Lucas Oil-Wolf LED Rally Team Co-Driver: Scott Putnam
Tom's Hardware: Your role as a co-driver is typically to help the driver navigate and monitor vehicle vitals. How does technology help with this?
Scott Putnam: We have a lot more information at our disposal. As far as navigation when racing goes, I am still pretty much going to use the route book and rally computer. But an iPhone’s GPS function can be very handy for verifying the car’s position, especially when we have a vague set of recon instructions. Satellite imagery can be very useful for getting an initial feel for each stage prior to doing the actual reconnaissance. In the past, all we had to look at might have been a paper map that looked like it was generated in the 1960s.
As to vehicle systems, one of the debates we are having right now is how much information we are going to want to display on the new Super Production car we are building for the 2013 season. In the past, we might have had a heat gauge, a boost gauge, and a tach, and that was about it. Diagnosing problems was a guessing game at times. Now there a lot more parameters available, and although there can still be a lot of guessing involved, it's possible to eliminate a lot of uncertainty and figure out the car's status much more quickly.
Tom's Hardware: New driver assist technologies, such as lane departure, braking, and active park assist are becoming more mainstream and accessible. As a "driver's" driver, how do you feel about these high-tech nannies?
Scott Putnam: Those technologies will help assist or compensate for a fatigued or distracted driver in the case of lane departure or pre-collision braking. They can reduce a driver’s workload in the case of adaptive cruise or park assist. However, none of them replace a properly-trained driver. In rally, I don’t think a machine could ever become faster than a human driver. Certain traction technologies do help make humans faster. But in rally, there are times when a driver will intentionally exceed traction or control limits, and I don’t think a machine can have a feel for what is going on or make those types of decisions.
Tom's Hardware: Would you trust those technologies to keep your vehicle in control over your own driving capabilities?
Scott Putnam: Some, like ABS or adaptive cruise, might be useful for day-to-day driving, but if you want to truly learn about car control, turn all that off.
Certain traction technologies are useful; the differentials, in particular. But they're generally designed to enhance your control rather than compensate for a driver’s shortcomings.
Tom's Hardware: Do you think technological advancements place less emphasis on the driver's role in driving?
Scott Putnam: Yes. However, some of that might not be all bad with the prevalence of distracted driving these days. Something like pre-collision braking should prevent accidents.
Tom's Hardware: Technology takes so many different forms, and GPS, communications, data acquisition, and even mechanical design can also be tech-oriented. Can you walk us through some of the tools you use to help you do what you love even better?
Scott Putnam: I think Lauchlin covered the car part of it well, so let me go off on another tangent. The stage notes that we receive from the organizers prior to running our reconnaissance are computer-generated. Using an inertial sensor, the stages are driven several times at a constant speed with a laptop recording the stages and creating the notes. Humans are needed to verify the corners, though. Given that every corner is different, lengthy discussions sometimes ensue as to what a corner actually is, not to mention individual drivers occasionally interpret corners a bit differently. That’s why we are allowed a one-pass recce to go through and verify these notes. In the WRC, the pace notes are generated by a two-pass recce, which is still considered superior. Here in the U.S., most of us still have day jobs. The computer simply generates the first pass.
Tom's Hardware: We do a lot of performance testing with some of the racing games out there like DiRT and F1. Do the physics and handling characteristics of the most popular game titles come anywhere close to what you experience behind the wheel?
Scott Putnam: No. They will never capture the rawness or violence of it all. However, they are still great fun. And when things go wrong in a game, it is not as expensive, either.
Tom's Hardware: Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what are you playing?
Scott Putnam: Prior to racing, I did quite a bit of gaming, though I am probably a bit dated. The time for gaming ran out around Colin McRae Rally 2.0 and Richard Burns Rally. Driving games and flight sims were my primary choices. Now I have two teenage boys that are avidly into the Xbox. I don’t quite understand the appeal of a driving game on those systems with a normal game controller. I think I would want to do a Playseat or something. The online component of the war games blows me away. I am a little envious, as those look like a lot of fun. Sure beats the green plastic army men of my youth.
Tom's Hardware: Do you consider yourself a tech geek?
Scott Putnam: Somewhat, though as I get older, I see my ability to program complex electronic devices starting to wane a bit. I build my own PCs and used to overclock them heavily, though I don’t have a lot of time for that now. I used to view it as hot rodding the computer, so to speak. Now the emphasis is on reliability, since I'd prefer to not spend time fixing things.
Tom's Hardware: What pieces of technology do you have on you at all times?
Scott Putnam: My iPhone and a laptop.
Tom's Hardware: Lastly, what's your daily driver?
Scott Putnam: 2007 WRX, last year of the GD chassis, nicely modded.