The Garmin Catalyst Review

Before jumping into the marvel that is the Garmin Catalyst, a quick word and reminder about lap timing in years past. Because, for performance drivers looking to improve and up their pace, things weren’t always so rosy.

A couple of decades ago, some vehicles were equipped with an onboard timer in one form or another. Maybe in the center instrument cluster and engaged with a stalk button, or buried in an early nav screen and initiated with the press of an adjacent menu dial. Either option would have required an inadvisable diversion of attention or a passenger manning the timer controls. And accuracy of this approach, if you or your passenger somehow managed? Sorta, at best.

Or, maybe your buddy in the pits provided you the courtesy of recording some lap times with a stopwatch and notepad, Days of Thunder style. Then it’d be up to you to, from memory, correlate certain lap times with varying racing lines and techniques. And was that buddy really staying focused and accurate with the stopwatch? Was it lap 3 or 4 that you apexed earlier into Turn 7 and got the better time result? Who knows…

As compared to present day, performance drivers of decades gone by really were operating in the dark. There was a lot of guesswork, a lot of seat of the pants progress, and advice from more advanced drivers. There were essentially no shortcuts, no clear-cut pathways to improving your track driving, especially as gains became tenths instead of seconds per lap.

With the lap timing dark ages as the backdrop, what the Garmin Catalyst delivers for performance drivers is almost too extraordinary to be true. Here are some highlights from our track time with the Catalyst.

Hands-on, Tablet-Style Interaction

From a technological standpoint, the Catalyst’s touchscreen (tablet-style) technology might be the most unremarkable thing about it. But the ability to access your lap times, lap by lap data, improvement opportunities, and more just as easily as you access your phone’s email turns out to be a glaring advantage as compared to alternatives.

The Garmin Catalyst Review

The pinpoint accuracy of the Catalyst (discussed below) is similarly delivered by rivals, as is the downloadable telemetry and data, which can be reviewed on a computer.

What the Catalyst does is put all that right at your fingertips, immediately. No uploading, no syncing, no secondary software programs to mine and allow you intelligible access to the data – park the car post-session, pop the Catalyst off its mount, and you’re away.

That downtime and occasional boredom in between track sessions? As gone as your unreliable buddy and his stopwatch. Replaced by the engineering debrief team that is the Garmin Catalyst.

Lap Time Accuracy

Especially for drivers looking to find tenths, lap time accuracy is key. Post-session you’re initially greeted with a lap times summary on the Catalyst.

We were able to run the Catalyst alongside another very reputable lap timer, the Aim Solo 2. We found our best lap variance was two one-hundredths or less, which is negligible, and could just about be attributed to the different high vs. low and left vs. right windshield placements. The Catalyst and Aim Solo 2 are that close and that accurate.

The Garmin Catalyst Review

Opportunities for Improvement

The real meat and potatoes of the Catalyst, and where it’s almost unbelievably illuminating, is in the “OPPORTUNITIES” areas.

As you’re driving throughout a session, the Catalyst is taking note of everything. As in, everything. Racing line, brake points and pressure, corner turn in points, apexes, the lengths of each corner, minimum cornering speeds, sector times, you name it. Between the laser-guided missile accuracy of the Garmin satellites and the Catalyst’s sensitive g meter, there’s no hiding everything you’re doing from behind the wheel – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And as you drive, the Catalyst is learning and relearning the optimum for each point on track. It will note your very best from each moment of the session, works through all of that data, then spoon-feeds it back to you in the form of opportunities as you analyze any lap or compare laps.

Just how granular and specific are these opportunities? If you’re just starting out in performance driving, then the Catalyst is likely to provide numerous large-scale opportunities for improvement based upon wide inconsistencies during a session. Think you’re maybe seasoned enough and advanced beyond what a newfangled GPS device would be able to show you? Probably not.

The Catalyst will find opportunities for improvement down to the foot, for example, “OPTIMAL LINE IS 3 FT. LONGER THAN YOUR AVERAGE LINE.”

The Garmin Catalyst Review

Brake points and pressure are also analyzed in-depth in every brake zone – “YOU ACHIEVED YOUR FASTEST TIME WHEN YOU BRAKED LATER 16 FT. | HARDER 10% | SHORTER 0.18 S.” The Catalyst will pick up differences during the session that might be imperceptible to the driver.

The Garmin Catalyst Review

Trying out different cornering methodologies throughout a session? The Catalyst will let you know which was the faster and more effective.

The Garmin Catalyst Review

Lap comparisons are also a cinch and similarly insightful. Want to know how and where you went wrong on a particular lap you thought was on the right track? Compare that lap to your optimal for specifics on where you lost time.

The Garmin Catalyst Review
The Garmin Catalyst Review

HD Lap Videos

With the Catalyst’s HD cam recording your sessions, all of this data is supplemented by video, which is as easily accessible as the lap data. Watch the entire session or specific laps, with lap, segment, time, and speed data populated as you watch. Jumping forward and backward through a session’s laps and segments is done with simple taps of the arrows.

The Garmin Catalyst Review

One of the coolest video features has to be the visual construction of your OPTIMAL lap. What the Catalyst does is sync your best segments from the session then combine them into an optimal lap video presentation. So, as you’re watching the Catalyst will link the various segments into a seamless video. This allows you to literally visualize an optimal lap sector by sector.

The Garmin Catalyst Review

And whatever speaker system the Catalyst is hiding, it’s surprisingly on the money. We found it powerful enough to hear your own lap videos while other cars were out on track in other sessions.

Real-Time Coaching

We were overwhelmed enough with the Catalyst that we didn’t even touch the real-time coaching element of the device. If the driver so chooses, all those post-session opportunities can be made real-time, with the Catalyst letting you know in real-time where you went wrong. It will sync with vehicle Bluetooth and speakers and provide corner by corner feedback.

For guys who started out in the lap timing dark ages, we weren’t quite ready for the Catalyst’s vocal critiques. Next time.

Whether just starting out performance driving or a professional racing driver, the Garmin Catalyst is an indispensable tool to improve both driver and vehicle.

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