Inclement weather wiped out Tuesday’s portion of the Next Gen test at Richmond Raceway and delayed Wednesday’s session by a few hours, but once the car got on the track with Bubba Wallace behind the wheel, progress was made toward its scheduled 2022 competition debut.
For Wallace, it was his first chance to try out the Next Gen vehicle, and he said he didn’t talk to other drivers beforehand to get any insider information because he wanted to experience the car for himself for the first time.
“It’s different, but it’s a race car at the end of the day,” Wallace said. “There are some things we can learn on, and we’re going to figure it out. The car sounds really cool; from the inside it sounds really mean.”
Richmond was the site of the first Next Gen test on Oct. 8-9, 2019 with Austin Dillon driving Prototype 1. Since then, there have been several tests, including ones at Daytona International Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, site of this year’s championship race. Wallace was driving Prototype 3 on Wednesday with Goodyear on hand to help NASCAR test tire wear on the vehicle as it made laps around the .75-mile track.
“We’ve had the same balance from 12 p.m. (when the test started) to this 6 p.m. break,” Wallace said. “One thing I’ve noticed about the car is that the balance doesn’t really change over a long run. But the tires are falling off — we’re testing different constructions and compounds to figure out what tire would work best for a race here.”
Wednesday’s test was focused on the tires, but any time the car is on the track, other information can be gained.
“Beyond the tire development, we’re researching the temperature of the cockpit with some thermal imaging to make sure it’s a little more comfortable for the driver, especially during a long hot summer race,” said Brandon Thomas, NASCAR managing director of vehicle systems.
Making the driver feel comfortable temperature-wise is a reasonable goal, but so is trying to maintain a balance between comfort and making sure the car is challenging enough even for the best drivers in the world.
“As an engineer, there are still some things that I could look at and say, ‘I’d like to do x to make this a perfect machine,’ but that’s not our role,” Thomas said. “Our role is to create a great race car that puts on great races. People want to watch a race where drivers have to dig in to be competitive, not a race where every car happens to drive perfectly.
“Overall, the performance of the car is where we want it to be.”