How to Build an Urban Racetrack
TORONTO—It’s Indy car season in Toronto. You may have noticed the fencing going up along Lakeshore.
So that’s it right? Just throw up some fence and call it a race? How do you turn rough city streets into a track fit for cars worth millions of dollars?
The Toronto Indy track is currently overseen by English-born Canadian Roger Peart, who designed the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in 1977 and was instrumental in getting it on the Formula 1 circuit.
An engineer by trade, Peart raced cars as a hobby for a couple of decades before turning his hand to circuit design.
In 1979, he became a member of the FIA Circuits Commission, of which he’s now president. Since 1991, he’s been president of ASN Canada FIA, FIA’s official Canadian representative organization.
Peart inspects circuits around the world, many of them laid out on city streets. “I don’t think there’s a street circuit anywhere which is exactly ideal…so it’s a question of looking at what’s possible on a given site.”
Streets must be wider to allow for passing, already well paved with little camber.
According to Peart the lack of competing cambers that happen at intersections is what makes Lakeshore a good choice.
A fairly level road is also important. Dips and bumps in the road that are barely noticeable in your car can send an Indy car moving over 300 km/h into the air.
“You don’t want cars getting airborne. It looks great but that’s a no-no as far as we’re concerned,” Peart said.
Though the excitement of the road circuit lies in its imperfection, areas that are too bumpy can be repaved, and smaller bumps can be ground out.
Naturally, there must be enough turns to make it exciting, and a straight that’s long enough to let the cars pick up speed.
But getting the circuit built turns out to be less of an exercise in physics than it is one in consensus building. That’s where James Tario comes in.
Tario is the Indy track operations director. He oversees the planning and construction of circuits in Toronto, the U.S., and Brazil.
“It becomes a collaborative effort,” Tario explains. Consensus between the race organizers, the city, and local businesses that will be affected can take time.
“Everybody’s opinion matters,” Tario said. The longevity of an event like this lies in continued community support.
Even after 26 years in Toronto, the team is making logistical changes. For example, this year all the construction will take place at night to minimize traffic disruption.
The system of concrete barriers and fencing that define Toronto’s circuit are very strong, designed to deflect an entire airborne car in the worse case, and certainly something more likely, like a flying wheel.
Though seemingly primitive, new rejected tires are bolted together in stacks of six or arranged in staggered formation and placed along the barrier in potential crash areas to absorb energy on impact. Stacks in the most dangerous areas are reinforced inside with a plastic tube.
If these details bore you, no worries. We did ask Peart one useful question. Where’s the best place to sit at the Toronto Indy?
“The great interest is where there’s likely to be overtaking…most likely Turn 3,” Peart said.
“The exit to that turn is a lot narrower than the approach. It squeezes down. It’s a very tricky corner. We do have quite a lot of action down there.”
Tickets for the stands at Turn 3 are a little more expensive, but you heard the man. That said, anywhere in the stands is good, and there’s plenty to see and do with a simple $35 general admission ticket.
Toronto Indy by the numbers:
• 2.84 km (1.765 miles) track length, with the cars completing a lap once a minute
• 2,050 concrete barriers each weighing 8,650 lbs
• 1,600 linear feet of tire wall for the entire circuit
• 14,000 feet of steel fence
• 21 days after the race to remove all traces of it from Toronto streets
The Honda Indy is on July 12-14. Tickets from $35-$165. Admission is free July 12 for Fan Friday! Visit: hondaindytoronto.com/tickets