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Research revs up

Racing – man and machine in a technically complex marriage, teetering on the edge of their limitations for three hours or 500 miles at speeds that blur the senses and certainly compromise them. But while an inordinate amount of attention and expense is applied to squeezing every fraction of horsepower out of that power plant up front, the driver in the cockpit soldiers on.

Dr. Edward Potkanowicz (center), ONU assistant professor of
exercise physiology, has sought research input from Shawn
Bayliff (left), president of Trinity Motorsports Group
in Lima, and Jon Henry Racing of Ada (right).

The intense heat, exhaustion and diminished sensory acuity the driver confronts during each race are accepted as part of the territory, and little is known about how that individual’s physiology is impacted by this environment so flush with stress and challenges.

Dr. Edward Potkanowicz, assistant professor of exercise physiology, has doggedly pursued a key to that vault of information through his “R.A.C.E.R. Project,” an acronym for Real Assessment of Core and Environmental Responses.

Essentially, Potkanowicz wants good science to ride along in that next IndyCar or NASCAR race, compile real-time data on how those surroundings impact the driver’s vital signs, and use that information to better train and prepare the driver for future races.

“An Olympic runner is hooked up to sensors, and solid data is recorded, and from there you make a faster runner,” Potkanowicz says. “That doesn’t exist in racing because the technology hasn’t been there
yet to collect the data.”

After nurturing the concept for several years, when he arrived at ONU Potkanowicz was encouraged to collaborate with Dr. Sami Khorbotly, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

That was the “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines” moment for the R.A.C.E.R. Project.

“When I explained it to Sami, his electrical engineering knowledge took over,” Potkanowicz says.

From left: Potkanowicz, Anthony Dilisio, Dr. Sami Khorbotly.

“I liked the concept as soon as I heard about it,” says Khorbotly, who has done extensive work with sensors similar to the ones the project would require.  “You always need an application for your research, and this seemed like an ideal application.”

Like any racing endeavor, there was some drafting done. Anthony Dilisio (center), a computer engineering student from Raleigh, N.C., was brought on board to assist.

“I thought it was really interesting to work on something that hadn’t been done yet,” Dilisio says. “Any sort of innovation is always exciting, but this was also an opportunity to start using the things that I’ve learned here.”

The trio is testing the sensors that will record the driver’s data throughout the race. They hope to see the project accelerate with an infusion of interest and much-needed capital from the targeted beneficiaries – the racing industry.

“We want to develop a way to make the race car driver a better race car driver, and, ultimately, a safer race car driver and a more competitive race car driver,” Potkanowicz says. “Racing puts so much focus on the engine and the car, but during the race there is a fallible human being controlling all of that. We just don’t know much about their tolerances.”

The R.A.C.E.R. Project hopes to speed in the direction of those answers.