It was announced on Tuesday (19th July 2022) that NASCAR will race around the streets of Chicago on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. The proposed Chicago Street Course is the same circuit that iRacing helped create and utilize for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series in June 2021.
That 2021 Pro Invitational event will forever be remembered as a showcase to what has officially became a reality. NASCAR is getting that real-world race on the real-world streets of Chicago next season on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule as it replaces Road America’s race weekend on the 1st and 2nd of July, 2023. NASCAR will share the race weekend with IMSA racing.
It’s not too uncommon nowadays for stories like these. We’ve already seen it plenty of times from the folks at iRacing, most recently with an updated Atlanta Motor Speedway. Simulation is once again becoming reality with today’s announcement of the new street venue on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 2023.
A BRIEF RECAP OF THE VIRTUAL CHICAGO STREET COURSE
Last year, just weeks after the virtual debut of the NASCAR NEXT Gen stock cars in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series at Darlington Raceway, another future concept was put to the test utilizing the simulation platform. A temporary street course in the Chicago market was being considered by NASCAR as a return back to the area after leaving Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet back in 2019.
In the middle of the night back in 2020, iRacing took to the real-world streets of Chicago, Illinois and scanned the area utilizing their laser scan equipment. In the middle of 2021, iRacing had taken that scan, working together with NASCAR and the City of Chicago, to produce what was, at the time, a fictional street course around some of the landmarks of the downtown city area.
The result was a 2.2-mile street course with the future of NASCAR racing in mind. After the stars of the NASCAR Cup Series took to their computers for a final time in 2021, James Davison took the top honors in the event, winning by nearly a minute over Josh Bilicki.
A few weeks ago, NASCAR industry members such as Adam Stern started hinting that NASCAR could be racing on the streets of Chicago in the near future. It was unclear if it would be the same as the virtual venue, as some challenges were exposed in the virtual exhibition.
The hints became louder as it was reported that Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot was close to signing a multi-year deal to bring NASCAR to the city. Those rumors and hints finally became reality when Lightfoot, along with Steve Phelps, President of NASCAR, Ben Kennedy, Senior Vice President of NASCAR, and Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing driver, were on hand in Chicago for the announcement.
THE PROPOSED TRACK
The proposed layout shown at Tuesday’s official announcement is the same 2.2-mile circuit that iRacing introduced last year. Like its virtual predecessor, the frontstretch and pit road is located on S Columbus Drive.
The cars head south and make a left on to E. Balbo Drive. When the field reaches South Lake Shore Drive, they’ll make another right and head down and take a slight right on to E Roosevelt Road.
Turn 5 is another right hander, this time heading north on the southern section of S Columbus Drive. They’ll meet a barrier where Turn 1 sits on the other side, and then turn left on to E Balbo Drive once more, heading the opposite direction.
A right hander onto E Congress Plaza Drive brings drivers through a bit of a strange half circle and three numbered corners, a right-left-right.
The final stretch takes the field back over the bridge, heading east on E Jackson Drive. A final right handed corner takes the field heading back south down S Columbus Drive towards pit entrance, then to the Start/Finish line.
The whole area is rooted right on the outskirts of the city. Landmarks such as the Buckingham Fountain, the Art Institute of Chicago, Butler Field and Hutchinson Field line the perimeter and interior of the proposed course.
Just south of the area is Soldier Field, one of the most historical stadiums in the United States. Funny enough, the NASCAR Grand National Series once contested a race at Soldier Field in 1956.
Essentially, the iRacing simulation has helped shape what will be the NASCAR Cup Series’ first street course race in series history. One could argue that iRacing, in particular, has helped with the reshaping of Atlanta, built a short track in the LA Coliseum, helped put dirt on top of Bristol, fixed an incorrect configuration at the Chili Bowl and resurrected North Wilkesboro, just to name a few other instances.
This likely won’t be the last time that iRacing is involved either, as they hold the title of the Official Simulation Partner of NASCAR. We do know that a proposed remodel of Auto Club Speedway is still on the table, and iRacing has already previously spoken about prior testing and proposals of a possible short course which utilizes the current frontstretch of the facility.
Their ability to build tracks without scan data is also apparent. While the updated Atlanta Motor Speedway on the service is a full laser scan, they have built a fully-fictional facility named iRacing Superspeedway, a three-mile high banked track formerly known as Coca-Cola Superspeedway from the Papyrus title NASCAR Racing 2003 Season.
Chicago is technically a laser scanned track even though it didn’t exist when it was made. The scans were done with the bare city streets. Things like fencing, barriers, and promotional material were all created by hand and added in. Does this mean that they could use this ideology to recreate other street courses without having to be there on the weekend that it’s set up to race? Maybe.
It could also lead to iRacing, or anyone else really, scanning an empty area where a track could be proposed and figuring out a full venue from scratch. The possibilities are endless in this age of technology. One thing is for certain, however. Once again, iRacing and NASCAR have managed to take simulation and make it a reality for street racing in 2023.