Digging into the data: How to make a faster race car driver

The #3 CJ Wilson Racing Mazda MX-5 leads its sister car through one of the Circuit of the Americas' brightly painted turns. (credit: Sideline Sports Photography)

When it comes to natural talent, racing a car is a lot like most other sports. Innate ability counts, of course, but it's no substitute for hard work. Data also has its role to play, enabled at the race track by rugged devices with embedded processors and GPS. It's something we've delved into at a strictly amateur level in the past, but we've been curious to see how the pros do things. Enter CJ Wilson Racing.

If you're more of a fan of stick-and-ball sports than the four-wheeled kind, you'll probably know CJ Wilson for his day job—pitching for the Anaheim Angels Major League Baseball team. However, Wilson is also a committed gearhead. He likes fast cars—he owns a McLaren P1, an R32 Nismo GTR, and a Dodge Viper ACR among others—and since 2010 he's had his own racing team. The team started off racing in the Playboy Mazda MX5 Cup (a one-make series for Miatas) before graduating to the Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge.

2015 was a good year for CJ Wilson racing. It raced Mazda MX-5s in the Street Tuner (ST) class, for cars that are allowed relatively few modifications from the road car. The #5 car, driven by Steven McAllen and Chad McCumbee, won at Watkins Glen and Lime Rock Park. Coupled with two more podiums (Sebring and Austin) and several other Top 10 finishes, it was enough to win the 2015 ST championship. The team also ran a second car at some of the races, the #3 driven by Marc Miller and Tyler McQuarrie, and we sat down with them—along with team manager Andris Laivins—in the team's transporter at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin to learn more about how data helps them succeed.

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