Close your eyes and picture the scene
It is 7am on Sunday morning of the 1970 Le Mans 24 Hours. It is raining and the metronomic howl of engines blasting past the main grandstand echo with the regularity of a Swiss watch.
In a rain swept paddock filled with caravans and motor homes that would now be considered rudimentary to most kart racers American racing driver Michael Delaney (Steve McQueen) spies a shell-shocked Lisa Belgetti, whose boyfriend has just been critically injured in a fiery accident.
Delaney offers Belgetti some solace in his motor home, away from the prying eyes of the TV cameras and in her distressed state she asks him a poignant and seemingly unanswerable question.
“What is so important about driving faster than anyone else?”
Delaney, blue eyes glistening like the face of the TAG Heuer Monaco Calibre 12 chronograph watch resting on his wrist, utters a line that has gone into motoring celluloid immortality.
“Racing is life….anything before or after, is just waiting.”
Until recently waiting is something that all kart racers were used to, especially when it came to race results. They would wait in race control for the results to be posted so they could check their lap times against their rivals. They would wait to see if the lap time on their steering wheel display corresponded with the official results. They would travel home at the end of a long weekend and wait for the results to be posted on the internet and their friends and family members not at the track would anxiously wait for a phone call or a text message to find out how their driver was getting on.
But on Easter Weekend in 2010 at Rowrah in Cumbria on the opening weekend of the Formula Kart Stars Championship something changed. Flags and banners containing a familiar red and green logo appeared and suddenly drivers and teams could see instant results, sector times, more in depth practice and race analysis than ever before and parents and mechanics could follow the race live from either the team awning, grandstand, race control or some far off spectator bank. TAG Heuer had arrived and the game had changed. In short; the wait was over.
Karting is the birthplace of champions, the sport where all modern day racing drivers worth their salt gets their first taste of four wheeled adrenalin.
Described by many as the purest form of racing, karting has come a long way from its formative years of home built contraptions bearing more resemblance to a tea tray on wheels than a bespoke racing machine.
Kart circuits too have evolved from crude straw bailed lined airstrips into mini Formula One venues and a modern day kart paddock contains numerous luxurious motor homes and race transporters all specifically designed to service and maintain machines as intricate and complex as the inner workings of a finely tuned timepiece.
Karting is a high tech sport which demands a lot from its competitors. It is a sport where high performance is critical, where the racing is closer than any other form of motorsport and where the difference between winning and losing is measured not in tenths or even hundredths but thousandths of a second.
It is not for the feint hearted and requires the kind of precision and accuracy that only the very best can provide.
Precision and accuracy are two of TAG Heuer’s hallmarks. From the moment Eduoard Heuer set up a modest workshop in the Swiss town of St Imier in 1860 he set a mantra that has not changed in more than 150 years. It is not simply a case of time was of the essence but more that the recording of time was of the essence.
And when, just a few years after the first Heuer chronograph ticked, men began racing their new automobiles from city to city and thus started the modern day tradition of motor racing, precision timekeeping took on a whole new meaning.
While karts, teams, facilities, and media exposure progressed, the art of providing competitors and spectators both at the track or at home with instant results and innovative timekeeping solutions had fallen far behind. But with a devotion to excellence developed over decades of working at the highlights of motor racing, the face, or rather the timing screen, of karting had suddenly changed and within mere months people were wondering how they had managed to survive on the previous way of doing things.
For the casual spectator wishing to keep up to date with how a friend or family member is doing from the comfort of their living room the live TAG Heuer timing screen looks extremely user friendly and doesn’t bombard you with the type of text and figures that make the casual viewer think they are looking at a scientific mathematical equation.
With lines detailing not just the drivers name but also their nationality and team the live timing site is a haven for those forward thinking folk who wish to replace a team name with that of an all important sponsor. Easy to follow symbols telling you when a driver has gained or lost a place and whether they are running on their own or in a group with others is another feature that a non karting aficionado can happily understand.
Thanks to TAG Heuer bringing in more electronic scoreboard equipment to the karting fraternity, the long standing issue of accurately timetabling a major race meeting has largely been resolved with the promotion of races being run over a set time (ten minutes plus one lap for example) and the live timing screen has plenty of room for the all important countdown clock that tells a nervous parent exactly how many more minutes they have to bite their fingernails for.
But of all the features TAG Heuer has brought into karting, none has had more of an impact than sector timing. Even over a lap that takes as little as 50 seconds for most karts to complete, the level of feedback and information any single driver or team can glean from having each lap split into three distinct sectors has is unprecedented. To suddenly be able to see which corners you are either gaining on, or losing out, to your rivals is something that kart racers didn’t dare dream was possible and the colour coded system that tells the viewer whether a driver is on a session leading lap (purple sector), a personal best lap (green sector) or a lap where he or she needs to be given a hurry up (yellow sector) adds tension and drama both for those at the circuit, or watching live thousands of miles away.
Post race, drivers can download an entire results booklet of every official practice, qualifying and race session to mull over on the long drive home and even if circuits are not internet friendly, TAG Heuer have brought their own Wi-Fi software along, almost forcing tracks to up their game.
The technology behind TAG Heuer’s new era of karting precision is frighteningly simple to understand and perfectly illustrates the old adage that good things come in small packages.
Circumnavigating the problem that too few UK kart circuits have adequate internet access for the 21st century the timekeeper puts a Wi-Fi dongle into the main timing computer thus enabling the timing system to send small bits of data onto the live screens very frequently. It is this methodology that results in virtually no time lag between a kart passing a timing loop and its split time appearing on the internet, as opposed to the potential problems associated with attempting to send large chunks of data all at once.
Perfectly sized to transmit data instantly to smart phones and iPads in the paddock and then to the World Wide Web, TAG Heuer plugs in its own wireless decoders to the circuits’ three TAG Heuer timing loops. Each decoder has a wireless modem, a distant decoder, and a battery, which are attached to the timing loop. When a kart passes a loop its transponder stamps a time to within one-one thousandth of a second, which is instantly fed back to the main decoder in the timing and scoring building connected to the main computer. The software puts the information on the timing screen and the Wi-Fi dongle connected to the main computer sends it around the world. From the kart passing the timing loop to you seeing the sector time on your sofa thousands of miles from the live event takes a second.
Never ones to rest on their laurels TAG Heuer also use photocells that beam across the start/finish line so that every time a kart breaks the beam it is time stamped, which acts as a back up in the event of a transponder failure. This could be essential to a driver’s weekend as if they have a transponder problem in timed qualifying the timekeepers can still see what times they are setting and allocate their correct grid position. Under the old provider that drivers wouldn’t have had any times and therefore he/she would have started all their races from the back of the grid. In the ultra competitive world of karting that could spell disaster and potentially ruin a championship.
It is hard to believe that the first transponders were devised for radio controlled car racing in the 1980’s and with the bright blue TAG Heuer transponder now a familiar fixture in the karting community we can only wait with anticipation for TAG’s next development surrounding photo finish cameras akin to those you see in athletics events that will be crucial in a sport where races can be won and lost by centimetres not inches. The 2013 MSA ABkC Super One Championship will see the development of a photo finish camera from Lynx technologies that takes 3000 images per second to secure accuracy so that when an overly excited commentator screams ‘it’s a photo finish’ he or she really means it.
For so long the on track technology in kart racing was advancing at frightening speeds and now, thanks to the company founded in the mid 19th century the timing and scoring solutions have been thrust well and truly into the 21st century. For kart racers the future is not only bright, it is purple……a purple sector of course.
Apart from being the successful nominated timing solution and timing partner for Formula Kart Stars 2010 – 2012 and Super One 2012 – 2013 the TAG Heuer timing solution has been installed and successfully in use at PF International – the home of Trent Valley Kart Club.