The Garmin Catalyst

Clare Vale ditched the office attire to go test the new Garmin Catalyst at Zwartkops this week, below are her thoughts:

Garmin SA launched their first driving performance optimiser at Zwartkops Raceway this week. The Garmin Catalyst is a ground-breaking device for Garmin, and was developed by a group of employees calling themselves the “Garmin Pit Crew”. The group consists of avid petrol-heads, many of them personally involved in motorsport, who got together and pooled their knowledge to develop a “driving coach in a box” to help drivers of all levels improve their driving performance.

I have been investigating various options for a simple lap timer and counter for the Backdraft Cobra we are racing in the SA Endurance series. I also need to invest in an in car camera – always a good idea in a class where there are substantial speed differentials between the cars! I was keen to find out if the Catalyst could fill both these needs at once.

The Catalyst looks a bit like the familiar Garmin sat-nav devices, with a large, very easy to read screen display. It comes with two mountings, one with a heavy duty suction cup and one with a screw down facility suitable for permanent mounting. Included in the box is an HD remote camera and there’s an optional head set, although sound can be played through a car’s stereo system if it has one (not an option in the Cobra)!

We had the opportunity to try out the device in a variety of cars at Zwartkops. I really liked the display: it shows your best lap time of the session, last lap time, and current lap timing, and the background colour shows either red or green depending on if your current lap is faster or slower than your best time. This makes it easy to check your progress without actually taking your attention away from the track. It also shows time and laps elapsed – great for endurance racing.

The unique feature of the Catalyst is that it gives you real time tuition (if you have the car stereo or headset connected), as well as detailed driving performance analysis at the end of a session. Unfortunately, track time was too brief to explore the Catalyst’s true capabilities, but the data and feedback provided is impressive: the device can tell you to brake or apex earlier or later, and provides a True Optimal Lap, based on sector times that you have actually achieved.

Video camera quality is also excellent. I await feedback to hear if it can record for a full 4-hour endurance race, though – recording quality is HD only and cannot be reduced, so a large capacity memory card would be required. I’m keeping my fingers crossed as this device is ticking all my endurance racing boxes thus far!

Another big plus is that the Catalyst comes with all our local tracks pre-loaded, including the new Kyalami, Dezzi, Red Star, etc. This ticks another box for me, as our next endurance race is at Dezzi Raceway in KZN, a track completely new to me.

The Garmin Catalyst will be officially available from next week, at a launch price of just under R20k. A lot more expensive than your free downloadable track App, but then again, deduct the price of a good quality in-car camera and a Catalyst purchase immediately becomes more justifiable. Then again, if the device delivers on all its promises, it’s probably a lot cheaper than making your race car a second or two faster!