Racing, like pretty much everything else in life, has looked a little different over the past year or so thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. For racers, it means less actual practice time at the track, but luckily, Ford NASCAR drivers have a pretty cool tool at their disposal – two life-like simulators located at the Ford Performance Technical Center in Concord, North Carolina.
The simulators, which have been around since 2014, give Ford NASCAR drivers a realistic cockpit and wraparound screen that effectively creates a realistic racing experience, something that’s become even more important in a pandemic-ridden world.
“It’s far more realistic than even just an iRacing or video game, I mean you guys saw the motion and all that,” NASCAR program engineer of Ford Performance, Richard Johns told KHON News. “There’s a tremendous amount of work that has to go into moving all that and making it feel realistic right down to the feel of when they get on the brake, the belts pull tight to give the driver the feeling that the car is decelerating.”
In addition to making up for lost practice time, the simulators also allow drivers to get a feel for courses they haven’t raced on yet. “There’s a lot of new tracks,” said Joey Logano’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe. “We look at the road course races. Those are areas where not only is it a good gain for the team side working on cars setups, and things like that but there’s where it’s really helpful for Joey. Just to learn all the corners on a road course where there’s so much different than anywhere we go where there’s so much braking and shifting.”
And to make things extra realistic for drivers, conditions can even be changed on the fly. “You can change the weather, you can change a tire, you can add a ghost car, you can do things like that to try and mimic what it’s going to be like when you’re at the track,” Logano said.
We’ll see if all of this virtual practice pays off when the legendary, NASCAR season-opening Daytona 500 takes place this coming Sunday, February 14th.