We Become World Champs, Sort of, with Help from Racelogic's VBox HD Lite Pro Data Logger

racelogic vbox at maspalomas circuit
VBox HD Lite Helped Us Be (Sort of) World ChampsAustin Irwin - Car and Driver

In 1988, the fearless French World Rally Championship driver Michèle Mouton co-founded the Race of Champions. The inaugural event celebrated a decade of WRC with an Olympic-style competition among eight drivers, including such Group B legends as Walter Röhrl and Timo Salonen. For more than a decade, the annual competition took place on Spain's gorgeous Gran Canaria island. Racelogic, maker of the VBOX data loggers we use to measure performance data of test vehicles, invited us and nine other car nerds from across the globe to the Canary Islands for a faux Race of Champions. While there, we'd evaluate its VBOX HD Lite Pro video data logger under especially grueling conditions.

The Maspalomas Circuit is a lot of back and forth. The layout is like the bridge of melted goo that's been stretched between both halves of a grilled cheese sandwich. Its asphalt runs west to east along the Atlantic Ocean coast twice per lap. Three of the four turns are hairpins—Turn 1 requires some especially careful braking control to avoid upsetting the car and smooching the outer wall.

A restricted-use airport separates its alternative layouts, and the condensed version we battled on is approximately 1.4 miles long. The taxiway for the embedded aeródromo butts up against the straightaway just before the final turn's giant sweep, and we were able to nod goodbye to a departing single-prop Tecnam during our second race.

circuito maspalomas race track
Located in southern Gran Canaria, the Maspalomas Circuit lays on the beaches of Tarajalillo. There are multiple layouts used, depending on the competition, including a layout that uses the nearby airport.Google Earth

The first morning of our two-day track event started much like a NASA high-performance driver education weekend in the United States. We walked the track with instructors, four of whom maintain the keys to Supercar Gran Canaria, for tourists seeking something more exciting to drive on the island than a Fiat Panda rental. Walking the course revealed the elevation changes that you can't easily see from Google Earth. The entire front straight is actually a slow climb, before reaching the highest point at Turn 1.

Driver Education in Paradise

During the conversation with the guys who live and breathe the Maspalomas Circuit, I learned that before our instructor, Andy Robinson, was yelling "Brake now!" at students for his day job, he was shouting "Hold this ground, lads!" as a voice actor for the Medevil first-person pole-axe video game Chivalry 2.


In keeping with the spirit of the real Race of Champions, the 10 of us were split into teams as representatives of our homelands. Car and Driver played for the USA with the help of Grassroots Motorsports, joined by other journalists and influencers from Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain. While each team wore different-colored shirts, it was immediately obvious by the size of our racing uniforms who played for Team America. We'd eventually make up for the multiple Xs on our tags with successful positioning on the racetrack.

Race cars were chosen blindly by pulling keys out of a velvet bag, each of them belonging to a different second-gen Mazda MX-5 Miata. Some had 15-inch wheels, others 16s. Each machine had varying level of body reshaping from previous racing incidents. Wooden lattice replaced broken headlights, with zip ties in place of bolts and plastic anchors and the odd shiny new radiator or anti-roll-bar end link here or there. I was surprised to discover that all of the Miatas were right-hand drive with five-speed manual transmissions—having only ever shifted gears with my right palm.

The brutal weather effect known as a Calima brought relentless 95-degree heat carried by winds off Africa's Sahara desert, some 135 miles away. Before the end of the first warmup lap, the thermostat of my Miata had entered the danger zone. To avoid boiling the cooling system, I decided to run the heater at full blast to help circulate coolant and keep the engine a little less miserable, a little trick picked up from driving my own misfit toys.

Full heat blasting on a 95-degree day is nothing short of awful, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice if it gave me any advantage over the global competitors. Our initial outing on the track showed me at about a 1:29.44, but after a few laps with instructors, I shaved about three seconds from that. From there, it was all about fine-tuning where we were braking, and that's where the data logger with video really shined.

racelogic vbox hd lite
The VBOX HD Lite Pro is a compact kit that records 1080p video at 30 frames per second thatAustin Irwin - Car and Driver

While comparing data with the Grassroots Motorsports editor, the Racelogic team pointed out there were two corners where I'd been braking too early. I had started my braking just before the cone used as a marker started to leave my peripheral vision. The Grassroots guy was braking later. The collected time loss was about eight-tenths of a second on some laps. I was still able to manage the quicker lap, but braking later would make me tougher to catch.

Schmos Using the HD Lite Pro

While my fellow American and I worked on shortening our braking zones on the track, the Racelogic team shuffled microSD cards from a nearby paddock tent to prevent that precious data from turning into soup.

A VBOX HD Lite Pro, Racelogic's video data logger, was mounted in each of the cars. This would provide video automatically synced to the data from our lap time, which is tracked via an antenna that updates the GPS location 10 times each second. The device, which is no bigger than a fist, can either be plugged into a 12-volt supply such as a cigarette lighter or mounted directly to the battery, as our cars had been set up. We experienced zero connection issues or faults the entire two days despite the grueling Spanish heat.

The VBOX HD Lite Pro automatically starts recording when the car begins to move. As someone who has spent many years corralling the flurry of beeping GoPro Hero cameras during our annual Lightning Lap track feature, the silence of the VBOX HD Lite Pro is bliss. There's no screen to fiddle with; nor is there the possibility of discovering on Lap 4 that you didn't accept the terms of service, therefore preventing video and data from beginning to record. It just works. You can add a Racelogic OLED display, but our cars weren't so equipped.

A warning was given before practice about being gentle with the tires and brakes, as our hosts likely wanted to avoid replacing multiple sets of pads for 10 cars in a day. However, we noticed parts would be replaced in practice as they were consumed. This spurred a change of strategy to do everything possible to burn the brakes and tires down by the end of practice, to ensure a fresh set for morning qualifying. It totally worked.

Treated like 116-hp No. 2 pencils, the brake pads or tires burned away, and then the resident mechanic would sharpen things up again with a fresh set in just a few minutes. Among the 10 of us competing, a Miata with four matching tires was about as common as a Tastee Freez on the Spanish isle. Some drove on prescribed Rodax RXmotion all-seasons, others Tomket Sports, one car rushed Zeta ZTR20, and while jealousy erupted at first glance of one of the UK drivers' Yokohama Advan Neova AD08R performance summer rubber, its November 2011 production stamp diminished our initial envy.

vbox timing crew
Using what we learned from the day before, we qualified for race one in second, just eight-hundredths of a second behind the pole winner from Portugal. The top three of us were within seven-tenths of each other.Austin Irwin - Car and Driver

The following morning, the qualifying session gave us two clean laps to be the quickest Miata at the circus, but I fell eight-hundredths of a second short of Hugo Araujo. Hugo is no stranger to speed. He was Portugal's finalist for entry into the 2014 GT Academy. He has competed in Portugal's Kia Picanto GT Cup and is the face of Caronline TV's YouTube channel for Portugal's car reviews and project shenanigans. His time of 1:24.05 put him at the front of race 1's standing start, ahead of myself, a U.K. driver, Grassroots Motorsports, and another Brit.

Final-Lap Drama

For races using the old-fashioned standing start, we suggest holding the HD Lite Pro's recording button for a few seconds to begin recording manually. Otherwise, it's possible the device won't capture your epic Formula 1–style launch when the red lights go out, as it only begins recording automatically when it senses movement.

And when the red lights did go out, Hugo and I quickly found ourselves ahead of the group with a decent gap. However, from about Turn 1 to Lap 7, Hugo had me beat. My exciting debut into wheel-to-wheel racing had me missing shifts here and there, losing a ton of time in one instance going onto the front straight where I accidentally grabbed fifth gear instead of third. That shift is required right at the very moment you've slid out on a corner exit toward a small outcropping of a tire wall. I stopped trying to shift like I was in The Fast and the Furious and started to catch Hugo in the final few laps of the race.

I used my combination of suggestions from instructors, what I learned and remembered from the VBOX data, and what I felt was getting me closer to Hugo. Once I was close enough to him, my goal was to force an error to get him to miss a shift, or distract him enough to goof up where he'd been braking. He had been quicker than me for most of the race, and I dreaded the idea I'd only get within a car length from him before he found his rhythm again.

I caught Hugo at the white flag, the start to the final lap, but had to lift to honor an area the instructors asked us not to use as a passing zone. Going into Turn 1, he took a defensive tighter line, as I drove further out to the cone before turning in. This would slow me down a bit into the corner, but give me more speed on exit. I caught him at the middle part of the next straightaway, again in an area with slippery curbing we were asked not to use as a passing zone.

Hugo, likely assuming I would dive into the inside at the next hairpin, again took a defensive line. I drove out to the cone again, hoping I could keep my speed up and pass him on the straight. There were only two corners after this one, so a mistake here would effectively end the race. While exiting Turn 2, I could tell his Miata was not accelerating as quickly as it was a few laps back. An unhappy clutch, perhaps? Hugo, working to maintain the lead he so dominantly held the entire race, missed a shift as I accelerated toward him. I narrowly avoided driving into his bumper. By the braking zone into Turn 3, I had passed him, but now it was my turn to jump on the defensive.

Hogging up the apex, I left Hugo no room to work his way to my inside. He was all over my passenger-side mirror, likely trying to get me to miss a shift. I took a deep breath entering the final turn, not using too much brake, not doing anything desperate, in a careful attempt not to screw up this exciting moment. I gave the Miata's open differential hell as I accelerated onto the straight, letting the all-season tires spin like mad to end an exciting battle to win the race.

Flyin' Miata

Race 2 was a rolling start using the finishing order of the previous race as a starting grid. That meant the race was going to be all about holding Hugo back, rather than catching him. After a strong attempt into Turn 1, it was pretty much over. Through absolute luck, it seemed I had pulled the keys to the most reliable Miata in the bunch. Building a gap and going uncontested made for a pretty boring race, but out of paranoia that my clutch would be the next to slip, I didn't slow down to let the others catch up. I'd see bits and pieces of the battle behind me just before entering the next hairpin, finally building a lead as wide as my racing suit. And then disaster struck.

racelogic vbox at maspalomas circuit
The driver walked away from this gnarly rollover without a scratch but left the weekend with great disappointment after learning there were no awards given for highest hairpin speed or highest elevation through Turn 3. Austin Irwin - Car and Driver

With just a few laps left of the race, the red flags came out. Red flags, an international symbol for "someone is having an incredibly bad time," had the entire field slowing to a stop within sight of the next flag station. A cloud of dust rose from the third hairpin.

A member of team Spain had lost brake pressure, likely boiling the fluid in the previous turn, and in the panic of avoiding a head-on collision with a tire barrier, ended up bouncing off the inside curbing. This sent his car airborne, where it landed as it hit a tire barrier, causing it to nearly bounce onto the nearby taxiway. The driver was shaken up but without any major injury. Thankfully, the roll cage did its job, and the only major damage occurred to the car and tire wall. The Spaniard's Miata was a complete loss, and due to the damage to the track, the officials opted to end our day one race short.

The safety crew swept pieces of the obliterated Miata into a trash bin as the competitors gathered at the foot of a podium built from oil barrels. A member of team U.K. took third, with Hugo from Portugal in second, as I took first for team USA. I sprayed the new international friends I'd made that weekend with champagne, ending a really fun track test that felt like a racing fantasy on the Canary Islands.

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