I finished the commercial project on thursday and finally have some free time to work on my two just-for-fun tracks:
My first stop when doing research on race tracks I want to build is Google Earth/Google Maps. If it has a usable satellite photo of the track, hooray. That is a lot of help, especially for getting the basic layout right. In some instances (e.g. Silverstone) the resolution is so high, you could place every single seat in the stands correctly. However, this usually isn’t the case.
Topeka has one major issue: The track wasn’t completed when the photos were taken. So there are high-resolution images, but they only show the track in a state before the tarmac was laid. I used it (as shown before) for the base spline, so that I at least have good reference for that.
Blueprint may be judged to be of better quality by some, but, in my experience, tracks never get build the way they were supposed to. If you base a track solely on a blueprint, it will be inaccurate. I’ve seen official technical drawings and blueprints that were missing kinks or whole corners.
Another pet baby is GPS. This has one big advantage: Elevation changes. I believe you can build the layout accurately without the help of GPS, but with the elevation changes you will be relying on educated guesses and gut feeling. However GPS is expensive as it requires you to have a high-accuracy recording device and, crucially, access to the track when nobody is running on it. If you want to accurately measure the track, you’d need at least two rounds: left verge and right verge of the track itself. Additionally you’d need to take some samples of the runoff areas or you’d be relegated to guesswork for that again.
Something amazingly technical has been done by Brendon Pywell et al on Eastern Creek. Measuring the whole area by laser surely got them insane amounts of accurate data. However this as well is immensely time consuming and requires the tools as well as the access. The result may be stunning, but without financial backing and manpower this is usually not a viable approach.
Back to Topeka, on which I have good information about the basic layout. Still, I need a lot more information about the surrounding areas (are they hilly? steep or swopping? where are natural spectators areas?), placement of advertisement boards, grandstands, power lines, tirewalls, curbs, etc. etc.
What I want to do first with any track I don’t know is getting to know it. Know the layout by hard, so I can place photos with the correct part of the track just by looking at it. This makes working more accurate as it helps me avoid misplacing photos and easier, as it builds an image of the track in my mind to which I will build the track with the help of the material gathered. Usually videos, especially onboard footage, helps a lot. Here I can get a feeling for the elevation changes as well.
Furthermore, photos are of the essence. For a guy who has not been and can not reasonably go to the track (Topeka is 7,500km/4,660 miles from where I live), this is my “window” to the track. A source for photos usually is Google or Flickr. Sadly, they both didn’t deliver good quantities of photos on the track.
However, Lee (who first posted a request for the track to be done at RSC) has taken some photos at past races and is currently at the track, taking new ones during this year’s SCCA Runoffs at Topeka. What I’m looking for in photos is good views of irregular trackside objects like grandstands, s/f or timing towers, or garage buildings from various angles. Some wide shots of the track to get a feel of the environment and foliage, as well as for building a good background. Ideally frontal photos of details such as guardrails, curbs, tirewalls, grass, track markings etc. for reference and, if possible, for building textures from them.
I will continue work on Topeka once Lee gets back from the track and I’ll post again when that happens.