The future is now, again, or something like that. Once more, iRacing has its hands deep inside the future of a real racing product. This time, it’s in a track reconfiguration that’s scheduled to start next week.
NASCAR Cup and Xfinity races will bid farewell to the current layout at Atlanta Motor Speedway. They’ll be the last races on the old, worn out and heavily patched surface this weekend. The following week, construction will begin on a higher-banked, less-wide racing surface for utilization in the 2022 season and beyond.
The exact specifications include changing the banking from 24-degrees to 28-degrees in the corners. The racing surface will also be more narrow. Widths will decrease from 55′ to 52′ on the frontstretch, 42′ on the backstretch, and 40′ in the corners. It will still have the same length and same D-shaped oval layout.
To get to the final blueprint, the future track was heavily tested first in the virtual landscape. Just last week, iRacing and NASCAR teamed up as official partners in the simulation world. This is not technically that, as SMI tracks are their own entity. It is a NASCAR track, however, and that could be part of why this deal went down.
A VIRTUAL SANDBOX TO PLAY WITH
It hasn’t been uncommon to use iRacing as a sandbox for projects like this, either.
The Auto Club Speedway reconfiguration was announced earlier with hopes to have it ready for 2022. Daytona’s turtle chicane out of NASCAR Turn 4 for the road course was tested first on iRacing. Dirt on Bristol was conceptualized before the first layers were laid down in Tennessee.
A future Chicago Street Course was charted out against the Chicago skyline. A short track in North Wilkesboro was revived with some elbow grease and creative minds to mirror a world back in 1987.
This news in Atlanta and similar stories can all be traced back to a story about a Chili Bowl scan from 2018 that was used to reconfigure the real Chili Bowl track in 2020. Ever since it seems like iRacing has been getting more involved in real-world applications. Whether it’s in developing tracks or creating fantasy cars with real-world manufacturers, like the Dallara IR-01, iRacing seems to be one of the first steps in creating reality.
Speculatively, it seems that iRacing has recently gotten used to the idea that not everything has to be realistic numerically for it to be realistic in application. Just as recent and simple as the track parameter updates to ovals, which added “grip lanes” in a sense.
That took what they’d been working with in the Dynamic Track area to make racing in multiple lanes more accessible. That’s something that the data hadn’t been able to provide in recent years with updates to the New Tire Model. As of iRacing’s 2021 Season 2 update, the pavement oval side seems to be more content. There’s still more work to be done, however.
10 MONTHS OF “CONFIDENTIAL TESTS”
NASCAR doesn’t own the Speedway Motorsports, Inc. venues like they do the International Speedway Corp. tracks. Despite the new relationship between NASCAR and iRacing, this was more of a deal with iRacing and Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s Marcus Smith.
In a release from the track’s public relations, Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith spoke about the decision to finally reconfigure Atlanta after years of driver support for the current aged layout.
“As Atlanta’s racing surface has aged, we’ve challenged ourselves to reimagine what NASCAR racing at an intermediate track can be,” said Smith. “With high banks in the turns, narrower width and new pavement technology, Atlanta will be unlike any other mile-and-a-half track on the circuit. It’s all new for ’22 and this will be specifically designed for close, competitive racing.”
In that same release, iRacing Executive Vice President and Executive Producer Steve Myers explained how iRacing has been able to make the process of a new track much more streamlined than it’s ever been. “Flexing the muscles of our virtual track-building capabilities to prototype Speedway Motorsport’s vision for Atlanta Motor Speedway has been a fun and exciting process,” said Myers. “From one concept to the next, we’ve seen the future of AMS take shape; all without moving a shovel of dirt in the real world.”
The reprofiling of the track could have just as easily been designed without the “10 months of confidential research, development, testing and simulation with engineers and iRacing.” Having that ability to simulate different banking, width, configurations, even if it’s not 100 percent accurate, gives a much better understanding and gives measure twice, cut once a whole new meaning.
COMING SOON… VIRTUALLY?
The future Atlanta won’t be available quite yet, as Myers stated on Twitter that there’s still testing to be done. Content has been released early in the past, such as the Bristol Dirt Track and the NASCAR NEXT Gen cars. However, with no more eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series for the rest of the year besides “special events”, the two entities don’t have much of a use or platform to showcase the future build.
With the NASCAR NEXT Gen cars already on the playing room floor, NEXT Gen Atlanta could be a way to keep the community involved in the future of the sport. Honestly, I would expect the track to be an option before too long, or at least available in a tech track sort of pre-release before next year.
If not, iRacing will likely want to get their scanners on the final product when the real build is complete. The word on the street is that the laser scan team is getting released soon. After a year with all of the COVID-19 restrictions, Atlanta may be on the top of the list once finalized.