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Initial Impressions: Will Garmin’s Driver Tracking Catalyst Pay Off?

This could be the easiest way to digest track data.
Garmin Catalyst gear review
Let's figure out some laps Peter Nelson

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Ripping laps on track in any capacity is one of the most fun and rewarding activities that car enthusiasts can partake in. For the cost of signing up for a track day, and owning a reasonably well-maintained car, you can drive on the edge of grip (or well past it) in a very safe and controlled environment without the threat of Johnny Law, random other drivers, curbs, and so on.

As such, it’s a great place to form and accomplish goals by timing laps and trying to cut as many seconds out of them as possible. One solid accompaniment to one’s on-track learning experience is a good lap timer, and well-known GPS equipment manufacturer Garmin offers such a thing that might be one of the best for the job. Say hello to the Catalyst.

Recently, Garmin sent me its Catalyst Driving Performance Optimizer to utilize on track, get a solid handle on, and then report with my thoughts. However, before I go plugging in wires and sending my dear BMW 128i through my favorite circuits, let’s discuss my initial thoughts on this comprehensive system.

The Garmin Catalyst
Lots to unpack here. Peter Nelson

It Comes In a Big Box For a Reason

Well, it’s not like when you receive something from an online retailer and the box is fifty times larger than the single item you bought. But as far as electrics go, there’s some heft and size to this packaging that might seem large for just a screen that lends a hand with performance driving.

The size of packaging, however, is because inside is the camera that records your laps, all the proper wiring for the camera, a power cable, mounts, and more. Oh, and a printed instruction manual. Thankfully.

What this all means is it takes a while to set everything up. In fact, I would plan to allow half an hour or more at the track to get everything situated. Or, take care of it the day before. Let’s hope I do as I say, not as I normally do at track days, which is to rush something super last minute. “Immediate call to grid? Crap, I still have to check tire pressures!”

What’s particularly neat is the unit itself is a mini tablet, and it’s of substantial construction, including rough rubber casing and some nice heft. It feels like it can get tossed around in a gear bag, or even accidentally dropped from waist height, and escape unscathed.

The Garmin Catalyst in GIF form
Sturdy construction. Peter Nelson

So What’s All This For?

The idea behind the Catalyist is it doesn’t just film your laps, it analyzes them and makes suggestions about ways to go faster. This is based on a host of factors, including GPS data G meter measurements, and many other scientific and fascinating methods. Stay tuned for more on that when we publish my full-blown review.

But here’s the other part: It acts like a driver coach and speaks to you. It doesn’t say anything creepy and HAL-like but rather voices its suggestions while you’re driving along, such as “try braking later here next lap” and stuff like that. Neat!

E82 BMW 128i on track
Let’s see if it’ll teach my slow, old self new tricks. Cali Photography

Thoroughly Excited

While I have a little bit of experience with the Catalyst from mild track day interaction and formerly working in motorsports retail, it’s been a long time. There’s a good chance that there have been some updates made in the past couple of years, and I’m essentially starting from square one. 

I’m excited to see how it all goes, especially after forming some solid familiarity with the APEX Pro Gen II Digital Driving Coach—my current preferred lap timer due to having the most experience with it—and the AiM Solo 2 and 2 DL. Will Garmin edge out its competition, justify its setup and learning method, and justify its significantly higher price?

In fact, part of my coverage of this mystical tablet of lap time victory includes a comparison between several similar systems, the APEX and AiM included. Stay tuned.