So I'm participating in the FP competition for designing an awesome racetrack. Normally I'm not big on these things, but I'm currently really into sim racing and would absolutely love to have a really nice rig like the one being given away; you can rest assured that if I win it, I'll make as much use of it as anyone else trying to win it. So what do you say, want to help a fellow opponaut out and give my post some recommendations? It's crossposted just below, but I'll also include it after the break.
My strategy was to design a track that both tugged at my heartstrings and satiated my inclination towards pragmatism. Conceptual racetracks can often be wonderful things, but if they’re too fantastic in nature it can make it difficult to truly imagine the track in your mind as a real possibility and, more importantly, can kind of give you the sense that while the track may be awesome, but there’s so much going on that there’s no character, no cohesive feeling that you get when you’re on the track (in your mind’s eye or in real life).
I think the beauty of the world’s truly great racetracks is that, even without having driven them, they have distinct characteristics and feelings that you can picture yourself barreling through them in hysterical detail without ever having set tire to pavement. But, they’re also beautiful because they’re real. They’re not so fantastical that you can’t really wrap your mind around them. They’re cohesive. Even the Nurburging Nordschleife, in all its glorious length, still reeks of being the Nurburgring whether you’re at The Karrussell or at Adenauer.
So, with those two principles in mind, I set out to create my track using a third element: my own personal, anecdotal racetrack of the mind. I spent 4.5 years of college in Waco, TX, and while Waco doesn’t generally conjure up images of grandeur and beauty, it holds one of the nation’s best kept natural secrets: Cameron Park. It’s the second largest urban park in the nation (behind that other little guy known as ‘Central Park’), and more importantly, it has some really fantastic pieces of road. I spent many an afternoon after class blasting up its tree-lined roads in my Mustang, clipping as many apexes as I saw reasonable.
It’s on a river/lake and is deeply forested, both of which can make for some very dramatic views. Adding to that beauty is the massive quantities of elevation change (yes, even in Texas), which provides for both beauty and element two, driving pleasure. Going back to the discussion on great race tracks, we’re reminded that most of them have a materially significant amount of elevation change; Spa Francorchamps, Nurburgring, Laguna Seca, Lime Rock, Monaco all have it in spades, and it makes for dramatic views and for heroic driving. Cameron Park fits the bill nicely, as there is upwards of 200ft of elevation change throughout the park, which I decided to make judicious use of when designing my track.
The entire backdrop is now set: the location is beautiful yet real, and the topography exists for something more special than your average Tilkkedromme. Now for the track itself.
My goal here was to take equal parts literal translation of the roads through the park and inspiration from the roads in the park. Sometimes courses based on public roads get a bit bogged down by the reality of staging a race on such roads (Baltimore, anyone?), and this is a race track designing competition after all, not just one to show you a road that already exists which would be pleasant to drive.
Objective number one was to incorporate the elevation change through the park, and that becomes evident down the front straight as it goes from essentially water level (you can just make out the river going under the track at the front of the main straight) up about 50 ft by the first kink and all of the way up to 100ft above water level by the time you hit the first hairpin.
Speak of that hairpin, and all of the hairpins/spoon corners throughout the track, I tried to make them all significant passing zones: either into or out of very quick, flowing sections, or at the top or bottom of a series of elevation changes.
After the first hairpin, where you’re at about +100ft, you begin a steady but not absurd descent down through a series of medium speed, flowing corners. Again, note that the corners here are medium speed, but are also slightly increasing/decreasing in radius to just provide that little bit of technicality to spice things up.
By the time you’re working your way through the big, 150-270 degree left-hander from what is the “top” of the course, you’re running along the shores of the lake on the edge of some very beautiful limestone escarpments. This is also where reality begins running into creativity, because the river and lake don’t run like this in the least, although there are such cliffs that run along the river.
From there you begin a run back down to water level in what becomes a slower, more technical part of the track. Part of this is to facilitate some technicality and variety, and the other part is to provide a place for spectators to really get some great views of the action. Obviously I’ve stolen a page right out of the books of Monaco, Abu Dhabi, and Montreal by providing waterfront marina action; it’s just too awesome not include from a race that takes place on the water. But also, less absurdly wealthy spectators can view that section of track from the elevated infield area, which is another key to my design: the elevated infield. You get to view racing all over the track and you get to explore the beauty of the park that’s trapped inside the infield (did I mention the mountain bike trails?).
From the flowing waterfront area, you slowly begin to trudge back up hill until you in the first of three successive straights, which are designed to provoke a succession of side by side racing in which any one pass doesn’t really become final until the end of the third straight.
The first straight is the shortest, but also runs into a very quick left hander where the braking zone for the proceeding right-hand hairpin begins almost immediately after the apex of the left hander; expect lots of tail happiness for just about any car through here. It’s also a great chance to slot in for a pass before/during the 2nd straight: he with the biggest balls around the quick left-hander gets the position.
The second straight is also the pit straight; you can see the pit entrance continuing as a portion of the first straight as the hairpin tightens. The most notable feature here is the run over the water on a bridge that looks something like this, already a member of the Waco waterline:
Straight number two feeds into a quick kink which then feeds into a wide, 180 degree turn that itself kinks just a bit back to the left before finally feeding into the main straight, which runs back over the water on a bridge of its own, across the start finish line, and begins the journey back uphill to start the lap all over again.
So there’s the lap of my course. I did what I could to make it equal parts realistic but dream-worthy, quick but technical, and completely dramatic, all without invoking the consequences of the compromises that exist on each continuum on which those elements exist. I like to think I did so.