Four years ago, I bit the bullet and bought a Traqmate for my race car. I continue to believe that the Traqmate is the best tool out there for the club racer on a budget. The predictive lap timer feature alone is an amazingly powerful tool that allows you to make multiple changes in the way you drive a single lap and see the results in real time.
Unfortunately for me, my Traqmate is wired into that race car pretty securely. Is it possible to get similar data for a lot less money — say, for seventy or eighty bucks instead of the $999 Traqmate charges for the basic in-car system?
When I saw three students of mine in a row using the Trackmaster app for Android phones, I knew I needed to take a look at it, if only to figure out why only one of those three students appeared to be able to get any data out of the thing. I bought the app through the Google Play market for six bucks or so and installed it on my Motorola Droid 4. Having read some of the posts on the Trackmaster forum, I knew that I would probably want an external GPS for maximum accuracy, preferably a “10 Hz” model which would take ten GPS readings per second.
I purchased the QStarz BT-818XT receiver. To use that (or any other) Bluetooth GPS with the Trackmaster app, I had to spend three more bucks on the “BT GPS Interface” from Trackaroo. The forums are full of people bitching mightily about having to pay an extra three dollars for this feature. These people aren’t racers. I know they aren’t racers because every racer in the world knows that cash simply disappears while on-track. The last time I went to VIR, for example, I put over $235 worth of fuel-related charges on my plum-colored Amex. Three bucks? That won’t get you a large drink at most trackside food stations.
To hold the Droid 4 somewhere I could see it while on-track, I bought a Skiva StrongMount suction cup. I’d hoped to then test the resulting combination at the upcoming 24 Hours of Lemons race at Thunderhill, but circumstances dictated that I use it in a Mazda2 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. More to come on that later, although if you read the data I’m about to show you carefully, you will be able to write the story yourself. If you do that, please mail it to me so I can use it and save some time, okay?
Using the Mytrackmaster.com website, I selected a “session marker” for Laguna Seca and downloaded it to my phone, which was extremely easy and didn’t require that I actually have the phone with me. There were many different sets of markers available but I chose the simplest one: a single marker representing the start/finish line. Other marker sets divided MRLS into up to 13 different sections. I didn’t want to mess with any of that, particularly my first time out. I started the app, got behind the pace car, and went racing. At the end of my race, which came sooner than I’d hoped, I touched the screen once, which stopped the logging session and immediately uploaded the session data to the Trackmaster servers. Had I had a laptop handy, I also could have emailed myself a file which I could use in conjunction with Google Earth.
You can see my session in the Mazda2 by clicking here. Clicking on an individual lap will show you that lap overlaid on the Google Earth map of Laguna Seca. It’s pretty easy to see that the first lap is a pace lap, the second lap had some drama, and lap 13 ends with me sitting on the outside of Turn 6 waiting for the wrecker to come tow me to pit lane. The laptimes aren’t as consistent as I’d like, and the little Mazda’s lack of power occasionally makes the software show braking zones when what’s really happening is that there’s no more power to accelerate (on both the front and back straight, for example), but overall it was useful to have the laptimes available to me in the car so I could work on tire strategy a bit and fine-tune my laps on a track which I’ve only visited four times in my whole life. The display isn’t perfectly easy to read under race conditions — the black-on-grey last lap time is particularly annoying — but it works.
Compared to the MyChron Light TG laptimer I normally use at open-lapping events, the Trackmaster app isn’t nearly as easy to read or use on the fly. Compared to the Traqmate in my race car, the Trackmaster can’t provide data or on-track feedback of nearly the same quality. It’s also not all that accurate — the transponder results from my race were as much as 0.3 seconds away from the Trackmaster results despite my selection of the fastest-possible 10Hz GPS and the fact that I was using a relatively high-powered Droid 4 phone with a processor capable of keeping up with that unit. (That’s an issue, by the way; if you have a slower, older Android phone you may be limited to 5Hz or even 1Hz receivers.)
The G-readings you can see on my data are plainly fanciful — no Mazda in production history can reach 3g in steady-state cornering — and the Web interface has multiple annoyances to it, not least the fact that somehow I can’t view the entire racetrack on a 17″ monitor. I also noticed that the Trackmaster philosophy of having a spot on the track to denote the split markers, rather than a line across it like Traqmate does, can lead to “double laps” if you don’t hit the marker at the right spot. This is important because while one might always hit the correct spot during an open-lapping session, in an actual race one often finds one’s self anywhere from an inch to twenty feet and a cloud of dust away from that spot, depending on how difficult one’s competitors are being at the moment.
Neither the MyChron nor the Traqmate have what the Trackmaster does, however: instant, effortless setup and data recording. The MyChron requires the placement of one (or many) beacon devices on tripods around the track, to say nothing of a little bit of luck in the placement of those beacons. The Traqmate requires power, secure mounting in a specialized bracket, a separate mounting for the display, running a wire or two, and an available computer nearby to make sense of the data. By contrast, the Trackmaster requires under a hundred bucks’ worth of equipment in addition to the smartphone that you probably already own. It’s supremely portable, it works with pretty much any car, and it emails you a nice copy of your data just a few minutes after you shut the thing off in disgust while sitting in a gravel trap.
In some situations, the Trackmaster is simply the only chance you’re going to have to get data on a session. For that reason alone, I recommend it without reservation. It isn’t a Traqmate, but that’s like saying a Fiesta isn’t a Gallardo. I was grateful to have it while I was in California and I’ll continue to use it in the future.
Disclaimer: There’s nothing to disclaim. I paid full price for everything and the Trackmaster people have no idea who I am.