David Heinemeier Hansson (Porsche) – Numbers tell the whole story
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David Heinemeier Hansson (Porsche) – Numbers tell the whole story

This will be David Heinemeier Hansson’s fifth Le Mans 24 Hours. The successful IT programmer stands out from the crowd in terms of his approach to motorsports. For an amateur he pays great attention to the data collected during the race to track improvement. He told us exactly what he looks at.

Lap times, intermediate times, maximum speeds etc. - there is always plenty of data available after a practice session. Drivers use it to analyse their performance and Heinemeier Hanson laps it up.

That’s one of the key reasons that I love motorsport. You can’t hide. The numbers tell everything. At the end of a race, you see where you are and I love the honesty that it brings to things. Because I feel that even in racing, people have a tendency to make excuses, we all do it. But at the end of the race, there’s the numbers and they form a trend, so I pay attention to them.

The talented 36-year-old who was behind the web framework Ruby on Rails and named “hacker of the year” in 2005 has developed his own software to pick vital information out of the mass of data available.

Analysing data is my way of finding out whether I had a good race or not. I can’t do anything about our final result in a race, but the data tells me if I did everything within my ability to do a good race.

The Dane has his own performance indicators to analyse his race as well as other drivers’ performance. It fascinates him, but it also has a real use.

For me as an amateur driver, what I want first and foremost is to be the best of the amateur drivers. You can get a really good sense of where your competition is, you can say ‘OK what can we do against this car?’ You can see where things don’t line up. It’s funny because a lot of people focus on the BOP [balance of performance, ed.]. In our class the BOP matters less than to the professional drivers. A weight penalty is not really what wins or loses a race in our category. Diving into the data makes things clearer. All the rest is just talk.

Are you so interested because you’re a developer or do you think what you do is a widespread practice?

If you look at football, basketball, even football, there are all these stats available to fans and people love that. I think we should put more data out there so that fans can actually see that their favourite driver had a bad day.

What would be the key stats to give them?

The top twenty average in a 6-hour race is great. I like the top twenty fastest laps because drivers are very good at knowing when to back off when things don’t look too good or sometimes they’re caught in traffic so you have to take just the top percentage. That shows the true pace, at least in my opinion. Then you can compare it and its wonderful to see how the whole thing shakes out.

Heinemeier Hansson is always on the lookout for new performance indicators.

Forget comments and feelings, I like facts. 

Photo: Data fanatic David Heinemeier Hansson with Christina Nielsen.