By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
For the past five years, inspection in the NASCAR garage area has included the often maligned Laser Inspection System (LIS) and claw template, but that all changes for the 2018 season.
Debuting at Daytona, NASCAR will start using the new Hawk-Eye system, developed by Hawk-Eye Innovations, the same company behind the pit road officiating cameras that have been in use over the past few years.
Instead of inspection by a series of lasers and metal templates, the new system will rely on cameras and projections to create a 3D model of the car, by which NASCAR could then check against the computer-aided drawing (CAD) model provided by the manufacturer and see areas where the car is out of compliance.
“When a vehicle is rolled into the tent, the first thing we do is it starts a scanning process,” said John Probst, NASCAR Managing Director, Competition and Innovation. “There are eight projectors; there are 16 cameras around the outside of the car and one underneath. The projectors will project a pattern of lights and dots and lines onto the car that the cameras will then track.
“When that’s all said and done, which is about 30 seconds, it’s not a long period of time, the cameras have then been able to create what we call a point cloud. So, we effectively have created a 3D point cloud that if you were to just look at it on the computer and rotate it around, it would look like the surface of the vehicle. We then take additional steps to align that to the CAD model and at that point, we will then compare the difference from the points to the CAD and color them different colors, if you will, depending on how far away they are from the tolerance.
“If by chance something were to show up at the race track this year that say did not meet the tolerances that we talked about, the teams will not get on the race track in practice until they go through that system and pass the scan before they’re cleared to be on the race track.”
Of course, there are mixed feelings about the new system and how it will work in real-life situations as it travels around the circuit on a weekly basis. Ryan Newman, who many consider as one of the smartest drivers in NASCAR, given his engineering background, was one of the first to really weigh in with his thoughts on it.
“I don’t know that you could have made tech any more complicated than it was, and NASCAR did a good job of that,” said Newman. “You know, it (LIS) did help in certain instances, but I think it really hurt our sport in certain instances as far as guys not making it out to qualify. When your 10, 15, 20 cars don’t make it out to qualify, it’s a black eye on our sport no matter how you look at it, and when it happens two or three or four out of five weeks, that’s horrible, and they let it happen.
“I’m glad that they’ve tried to put an end to it, but we won’t know until we get eight, ten races into the season if they have. When the Hawkeye system goes down, what’s the backup plan? We don’t have enough people anymore, so what are we going to do, just sit in the garage and wait until we get the Hawkeye system back up and running, when we have a power outage and things got to get rebooted or when something gets wet, what are we going to do? How’s that part going to work? Technology has made us dependent upon a lot of things technology‑wise, and when those things fail, a lot of us just scratch our head.
“I’m just saying, you’ve got to be realistic about it. I know what the intentions are, but in the end, nobody at this point knows how well it’s going to be. It’s costing our teams $350,000 to set up a Hawkeye system at our shop to be able to go to the racetrack and have our cars pass so that we can practice and race.”
While Newman remains skeptical, 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski noted that he was hopeful that the new system would help create a more equal playing field among the three manufacturers. After the season finale at Homestead last year, Keselowski stated that Ford teams were going to “take a drubbing” with both Toyota and Chevrolet rolling out new models in the past two years, while Ford hasn’t had an updated model in quite a while.
“The biggest thing to me is seeing what happens with the Hawkeye system,” said Keselowski. “That will be the determining factor on what manufacturer is successful this year. If the Hawkeye system comes in working fully I think we will see a very level playing field in 2018 and we are capable of winning.
“It is inherent to the designs of the cars that some things weren’t able to be policed before that were designed into other cars that, with this system, it will eliminate it.
“I think everyone at Ford is fully endorsing the Hawkeye system to fully and properly police the cars aerodynamic capabilities. That will level the cars to the submittal process. Basically when the cars are submitted to NASCAR they have to all have the same performance criteria but there has not been a system to enforce that that is what you actually race. To fully enforce that is what you actually race. The Hawkeye system is intended to fully enforce that.”