For the first time anywhere, the streets of Chicago were deafened by the roar of engines near the Buckingham Fountain and around Hutchinson Field. It was, however, virtual engines near the virtual landmarks. This was all done in virtual reality, but maybe it paves the way for this to happen in actual reality later down the road.
On Tuesday night, in a joint collaboration between NASCAR, iRacing, and the City of Chicago, the NASCAR stars went to battle on the iRacing servers live on FOX Sports. After 51 laps around the fantasy 2.14-mile / 3.44-kilometer Chicago Street Course, James Davison was able to score his second eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series victory in a row, perhaps even more convincing that his first at Circuit of the Americas just two weeks ago.
With only three cars finishing all 51 laps, Davison held off his Rick Ware Racing teammate Josh Bilicki by over 56 seconds and Spire Motorsports driver Justin Haley by over a minute and 22 seconds. 37 drivers started the first virtual race on Chicago’s fantasy street course, but only 17 of them saw Barney the Flagman wave the virtual checkers.
A RACE OF ATTRITION
The first obstacle of the race came in the first turn of the first lap as Anthony Alfredo, who started on the outside pole, overdrove into the corner and slammed the virtual wall. Davison barely avoided getting taken out, despite receiving slight virtual damage, as Alfredo collected multiple front running cars as he bounced back into traffic.
The carnage didn’t stop there. Many drivers found themselves using a fast repair after the first lap while others just up and quit. Other professional race car drivers took the opportunity to use the simulation to take out pent up frustrations, some of them full-throttling it into the barrier after a tough opening set of laps to end their night early.
Those who stuck it out, like Dale Earnhardt Jr, Cole Custer, and BJ McLeod, were all awarded with Top 15 finishes despite getting caught up in tons of early incidents. Some drivers tried to last the entire distance, but too many incidents and too much damaged hampered their attempts.
VIRTUAL COULD BECOME REALITY FOR CHICAGO
It’s no secret that iRacing has been a tool used by NASCAR and other forms of motorsport to plan for the future. The Chili Bowl last year was famously reconfigured based on an iRacing scan the previous year because the track was built up slightly off. The NASCAR version of Daytona Road Course and the Bristol Dirt Track were the first looks, virtually, at the real product that came shortly afterward.
When iRacing scanned the Chicago streets last year and with the release of the NASCAR NEXT Gen cars, it’s possible that the Chicago Street Course on iRacing will be utilized heavily by NASCAR Officials and the City of Chicago to plan a future race in real life. That’s already a possibility in the works with the future reconfiguration of Auto Club Speedway, and they originally showed off their fantasy track making last year at a virtual North Wilkesboro Speedway.
NASCAR’s Vice President of Racing Development, Ben Kennedy was on the pre-race show and said that NASCAR hopes to enter new markets in the near future. On top of that, adding more road courses could be possible as well, and the Chicago Street Course checks both of those boxes. I don’t know if they’ll get to have it ready for 2022, but it could be a possibility given the planning and promotion for just a virtual sim race.
NEW COURSE AVAILABLE TO OWN ON iRACING NOW
As it was with the NASCAR NEXT Gen cars at Darlington last month, the new Chicago Street Course is available to own on iRacing as of Wednesday night. The track is priced at $14.95 and features some stunning graphical background to a very different feeling street course than seen before.
There are 12 turns on the city streets, nine of them right handed. There’s a field, a fountain, tall buildings and skyscrapers, and some historical statues scattered around the venue. Oh, and the racing is neat too, many of the 90 degree turns act as passing zones after long straight aways as the track widens and narrows throughout.
There are no lights on the track, despite the overabundance of street lighting, so unless you’re in a car with headlights, it might be hard to navigate in the pitch dark.
PRO INVITATIONAL TO NBC SPORTS NEXT
Five races up and down on FOX Sports, and that’s only halfway in the expected eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series season. NBC Sports will take control for the second half, likely when their season begins on the real schedule at Nashville Superspeedway on 20th June. No schedule has been announced yet, but it’s expected to be out sooner than later.
VIRTUAL DARLINGTON – TOP 10 FINISHERS
- 15 James Davison Rick Ware Racing 51 LAPS
- 52 Josh Bilicki Rick Ware Racing +56.601 seconds
- 77 Justin Haley Spire Motorsports +82.023 seconds
- 51 Garrett Smithley Rick Ware Racing +1 LAP
- 19 Martin Truex Jr Joe Gibbs Racing +1 LAP
- 66 Timmy Hill MBM Motorsports +1 LAP
- 21 Matt DiBenedetto Wood Brothers Racing +1 LAP
- 42 Ross Chastain Chip Ganassi Racing +2 LAPS
- 00 Quin Houff Starcom Racing +2 LAPS
- 22 Joey Logano Team Penske +3 LAPS
UNOFFICIAL PRO INVITATIONAL SERIES POINTS STANDINGS
- 15 James Davison Rick Ware Racing 171 POINTS
- 66 Timmy Hill MBM Motorsports 150
- 51 Garrett Smithley Rick Ware Racing 133
- 8 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing 129
- 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing 118
- 77 Justin Haley Spire Motorsports 115
- 38 Anthony Alfredo Front Row Motorsports 107
- 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports 105
- 18 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing 98
- 17 Chris Buescher Roush Fenway Racing 96
- Lead Changes: Zero among one driver
- Lap Leader(s): James Davison 1-51
- Laps Led: James Davison 51
- Hard Charger: 66-Timmy Hill (+20)
- Caution Flags: None (turned off in game)
- Margin of Victory: 56.601 seconds
- Time of Race: One hour, 16 minutes, 13.338 seconds
- Pole Winner: 15-James Davison, 87.305 seconds
- Fastest Lap: 15-James Davison, Lap 34, 87.414 seconds