Gen II Review: Peter Nelson

Peter Nelson, the author of this post is a freelance journalist and a track day enthusiast!

In the world of GPS-based motorsports telemetry data recording, there is a massive variety of products to choose from to help you get around a track faster. There’s AiM, Harry’s Laptimer, Hotlap, Garmin Catalyst, VBox, APEX Pro, and more, each with their own interface, variety of options, and so on. Some are more user friendly than others, some with more options than others, and some are more accurate than others. Of the lot, one product and its accompanying system that I’m quite familiar with was recently updated, and firmly maintains its position as my preferred system: APEX Pro.

The good folks at the Alabama-based APEX Pro LLC recently released their APEX Pro Gen II Lap Time Optimizer, and it features some very welcome upgrades to make recording and analyzing track data easier and more detailed than ever. A few years ago, I wrote about how I really enjoyed the Apex Pro’s handy, easy-to-use system that offered a lot of data variables in the palm of your hand due to being app-based. It’s still just that, yet now with even more features and not in an overly-complicated way.

The new APEX Pro Gen II still utilizes its system of lights to assist in teaching you the fastest way around a track, yet now it’s in a sleeker package with better clarity and ease of use, more tricks up its sleeve for helping guide you through a lap, and the same user-friendly interface. Plus, immensely improved battery life, which really helps in cutting down stress at a day at the track.

Recently, I had the chance to play with the Gen II at a trackday at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in California’s vast desert between Los Angeles and Phoenix, Arizona. Just like my original Apex Pro review, I was behind the wheel of my trusty old 2014 Mazda2, setup with track-centric coilovers, 200TW tires, lightweight wheels, plenty of negative camber, a barely streetable pad compound, and somewhere around 100 horsepower to pull me through this beautiful track’s fun long sweepers. I suppose if you want to get scientific about my approach to reviewing the new Gen II, this ended up being a convenient control to compare it with the old Gen I unit. Here’s how it all went.

Refreshing Familiarity

The thing about using the Gen II on track and analyzing its recorded data post-session, is it was all very familiar to me as a several-years-long APEX Pro user. It’s the same quick, no brainer setup that it’s always been, and requires very few screen taps to get going. Then, browsing through my results is the same tap-and-swipe through various screens. I had previously become accustomed to the first page of analysis under My Data, tapping each lap to see what the lights looked like throughout various sectors to see how I did, and where I could improve.

This was all the same with the Gen II, as was tapping over to the second screen to have a look at my XY scatter plot. Was it a nice n’ wide shape that showed good transitions between the brake and gas pedals, that maximized my little Mazda’s underrated amount of momentum? I’m proud to report that it looked pretty decent, which was as clear as day to figure out.

By the way, the way this wonderful little made-in-the-USA box does all of this fascinating technology is best left for the APEX Pro folks to explain themselves. In their words, “red lights on the APEX Pro indicate unused potential. In motorsport terms, the tires are not at their limit. This limit is calculated by taking in thousands of sensor measurements per second from the internal GPS and accelerometers (nine-axis IMU). These raw sensor measurements are then filtered through the APEX algorithm derived from years of testing at all levels of motorsport. This process takes a lap or two of driving at pace, and from these measurements APEX determines the car’s road-holding ability (based on your driving, not a theoretical limit).

That’s how APEX helps you find your limit. Peak measurements are compared with the other measurements to determine if those peaks seen in one area of the track are achievable elsewhere. Put another way, you may be faster in one section of the track than another, and that is how APEX learns where the available grip is. Red lights represent the limit determined by the APEX algorithm, green lights show you how close you are to that limit.”

On track, the lights are more customizable, too. You can change their Display color, Brightness, the Skill level (or, how fast the lights react), Filter (whether you’re on an autocross course or on track), and more. Like the previous generation, there are three different skill levels to choose from, which essentially just means how quickly information is relayed to you via the lights, among other things. I kept the Gen II at the two-out-of-three stars Skill level, as my track-going steed is a mildly-prepped, slow hatchback piloted by an OK driver. Three stars are for folks in much more purpose-prepped hardware who can and need to receive and process information a lot faster, such as more experienced and skilled drivers.

In addition to all of this, the APEX Pro Gen II’s timing is very, very accurate. My trackday fee included free timing, and every lap time I posted mirrored exactly what the APEX Pro was clocking me in at, down to the hundredth of a second.

Building on a Solid System

One of the Gen II’s best new features that I used a little bit, though I definitely wished I’d used quite a bit more, was predictive lap timing. This is available with a Laptimer Plus subscription, which is easy to purchase through the app itself. Like other brand’s method of conveying plus and minus to you during a lap, I think APEX Pro’s method is best. How far into the green are you reaching as you try and set a new personal best? Or, how far into the red are you straying, which would indicate that you’re losing time over the previous lap -for me this is almost always over-driving the car.

I like this, as it adds another layer of on-track learning. When in normal Track Coach mode, you can pinpoint certain parts of certain corners. But when you set the Gen II to Predictive, you can get a quick, whole picture, such as “ok, I’ve definitely substituted smooth inputs for ham-fisted, waste-of-momentum driving in this lap, as I felt and the lights are now showing me as I’m deep in the red. Let’s try being more smooth next time.” By let’s, I’m referring to myself and the Mazda2… I swear these inner conversations don’t happen otherwise.

Another feature that’s pretty cool is the Learning setting, which is essentially a clean slate for you or, more likely, an instructor to lay down some clean data on a lap or session, which doesn’t take previous laps’ data into consideration. I used this for my second of three sessions at Chuckwalla, and sure enough the APEX score percentages on each lap looked a bit different than the other two sessions’.

The New Unit Itself

The new APEX Pro Gen II’s size, shape, and appearance is a solid overall update. It’s a sleeker and smaller package, which not only looks good, but also saves precision millimeters in tight quarters, such as mounted up in a formula car, Spec Miata, etc.

The old Gen I unit felt sturdy, though this one is even more so. Even simply turning it on and off via its front button feels more sturdy, and, again, will be easier to do when fully belted in, with gloves on, and in a tight cockpit. The unit feels like it could take a beating inside a gear bag, or if it’s dropped, it’ll survive the fall. Potentially repeatedly.

The Gen II’s charging is done via a more conventional and I assume quicker USB-C cable. Then, once its battery power is brimmed, it lasts a very, very long time. My unit was only charged to about 60%, but I still got through three 20 minute sessions, plus sitting for a while in the hot pit, and had around 40% left. APEX Pro claims the unit will last 6+ hours, which is definitely good news for endurance racers, or people who are too busy fiddling with every other little checklist item at the track and don’t want to be bothered with ensuring one last detail is taken care of. Sure, one could custom rig it up to be plugged in at all times as well, but for those who might be swapping it between cars, such as instructors, or those who don’t want to bother with one extra wire to think about, the Gen II’s battery life is super reassuring.

Or, if you’re like me, where you roll up to the track and realize you forgot to charge up your various electronics before the first session.

Additionally, the new unit just functions in a smoother and more refined manner. I didn’t have any qualms here with the Gen I unit, but improvement is improvement. Both tethered to my ancient iPhone7 quite quickly, but the Gen II did so just a bit faster. Calibration and saving session data is also a little faster. When a unit’s main method of analysis is via a compatible Apple iPhone or iPod, quicker and easier is always better.

The new, customizable LEDs on the Gen II’s front interface are really cool, too. They’re just a tad more crisp, can get amply bright or dark depending on ambient lighting conditions, and again, just like the Gen II’s case and overall functionality, they’re just more refined. It’s this level of premium fit, finish, and functionality that helps drive home consumers’ choice to invest in a solid product.

And Yet, There’s More

During the Gen I unit’s run, APEX Pro came out with the option of integrating an OBDII device via Bluetooth connection. This is still an option with the Gen II unit, though unfortunately I forgot my OBDII device (or dongle) in my 1997 Land Rover Discovery. I was bummed about this, as integrating OBDII info is an immense help due to integrating throttle and brake inputs, coolant temperatures, oil pressure, and more. I definitely look forward to utilizing this extra bit of info in the future.

As far as why it was living in my old Land Rover, the OBDII dongle is quite useful for more than just track work. It can be used to check and clear codes, as well as monitor any variables that the ECU is willing to share. A few months back I’d replaced the Discovery’s radiator and wanted to keep an eye on coolant temperatures in various settings, such as around town, on the highway, in traffic, and while off-roading. The APEX Pro system ended up being quite handy for this.

It’s pretty cool that this value-added aspect of using the OBDII dongle and APEX Pro app for normal vehicle upkeep exists, I’m not sure if any other track timing and coaching system can do the same.

I did not get the chance to utilize video integration with overlay. This is a neat feature that’s easy to combine as many learning resources as possible, and skips having to buy extra cables, power cords, cameras, and more. And then, going through the potential pain of having to properly mount them all up in a vehicle’s interior.

Another one of the Gen II’s features that I haven’t yet had the chance to use is live streaming of data telemetry via the APEX Pro app’s CrewView. This is definitely useful for teams to keep an eye on their vehicle’s vitals, as well as help coach drivers along on track, whether from the right seat or from the pits, depending on data connection availability. The next time I crew on an endurance team with some friends, I’m definitely going to try and integrate this feature.

A Solid Overall Upgrade

At the risk of writing the word “solid” far too many times, I can’t stress enough how solid of an upgrade the APEX Pro Gen II is. It’s a nicer piece of hardware, a smoother and quicker piece of software, has some nice expanded methods of pulling and examining data, and none of it is too overwhelming. It’s still based on APEX Pro’s genius system of getting a lot of comprehensive data that’s easy to digest via an easy-to-use app, and I find that this gives them the upper hand over their competitors. For even deeper data analysis with a laptop, Track Attack is available to examine data even closer, which thoroughly gives the competition like AiM a solid run for its money.

About the Author: Peter Nelson proudly proclaims that automotive writing has been the highlight of his professional career. Previously, he was Editor of Winding Road Magazine and has freelanced for a number of sources, including Donut Media, HotCars, and Autolist. Find him all over Southern California, either off-road in his Land Rover Discovery, or at the track with his Mazda 2.