NASCAR wrapped up its last-ever road course race with its current generation of cars yesterday. Today, the same teams and drivers are taking to the same track for the first-ever large-scale road course test with the so-called Next Gen car, the new-for-2022 racer NASCAR will use for the foreseeable future. Thanks to onboard cameras, we finally have a sense of what those cars look like in action.
— Trackhouse Racing (@TeamTrackhouse) October 11, 2021
This video, from Trackhouse Racing, shows its full-time driver Daniel Suarez getting used to the new car. Immediately, the car looks more modern than its predecessor. Floor-mounted pedals, a massive sequential shifter, and a glass dashboard carried over from the most modern iterations of the current car make for a galactic leap in just five years from what was once an analog interior highlighted by an H-pattern 4-speed shifter. Notably, despite the switch to a sequential box, Suarez is still lifting on all upshifts and blipping the throttle manually on all downshifts. Both of these behaviors are handled by ECU controls in sports cars and open wheelers with sequential transmissions.
The car seems to be more stable and to have significantly more rolling speed in corners, too. For comparison, this video of an Xfinity Series car at the same track shows that the older car was more unstable, particularly in the middle of corners. Visually, the cars seem much more naturally suited to the surprisingly technical infield road course layout than the oval-first stock cars they replace.
That difference translates to speed on the track, too. These cars have a targeted 670 horsepower, 80 fewer than the cars that raced a day earlier. Despite that difference, lap times seem to be well within the range of the 1-minute, 25-second range drivers were running in during that race.
We cannot directly compare times without also knowing what tire compounds Goodyear supplied for both the test and the race, but the on-board lap tracker on the Trackhouse car's dashboard indicates that its previous fastest lap before the video was a 1:24.8. If tires are even and the loss of power is taken into account, that represents a significant gain in overall speed in a very early stage of developing cars that should only get much faster from here.
Rooftop footage illustrates those differences from another angle. In these laps run by 23XI Racing's Bubba Wallace, we can see that the team's test car looks much more at home on a road course than its predecessor. It means the car drives far less like a stock car and more like a sports car, a change that should make adapting to the notoriously difficult series much easier for one-off and part-time drivers in the future.
Whether or not these changes translate to better racing is another story. Most teams got the parts to build their first Next Gen cars late this summer, so they have not had a chance to develop the cars to their liking as they would before a season of racing. After a full offseason of scheduled tests like this, expect the cars to get faster and more stable. The Next Gen car debuts in a February 6 non-championship race inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, then makes its road course debut at the Circuit of the Americas in late March.