To be a racing driver seems as though it would surely have a certain glamor about it; everyone watches with envy as you pilot a cutting-edge piece of rolling technology around a complicated course at breakneck speed, privy to shots of more adrenaline (and G-forces) than most will ever experience in a lifetime.
To be a race engineer – not so glamorous. That’s largely because race engineers work behind the scenes in front of computer monitors, surrounded by frantically shouting colleagues, and always only influencing the race car’s trajectory through speech, not touch. That’s called one-dimensional telemetry, wherein a car’s race engineer can receive multitudes of data from sensors on the race car, but cannot remotely issue commands to the car from the command station. The hands-on is reserved solely for the driver.
The Porsche 919 Hybrid race car is equipped with hundreds of sensors, communicating every essential piece of information to the pit: oil pressure, battery state-of-charge, voltage, throttle position, and so on. That data is sifted through by a team of highly-skilled Porsche engineers; the job of the lead race engineer is simply to act as the nucleus.
To that end, the Porsche race engineer is the sole person with whom the driver speaks, and like the driver, each race car is allotted one. In this way, the driver can keep the majority of his or her focus on driving, and receive input from a single race engineer rather than a frantic team. The race engineer also acts as the decision-making “brain” of the group, deciding things like whether to pit to apply rain tires, or how to cope with unforeseen running complications.
Decisions like these can make or break a race performance. So, while the race engineers at Porsche may not occupy the public spotlight in the same way as the manufacturer’s racing drivers, they are every bit as important.