When it comes to IndyCar racing, 33 is a magic number. After all, 33 is the traditional number of starters in the Indianapolis 500 that sees 11 rows of three cars take the green flag every Memorial Day.
So when Dallara Automobili decided to invite a select number of iRacing.com’s Club Italia members for a guided tour of its factory last year, it made perfect sense for that “select number” to be 33. But how to select those lucky 33 sim racers?
Rather than the four lap qualifying runs that determine the starting field for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Club Italia opted to stage a sprint race in iRacing’s IndyCar Dallara at (where else?) the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The top 33 finishers would earn invites to the factory tour hosted by Andrea Toso, Dallara’s Head of Development and Technology.
One other point: If there’s a number with even more magic in IndyCar Racing than 33 it’s the number one . . . as in pole position, first place, race winner and series champion. In the case of the Club Italia Dallara factory tour, first place in the qualifying race would earn the winner a chance of a lifetime – the opportunity to run some laps in Dallara’s state-of-the-art simulator, complete with iRacing’s digital version of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 50 lap online race was held in early March, with Niccolò Cedrati from Osimo (a small town in Italy’s Marche region) coming home the winner by a few tenths of a second over Andrea Disarò and Andrea Baraldi.
A few weeks later, the happiest 33 sim racers in Italy arrived at the Dallara Automobili factory near Parma where they were greeted by fellow iRacer (and Dallara software engineer) Matteo Marini. After welcoming Club Italia, Marini led them on a guided tour of Dallara’s composite facility and assembly area where they found themselves knee deep (figuratively speaking, of course) in thousands of new carbon fiber parts and scores of new chassis from F3 and GP2, to GRAND-AM and IndyCar.
While all 33 of the visiting iRacers enjoyed the tour, only one — Cedrati — would have the opportunity to take his motorsports simulation experiences to “the next level.”
The 34 iRacers (including Marini) dutifully filed into the simulator building (you read that right, Dallara has an entire building dedicated to its sim). While the sim employs proprietary Dallara software for the cars themselves, the race tracks are the same millimeter-precise, laser-scanned circuits Cedrati (and 35,000 other iRacers around the world) use to compete in more than 1200 races a week.
After Marini took a few laps to make sure all systems were “go,” it was Niccolo’s turn.
“I slid into the seat in the car body (a real Dallara anchored to the sim base),” he says, “and Matteo explained to me the main controls to activate the sim and how to speak via radio with the engineer in the control room upstairs.
“They gave me about ten laps in static mode just to familiarize myself with the cockpit, the sound system and the viewing screens. Then I ran another 15 laps with full motion simulation activated. I can sum up everything with just one word: fantastic!!
“Everything is awesome, the huge 180° screen gives perfect proportions, the 3500W sound system screams like a real IndyCar engine – believe me, the sound is deafening without a helmet — and the motion system feels insane. Thanks to the laser-scanned track surface, you can feel every little bump and imperfection of the 2.5 mile oval and up to 2G forces on the banked turns.”
Rather than a distraction, Cedrati says the extra-sensory input from the motion simulation was beneficial.
“The motion simulation itself was so great and satisfying that I immediately felt good during the very first lap. The driving is affected, but in a positive way, as you can feel all the little bumps going through the corners.”
What’s more, the motion simulator gave him a new appreciation for the physicality of driving a race car at 200+ mph.
“The following day my right arm and shoulder were still aching because of the simulator,” he says. “Also, I can imagine how hard it would be to drive the IndyCar on a road course, as the brake and the steering inputs needed are the same as the real race car.”
“Everything is awesome, the huge 180° screen gives perfect proportions, the 3500W sound system screams like a real IndyCar engine — and the motion system feels insane.” — Niccolò Cedrati
As for his performance, Niccolò reports his laps on the Dallara simulator were about two seconds off his personal best at home.
“Unfortunately, the day before our event a Formula 3 team had run some tests on the simulator,” he explains, “and the same Formula 3 chassis was still installed into the simulator. So I had to drive the IndyCar simulation in a F3 chassis!
“That made for an interesting challenge, as it was difficult to judge the correct distance of the right side wheels from the walls exiting the turns because the proportion between the chassis and the on-screen tires.”
That hardly diminished Niccolo’s his enthusiasm for the Dallara simulator. In fact the only negative aspect of the experience stemmed from the fact that his radio communications with the control booth worked a little too well . . .
“The worst part has obviously been when I heard the engineer’s voice over the radio ‘OK, one more lap and I’ll stop the sim,’” he laughs. “Seriously, it was a wonderful experience, and I can’t thank Dallara and iRacing enough for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Although he only got about two dozen laps at the wheel, Niccolò Cedrati is one of a lucky few who will ever experience driving the Dallara Automobili simulator. Thanks to the strong technical partnership between iRacing.com and Dallara, however, more than 35,000 sim racers around the world currently have the opportunity to drive a virtual Dallara IndyCar from the comfort of their homes. And as that partnership evolves — and the iRacing membership continues growing – still more people will be able to drive a digital version of the new Dallara DW12 when it becomes available next year.