Garmin Catalyst gives real-time audio coaching while driving and instant session analysis afterwards. Picture: SUPPLIED
Garmin Catalyst gives real-time audio coaching while driving and instant session analysis afterwards. Picture: SUPPLIED

Garmin has launched a device that claims to make you a quicker driver around racetracks with real-time coaching by artificial intelligence.

Last week I was part of a group of journalists and track-day enthusiasts invited to test drive the new Garmin Catalyst at the Zwartkops raceway near Pretoria, to find out whether the R20,000 gadget can improve your lap times.

The driving performance optimiser comes with a preloaded track database of courses around the world, including all of SA’s major circuits. It’s about the size of a tablet and securely mounts inside the cockpit of a track car with either a suction cup or screw-down mount. For now it isn’t compatible with motorcycles.

The device uses True Track Positioning GPS technology to generate a car’s racing line. It gathers data as the car is being driven, identifies the fastest line, and audibly coaches the driver on where improvements can be made.

Catalyst generates the user’s theoretical fastest lap by stitching together the fastest times from each sector. It shows users’ fastest achievable times based on lines actually driven and gives them an optimal lap they can truly achieve, says Garmin.

Garmin Catalyst’s appeal is its ability to coach in real time, including giving spoken instructions such as “next left, turn in earlier” or “next right, brake less.”

It worked mostly as promised as I lapped the circuit in a succession of Lexus and Toyota cars from the Toyota Gazoo Racing Driving Academy. The friendly female voice says “nicely done” when you get things right, but I felt that the coaching instructions could be given a little earlier; the voice prompts sometimes occurred while I was already about to commit to a certain line or braking point.

At one stage gremlins crept in and the voice instructions ceased, with the device requiring a reboot.

More useful was the track timer which showed in real time how much slower (in red) or faster (in green) I was lapping compared to my previous best time. I liked this feature as I was able to see instantly whether a different braking and apex point was successful or not, either snipping a tenth or two off my times or adding to them.

It’s a non-distracting system that doesn’t take your attention off the road; the lap timer’s large digits and colour coding require just a quick glance to assess the situation.

I liked the instant gratification and I believe this feature could help drivers find that ideal balance of smooth aggression required to drive a car around a track quickly.

Between track sessions you’re able to pore over your performance in more detail, with immediate analysis showing areas for improvement. An animated graph shows areas of gain on the device’s display, without the need to download data or configure graphs, and the 1080p HD video plays back with time-synced overlays showing speed and lap data.

More time would be needed with the Garmin Catalyst to make a thorough assessment as I only drove about 12 laps, but my lap times did improve. Initial impressions are of a device that presents helpful telemetry in a mostly user-friendly format suited to both experienced racers and novices.

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