14,95 dollars part I

Francisco Corredera wrote a vast introduction to the topographical methodologies and equipments used to scan tracks in the current sims. Mainly focused on iRacing provided data, he explains the basics of the topographic science and the challengers and efforts needed to achieve an apparently simple task like scan a track. This original and complete article is in spanish and was published by Carlos Casas here. I translated it but bear in mind I don’t have any knowledge in topographics, so the naming used could be wrong. Feel free to do any necessary corrections.

Fourteen dollars and ninety five cents, that is the price of a track at iRacing. Is it expensive or a reasonable price? Depends upon how you analyze it. There is no doubt that a good roster track is the most important investment in iRacing since the schedules are changing every season and you need at least a high percentage of the total content to face a whole season. However this article doesn’t provide information about the cost of iRacing but the scan systems used to translate tracks into the sim.

laser-01As many of racing fans know tracks used today on the sims are created using Laser scanning systems (hereafter LSS). More than created, recreated using LSS to do a topographic model of the track.

Topography and cartography engineers have been measuring tracks for decades. Earlier they were working with older topographic equipment but it has been always a necessity for teams and drivers to study lines and different ways to improve on track times.


Before current technologies hit the market, maps on paper and 2D computer models were used to analyze the line. In fact, similar system are used today, like raceoptimal to do a first approach. Obviously, 3D LSS systems are much more complex but none of these have real value if there isn’t a proper geometric representation of the track.


LSS are an evolution of the measurement techniques. Before, topographic engineers used theodolites and levels, stations and topographic GPS after that, and now LSS. Traditional methods were too invasive and involved a partial or total stopping of the track activities. Some topographic teams needed several days or weeks, depending of the track and the project requirements. As an example, a 3km length track could be weeks of full time working days for a team. It was the only choice and professional teams gather all this data to improve its studies and simulation systems because was critical to have reliable data.

This kind of topographical survey, though extremely precise, are indeed a discrete model of the reality, not continuous. Topographical engineer had to chose what points to survey to build a model. When you are using an equipment like this, for instance, a wall or a track border, you are only selecting a series of necessary points to trace its geometry. You don’t survey a point every centimeter nor thousand points to draw an arc. It is not necessary and you wouldn’t finish in ten years.

laser-03bAnd this is precisely the reason LSS are so popular. Time to scan reduces substantially first and it is possible to obtain a continuous survey also. Also, elements surrounding the track are now scanned, when they were “invented” before following critical surveyed points. Now it is possible to obtain a continuous model of the whole environment and not only track itself. And that it’s very important because many of these environment elements are working as visual references for the racing drivers. As far as these elements are truly represented, we will be contributing to a better experience, a faithful representation.

However, if we read a track has been modelled using a LSS, we don’t have to infer that those topographical proportions and precisions are better than other obtained using a more traditional method. We would have more points, but not necessarily better. Some simulators are selling this LSS work as a call, and somehow are sensationalist advertisement. But not because those LSS wouldn’t be a great equipment to scan a track but because a final results of a topographical survey depends on several aspects (distance, methodological, complementary systems, etc.) and not only from the LSS itself. At the end, a final result relies not only on the technology but above all how is this technology applied. We will see it later.


Laser is and acrimonious of Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. The first functional was shown in may 1960 by Theodore Maiman in the Hughes Research Laboratories. Since then, lasers have been evolved and sophisticated and work for several science disciplines and professional fields. As we have seen, one of these fields is topographical engineering.

Topographical engineers are the most qualified professionals using this kind of equipment. Their formation should ensure they control methodology, guarantee precision and combine different techniques between survey and position systems to adjust the package.

laser-03On the iRacing uploaded videos to explain how its staff has used this technology, appear topographical equipment. Methodology applied is topographic on its purest form: polygonal paths and linking techniques allow to maintain control and geometrical overlap. necessary to a) cover several topographical stations along the track, and b) be able to reference all the takes. LSS shown on those pictures is a Leica brand, and one of the three dominants geosystem equipments out there along with FARO and Trimble.

To be continued…

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