Toyota Racing Development Uses Data To Outpace Competition Using AWS Analytics

A subsidiary of Toyota Motor North America, Toyota Racing Development (TRD) has over 40 years of experience in motorsports, competing across multiple platforms, including the NASCAR Cup Series. Before 2015, TRD had focused the majority of its resources on engine development and engineering endeavors. But, sensing the growing impact that software and data could have, the company began an initiative to capture and analyze data to outpace the competition. For the past 5 years, TRD has used Amazon Web Services (AWS) to build more than 20 applications that collect historical competition data, current vehicle data, and current practice data. The insights gleaned from that data helped the company achieve NASCAR Cup Series manufacturers’ championships in 2016, 2017, and 2019 and drivers’ championships in 2015, 2017, and 2019.

But to continue to stay ahead of the competition, TRD had to squeeze more insights out of its data. “Over the years we had accumulated an awful lot of data,” says Jonny Elliott, TRD’s senior engineering manager of technology. “But it was disparate, and it wasn’t really providing value.” Looking in each application for key information—including engine data, race images, and brake data—also consumed time that TRD couldn’t afford to lose. In racing, milliseconds matter, and even moments of downtime can cost a race.

So the company again turned to AWS to bring data together in its core data platform. TRD has begun to migrate all the data to the repository, where it will be able to easily and quickly perform analytics. This data repository brings the company’s siloed applications into one centralized location, enabling the team to find the important information needed to make snap decisions during races. TRD then analyzes data using Amazon Athena, a serverless interactive query service. It also uses Amazon Kinesis Data Streams (Amazon KDS), a massively scalable and durable real-time data streaming service. TRD uses Amazon KDS and other AWS services to collect, process, and analyze real-time streaming data for timely insights and quick reactions to new information.

Through speedy data analytics, TRD now drives better insights needed to make key race-time decisions, giving the company a technological edge over competitors. “We can ingest data as fast as physically possible, process it however we need to, and present it in a visual way that lets people make decisions quickly. That is paramount,” says Elliott. “And that’s something that our software helps us do.”

Turning Insights into Competitive Advantages on the Raceway

TRD uses Amazon DynamoDB, as both a streaming mechanism and a long-term persistent data store. Amazon DynamoDB pairs with Amazon KDS and Amazon Kinesis Data Firehose to build a real-time streaming data analysis tool for competitive racing. The data Amazon KDS collects is available in milliseconds to enable real-time analytics. And Amazon Kinesis Data Firehose is the easiest way to reliably load streaming data into data lakes, data stores, and analytics services. The team then uses Amazon Athena to query data in the core data platform.

TRD uses its data-analytics engine to process telemetry data from the car throttle, brakes, steering, and GPS. Then it provides real-time information and predictions to crews, which can make split-second decisions about pitting, tire changes, and other race strategies. “Let’s say a caution comes out on a certain lap because somebody crashed into your car,” explains Elliott. “Your driver tells the crew chief, ‘I got hit,’ but he’s a mile and a half away, and the crew chief can’t see anything. With everything linked up in the core data platform, the crew chief doesn’t have to scroll through 5,000 pictures taken from a trackside photographer. We can put the right images in his hands, and he can make a decision whether to bring the car into the pits. The difference between 3 seconds and 30 seconds could be the difference between missing a lap or getting the driver in.”

Beating the Odds with Data Analytics

By powering its data analytics using AWS, TRD can be as technologically prepared as possible to achieve its primary goal: to win. “AWS has had a massive impact on our racing program. The ability to quickly and seamlessly use data to make racing decisions in real time has directly led to our success on the racetrack,” says Jack Irving, director of team and support services at TRD. “Using AWS has helped TRD win championships.” If another race car is faster, TRD can use data insights to quickly create a winning strategy. “We use the data that we’re getting during the race to ask, ‘Who’s fast? What’s the pace that they are currently setting? What’s their average time? How does that look if they keep that pace for the rest of the race? Should we do something different because we’re not quite as fast?’”

TRD’s savvy adoption of cloud technology is one reason TRD keeps on winning despite having fewer race teams than its competitors. “It’s quality over quantity,” says Elliott. “We put an awful lot of effort and emphasis into the small amount of people we have to try to make them elite. We’re confident that the software that we’ve produced over the past 5 years and the tools that we’ve provided our race teams are some of the best in motorsports.”

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