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RFID Gives Racing a Winning Edge

Using active RFID tags, the Indy Racing League not only times and scores 16 events, it also provides critical data to drivers and race crews, and helps engine, tire and chassis makers develop products.
By Patrick Karle
Sep 20, 2004When Buddy Rice crossed the finish line at the Kansas Speedway on July 4 to win the Argent Mortgage Indy 300, it was the second-closest finish in the 10-year history of the Indy Racing League’s IndyCar Series, the premier U.S. open-wheel event that’s famous for its close finishes. Rice’s margin of victory—.0051 of a second on the 1.5-mile racetrack over his teammate, Vitor Meira—was a dramatic demonstration of what just might be one of the most accurate and reliable RFID applications in the world.

An active transponder is placed just in front of the front left wheel

Running wheel to wheel at more than 200 mph for the last lap of the 200-lap race, each car was carrying an AMB TranX Pro battery-powered RFID transponder that registered its time via a detection loop (RFID antenna) embedded at the start-finish line in the track. Manufactured by AMB i.t. of Heemstede, Netherlands, the TranX Pro MultiLoop system is being used by the Indy Racing League (IRL) to time and score the 16 races on this year’s IndyCar Series, including the prestigious Indianapolis 500.

Rice also won this year’s 500, driving the No. 15, co-owned by Bobby Rahal and CBS Late Show host David Letterman. The 28-year-old driver from Phoenix took home $1,761,740, which means there's a lot riding on having an accurate means of determining the winner. That's why the IRL turned to RFID to determine all race winners, as well as all finishing positions, according to Jon Koskey, IRL’s director of timing and scoring. The TranX Pro has been the IRL’s official timing and scoring system since the initial purchase of the AMB system in 2000.

The IRL also uses the TranX Pro MultiLoop system—in conjunction with an IRL-built mobile network infrastructure and Microsoft Windows Server 2003-based distribution system—to supply critical information in near real-time to IRL officials, race teams and manufacturers during open testing, practice, qualification and competition. An electronics engineer by trade, Koskey has been instrumental in developing the IRL’s state-of-the-art timing and scoring system, which monitors races at 14 oval tracks in the United States and one in Japan.

The IRL’s overarching philosophy is to keep the teams as competitive as possible, and AMB’s RFID-enabled system helps the IRL achieve that goal. “In our racing series, we are always using state-of-the-art technology to deliver information to our teams and fan base,” says Koskey. “Our league customers—officials, teams, and automotive manufacturers—have demanded it. As soon as the car completes a lap, the updated information appears instantaneously on the screen.”

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