.
The Stanford people say that Shelley is particularly good at judging corner entry speed — which is interesting because that’s exactly the task that most novice track drivers get very wrong. In fact, you can argue that accurate corner estimation is the single most important task a racer faces.
Watching the very short snippets of in-car video is interesting because you can clearly see the car working the wheel back and forth mid-corner to find out the available grip. This little rocking motion is common to racing drivers everywhere, particularly in wet conditions. Note, too, that the Audi’s nose doesn’t change direction when this happens; that’s because, as I’ve shown my students many harrowing times, when you’re already at the right speed for the corner, turning the steering wheel more accomplishes nothing.
Shelley’s now run Pikes Peak and Thunderhill. If she can just make it down to Pebble Beach next year, she’ll have accomplished more than pretty much every working motoring journo in the business. Thank G-d she can’t write.