At race, data will dart fast as hands can type and fast as wheels can spin


There will be as much tapping on keyboards as tapping on accelerators and brake pedals when 18 race cars zoom through downtown Las Vegas at up to 185 mph this weekend.

Laptops and instant messaging software have partially replaced radios and confusion for the people behind the scenes at the Champ Car World Series (www.champcarworldseries.com). The 2007 season opens with the Vegas Grand Prix (www.vegasgrandprix.com), set for Friday through Sunday.

Race time is 1 p.m. (PDT) Sunday.

No, the drivers won't be focused on screens as they average 100 mph. But each of the nine racing teams will have a direct connection to race officials through a wireless network and a custom instant messaging program, said Tony Cotman, vice president of Champ Car World Series.

Each team has 30 support people, ranging from mechanics to pit crew. One person on each team will be sitting at a computer, trading messages with race officials.

"Technology is getting better and better and the radio clutter was getting enormous. We found there is more than one way to reach out," Cotman said.

"I needed to communicate to the teams," he said. "Via the radio, I would get my answer a minute or two later. Now instant messenger is the primary source of communications between us and the teams.

"People in the pits are on laptops, and up in race control we're watching incidents and replays. A girl sits next to me, and her primary function is to communicate with the teams. On a good -- or bad -- day, she may have 10 or 20 IM windows open at once," Cotman said.

Champ Car World Series operations director Ziggy Harcus said the technology makes it easier for the race teams to get information pertaining to their drivers directly from race control.

"It used to be 'radio, official, radio, team, radio, driver, radio,'" he said. "It just wasn't the way to do it."

An IM transcript from a race last season showed a conversation between race officials and team whose car was about to be lapped by faster drivers. The team assured officials their driver was aware of the upcoming traffic and would let others pass easily. Another conversation warned teams of oil spray on the course.

One downside of the typed communication is the bypassing of some officials stationed in the pit areas, Harcus said.

"They don't always realize what's going on, and they feel a little left out, so we'd like to use PDAs (personal digital assistants) for race officials."

Harcus said race officials will experiment with hand-held devices in future races, as the focus in the season-opener will be the new cars. "All the teams have brand-new cars this year, so we'll be busy as hell. Until you get them on the racetrack, you aren't sure what's going to happen.

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