Formula Drift 2020 Rulebook Changes

Warning - This is an opinion article. I try not to write first person and try to give balanced opinions. Since many of these rules don't come with reasons, any explanation is supposition on my part and to be taken as such. 

Formula drift is nice enough to publicly give out the rulebook these days. They even highlight changes in red to make skimming it that much easier. Here are some highlights of the current iteration of the 2020 FD rulebook. Because many changes are clerical or for clarity, this article will only be covering the interesting additions or changes.

Trans Bellhousing

B/C bullet points are about transaxles. Formula Drift is likely specifying the rise in popularity of the Corvette platform as a whole. So you can keep it factory, or convert the rear into a classic style differential. The car will still have to adhere to the other rules about mounting points and locations, but it’s odd that the book specifies not allowing conversions to become a transaxle. I’m not sure there would be an advantage of doing a transaxle conversion, outside of weight distribution.

Bullet E covers SFI 6.16.3 for bellhousings. The purpose is to contain the clutch mechanisms in case something should happen. I haven’t seen instances in motorsports recently relating to this that might cause this change in rules. But, it’s all about safety. This doesn’t dictate what type of transmission a vehicle has to run, but this does discourage transmissions where the bellhousing is one piece with the transmission from the factory. BMW ZF transmissions, for instance, don’t have aftermarket support for this style bellhousing. Adapting one shouldn’t be too difficult in theory. For most aftermarket transmissions, these bellhousings don’t seem too expensive.

Drivers Aids

Not much of a technical change here but the explicit banning of in/on car cameras is perplexing. I’d like to know the reason for this. Perhaps rear cameras for viewing the chase driver after a run could give the driver an advantage. Maybe reviewing forward facing video could help decide whether or not to petition. Regardless, this is why FD should always have a running/recording live camera in every driver’s car.

Data Monitoring

Here’s the part that is the most interesting to me and seems to be the source of a lot of debate online. It’s likely a “slippery slope” into Formula Drift starting to implement more strict rules. Personally, I think FD isn’t trying to put too much money into this and will have to catch up eventually.

A – Recording data is now compulsory. Every logger and every ECU will record in its own proprietary format. Even CAN protocols can use varying identifiers for whatever PID. CSV format, excel format, and others means that Formula Drift will not be able to quickly parse through anyone’s logs. Nor does this rule state when the data has to be given to Formula Drift. The most likely scenario is that FD wants to keep the data around in case of a petition or foul play is suspected.

FD cannot intuitively know the non standard PIDs and their associated values. EG: a driver could have a nitrous bottle temperature sensor that reads at PID 010A. Where 255 is 0F and 0 is 150F. By default, this is a fuel pressure PID and it’s reading backwards. FD would just see weird fuel pressure numbers and have no idea what it could mean. The other side of the coin is that CAN systems are not necessarily bound to OBD2 specs and PIDs. Baud rates can be found and connected to it live but the extracted data can be in any format. Some PIDs stretch multiple broadcast messages. Some contain multiple messages in one. Formula Drift cannot know this without a spec sheet from the driver and even then, it would be on the honor system.

B – Standardized CAN connectors. With this connector, Formula Drift can hook up a generic OBD2 style CAN reader to any car at any time. Assuming this is OBD2 spec, the reader can only read live data. This will not be able to automatically download log files as stated in bullet A. During yearly inspection, the CAN system will be tested and a log file will hopefully be taken to use as a comparison for later in the year. Without the logging aspect, this plug can’t really do much. It’s also very simple to build a “translation box” that can doctor the CAN messages between the ECU and the connector. CAN modules can be as small as a dime so hiding one wouldn’t be too difficult. Even aftermarket ECUs can be programmed which PIDs to give out and formulas to apply prior to transmission (Think C to F conversions). At best, this connector will allow Formula Drift to see some live data and record it for analysis later. It cannot be used to decide if someone has a GPS module in their car.

C – Non CAN vehicles will be penalized. This makes sense. The LS platform is CAN by default and the 2JZ will need an aftermarket ECU for FD level power anyway. No modern aftermarket ECU lacks CAN connectivity. I would be surprised if this inconvenienced anyone in the current Pro1 FD field.

D. May be used for judging or technical purposes. Unless FD has a module that plugs into this new connector and wirelessly transmits the data during runs (it won’t), this can’t be used for live judging. This will be for petitions and checking cars for unauthorized aids like traction control (lol), GPS units, or others. Default CAN OBD2 protocols have no useful information for live judging. Maybe the throttle pedal but there isn’t even a standard brake PID. Even then, FD isn’t mandating what PIDs must be available and that they must adhere to the OBD2 standard. 0117 (throttle position) very well could be boost levels instead.

E. Data disclosure. “We won’t give out your data, unless you’re cheating”. Giving other teams your logged data (assuming it’s truthful) could be devastating for a team. So Formula Drift wants to assure drivers they aren’t going to make these logs public. Unless you cheat. Although, I’m willing to bet they would only give out the pertinent data and not the entirety of the log file.

F. The rules may change as seen fit. This seems like Formula Drift are setting up to modify these data logging rules mid season. They likely know everything I said above (I hope) and are deciding on ways to combat this without the need for a standardized NASCAR like ECU setup. For instance, factory vehicles these days have 3 or more CAN systems that don’t necessarily talk to each other outside of a few bridges. What’s stopping a separate traction control module on a separate CAN line that won’t connect to the FD connector?

It will be interesting to see how Formula Drift implements this without stepping on too many toes. Their history tends to be on under regulation rather than over regulation (IMO). Formula Drift, if you read this, call me. I can help 🙂

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