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Autonomous cars get their own day at the track

Track days are a great way for owners of sporty cars to wring them out in a safe, controlled, environment. But what happens if all of the sporty cars start driving themselves?

We’ll find out next month, when the first track day for autonomous cars is scheduled to take place. It will be held at California’s Thunderhill Raceway May 28 and 29, reports Ars Technica. The event is being organized by Joshua Schachter, who actually races in the popular Spec Miata category, but is eager to give self-driving cars some track time as well.

Schachter wants to make the track day as inclusive as possible. It’s open not just to self-driving cars, but to companies and researchers that want to test sensors and other equipment. Schachter plans to arrange for vehicles to be used as test beds for participants that don’t bring their own rides. So far 15 teams have signed up, and instead of big car companies, most are smaller outfits and startups.

Related: Ford talks autonomous cars, user interface, Silicon Valley

While autonomous cars have driven on racetracks before, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen when a fleet of them get together. As with conventional track days, the cars won’t race; the track time will be for testing only, and the cars will probably need it. Schachter told Ars Technica that he doesn’t expect any of the entrants to complete an autonomous lap at the first event.

Track testing has been an important part of the development process for carmakers almost since the car was invented. It not only helps engineers tune things like ride and handling, but also serves as a form of stress testing. In the case of autonomous cars, it can also demonstrate that the technology can handle extreme situations. That’s part of that reason why a pair of self-driving Audi RS 7 prototypes went on a barnstorming tour of tracks last year, even going head-to-head with professional human drivers.

While the track day is non-competitive, there is some interest in turning self-driving cars into full-on race cars. Formula E plans to launch a series for autonomous cars called Roborace sometime in the near future, complete with specially-designed cars.