One thing that is constantly viewed by people, but very rarely talked about, is the steering wheel and the ergonomics of a racecar. Ergonomics and driver comfort are disciplines that are constantly evolving. In the 10-years I've been racing professionally, I have seen massive changes in steering wheel layouts, as well as instrument panels, inside the racecar.
The inside of every car is laid out very specifically to help facilitate the driver’s duties. On our Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR, the center “stack” of the car – where your stereo, Navigation, climate controls, etc. are located in the road going 9111 – there is a main instrument panel housing all the controls that are not used on a lap-to-lap basis. These controls are things such as the main power switch, the ignition and the start button. Various other switches for items like fuel pumps, headlights and the interior fans are also here. Like in the road car, you don’t need these as often so they don’t have to be kept where you can reach them without looking. These switches are placed on the main panel so the steering wheel does not become over crowded.
Each Button's Spot Is Chosen For A Reason
Not only are the controls placed in areas of the car based on their importance, but they are also placed in their locations for a specific reason. For example, prior to paddle shifting, the shifter was located on the driver’s right-hand side . This meant that the pit-lane speed limit button (which electronically holds the car to the pre-set speed limit of pit lane) needed to be placed on the left side of the steering wheel because you need to be able to press the button at the same time you are down shifting the car. Likewise, the radio button was located on the left side of the wheel for the same reason. However, with the introduction of paddle shifting, those buttons needed to switch to the right side of the steering wheel as the left paddle shift controls the downshifting. Alternatively, we have a button to flash the headlights when overtaking a slower car. That button is located on the left side of the wheel as this is used usually in the straights as you are up-shifting and your right-hand is being used to work the right side paddle behind the wheel.
The image below of the Porsche 911 RSR steering wheel taken at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. You're so looking at the same wheel I look at every weekend.
1. PTP: This is a kill switch to turn the engine off during pit stops. In the WEC regulations, and past IMSA regulations, the engine had to be turned off during pit stops. This button is only active when the pitlane speed limiter is active and you are in first gear. Hold the button for 1-second and the engine turns off.
2. Highbeam: This is a flasher to turn the headlights off and on. This button is configurable to a team’s liking. Ours in the No. 17 flashes rapidly for five-seconds per push.
3. Left Arrow: Left turn signal/indicator
4. Display: This scrolls through our information pages on the dashboard. Things such as fuel remaining, tire pressures and engine diagnostics can be viewed here.
5. Alarm: This is to clear any alarms that may be triggered on the dash. Alarms can be for anything from engine temperature to low fuel warnings. Once you see them, you don’t’ want them flashing in your face so this allows us to clear them from the cockpit. The data engineers in pit lane can still monitor the area of the alarm.
6. Fuel Reset/ Mark: There are two purposes to this button. The main purpose is to reset the fuel number during a pit stop to help the engineers keep track of how much fuel is used or how much is remaining in a stint. If you listen to the in-car communications and you hear the familiar “reset fuel”, this is what we are pushing to carry out that request.
The second use of this button is to “Mark”. This is a tracer button. It puts a “mark” in the data traces in the event of having a certain issue so it is easier to find while analyzing the data. This is a relatively new feature and saves the engineers hours of going through data to find a concern a driver has or an issue that we saw (assuming we remember to push it).
7. TC: This is an adjustable traction control, or “TC”, dial. We can customize traction control maps for the wet and the dry and select which one works best for the given track and tire conditions. The engineers, well in advance of us having to use this button, handle the customization for each track. We fine-tune it during testing and practice.
8. Map: This is a fuel map setting. We use this dial to select our fuel usage. Similar to the TC button, this is customized in advance. Under yellow flag periods, we would use a low usage map. Under qualifying we would have a high usage map.
9. Reverse: This button is used to get the car into reverse. The car must be put in neutral, the clutch engaged and then the button depressed to engage the gear.
10. Wiper: This is to turn the windshield wiper on and off. Pressing the button once is one swipe, holding the button allows you to either select a high speed or slow speed wipe.
11. Drink: This is always a favorite of the fans, especially the kids. We have a drink bottle that is attached to a windshield wiper pump. By depressing this button, it pumps water into our helmets to aid us in drinking. Any energy we do not have to expend, as little as this seems, is beneficial. I find most kids want this for the couch when they are playing video games.
12. Right arrow: Right turn signal/indicator
13. Radio: This button is used to allow us to communicate to the team.
14. Pit: This button is depressed to hold the car at a desired pitlane speed. This button is to help us from speeding in pit lane and getting speeding violations.
15. Up-shift Paddle: This paddle, on the driver’s right side of the steering wheel is for up-shifting the Porsche 911 RSR transmission.
16. Down-shift Paddle: This paddle, on the driver’s left side of the steering wheel is for down-shifting the Porsche 911 RSR transmission.