Toronto: Pre-race track walk 2012

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on June 25, 2012 9:13 am

The local weather forecast called for thunderstorms yesterday afternoon, so I was anxious as I set out with toddler in tow. Those storms stayed to our north, though, and we instead had cloudy skies and a temperature of about 75 degrees — not a gorgeous day by any means, but a perfect one for spending the entire afternoon outside walking through the streets of Exhibition Place to check on the track build currently in progress for the next race on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, the Honda Indy Toronto.

We took the stroller from our home on the Toronto waterfront and made a stop at a playground on the way so that my daughter could shake her sillies out before we started the long haul. It worked perfectly — she was worn out just enough that she was happy to sit quietly and take in the sights.

We continued along the waterfront and through Coronation Park before reaching the circuit where turn 2 opens up to the long backstraight on Lake Shore Boulevard. Not much of the fencing is up along this section yet. This isn’t unusual, though. This section doesn’t tend to get finished until they close Lake Shore for race weekend.

I wasn’t able to take a good look at the state of the pavement along most of Lake Shore, unfortunately — long-time readers of MFW may recall that I also made this walk last year, and so I remembered the two-foot-wide brick path overrun with brambles and decided to skip it this time around. I took the walking path on the south side of Lake Shore instead. From there, I could see the Thunder Alley grandstand, which looked to be in the same configuration as last year.

As we (finally) approached the intersection of Lake Shore and Ontario Drive that forms turn 3, this is the first thing I noticed.

This is the hill on the south side of Lake Shore that was used as general admission viewing of turn 3 last year. It’s fenced off as though it forms part of the event facility, but the grass isn’t cut yet and it’s looking rather wild. A point that may not be well-known outside of the Toronto area is that the park immediately to the south of Exhibition Place, known as Ontario Place, was closed at the end of last summer. Exhibition Place is owned by the City of Toronto, and it’s with Exhibition Place that Green Savoree has the agreement to run the race weekend events. This hill, however, is on Ontario Place property. Given the circumstances, I’m a bit surprised that Green Savoree was able to get the necessary approvals to continue using this space. It’s still showing on the track map for this year, though, so all appears to be well. I can’t help but wonder whose job it will be to ensure the grass is cut, though — and who’s going to pay for it. These tiny details can get held up in government red tape for months.

By the way, I found these guys hanging out at the foot of Ontario Street.

They’re always there. If you’re ever in town and driving along Lake Shore, never speed while you’re going past Exhibition Place!

We crossed Lake Shore to head up Ontario. I snapped this photo looking east along Lake Shore as we were part way across.

The section of Lake Shore closest to turn 3 has been repaved recently. As I mentioned, there was no way for me to check beyond what I could see from here since the barriers in the middle of the road are already up and were blocking my view. Regardless, this portion of the track approaching turn 3 under braking is where the drivers will be most grateful for it, so this was very nice to see.

Turn 3 itself looks unchanged from previous years. The concrete section in the apex of the turn appears to have held up well this past winter and is in pretty good shape.

As we approached turn 4, I spotted this.

Seems some of the new concrete supports aren’t doing quite as well. While there were others with minor cracks and dents, though, I didn’t see any others that looked this bad. It made me wonder why they didn’t just take this one out of circulation. Maybe it got through QA somehow.

Approaching turn 5 and the west side of BMO Field, many of the corner fencing sections haven’t been installed yet.

There are still events going on at the facility while the track is being built, so I assume they can’t complete these portions until just before the race weekend.

The concrete patch at the apex of turn 5 still looks pretty rough.

This is basically unchanged from last year. Not noteworthy by itself, but this point becomes worth noting later.

It was after coming around turn 5 that things started to get interesting.

There is a lot of asphalt patching going on around the circuit this year. As was widely discussed after the debacle at Detroit earlier this season, the harsh winters in this part of the continent are very hard on asphalt — all that freezing and thawing makes the pavement crack and pit, and potholes on our highways are a fact of life. Clearly, some sections of the track have been earmarked for upgrading after this past winter. However, the lessons from Detroit have been learned: this is not that sticky tar-like patching material that ended James Hinchcliffe’s race that day. Instead, they’ve done proper grinding and have completed this patching with fresh asphalt.

Here’s a picture of a very pretty fountain.

You won’t see this fountain on race weekend — it gets hidden behind concrete barriers and fencing on the outside of turn 6. To my mind, it could be a very picturesque feature of the race course, not unlike the fountain at Long Beach. My guess is this has never been done because it happens to be on the outside of a turn where a car could theoretically go wide and need the barriers. I’d also hazard a guess that not a single car in the entire history of the event has ever hit the wall in this spot, given that turn 6 is a very quick and easy corner. But after more than 25 years, I’m sure the people planning this thing know a lot more than I do.

As we rounded turn 6, we came across some unfinished sections of asphalt patching.

These sorts of smaller unfinished patches continued off and on all the way through the 6-7-8 complex. Some of them were on the racing line, but some of them weren’t (the jut to the right shown in this image, for instance). It would be interesting to learn what the driving force was behind the decisions on where to patch because they don’t all seem to have been motivated by the needs of the race cars.

When we reached turn 8, it looked much the same as in previous years.

It’s still very patchy and rough. The concrete slabs at the apexes of the slower corners are clearly harder to patch than the asphalt sections since it hasn’t even really been attempted this year. (I’ve seen asphalt patching done on the concrete in the past, but it comes right back up once rubber hits it. It always sort of seemed like a waste of time anyway.)

I immediately noticed those Road Closed signs. Traffic is usually allowed to move through most of Exhibition Place during the track build, so I recall finding these signs surprising but didn’t really give it much thought beyond that at the time.

The section of track between turns 8 and 9 still has some pretty rough spots.

Without having noted the state of the roads before the patching began in the other sections, it’s hard to know what justified repaving and what didn’t. This, being right on the racing line, would seem to have been a worthwhile target, but it appears to have been ignored. (I’m no engineer, of course. Maybe this doesn’t drive as poorly as it looks.)

This looks like a picture of nothing, but I took it so that I would remember to tell a story. I happened to be passing through Exhibition Place a couple of weeks ago. (Yes, fellow Torontonians, that is sort of an odd thing to be doing. I was heading to Bloor and Dufferin and there was a closure on the subway, so I went around by using the little-known connection between the Exhibition streetcar loop and the 29D bus. You’re welcome.) As I went through this section at that time, I remember noticing that these few panels of concrete had dark scrape marks on them from contact during last year’s event, but they had very clearly been placed in a different order since the different sections of the scrape didn’t match up. I thought to myself at the time, “I think I’d at least make the effort to line those panels up if I wasn’t going to repaint them.” Well, it turns out they repainted them. The rest of the slabs throughout the course were pristine white as well, so it must have been done all around. That can’t possibly be a small undertaking.

Here’s something interesting: a new grandstand for this year.

This is the only change to the grandstand configuration that I noticed on my walk, and a quick glance at the Honda Indy Toronto track map confirms that. This new grandstand will have a view of cars coming out of 8 (though very few seats will have a good view of that turn, and they’ll only see the exit at best), across all of turn 9, and the entry to turn 10. It’s not where I would pay to sit, but it’s priced pretty affordably, so it would make a good entry-level ticket for someone who wants a step up from general admission but isn’t ready to invest in a high-end ticket just yet.

Here’s a view of what this grandstand will be able to see.

Wait a second… what’s this? Can it be?! The entire concrete slab in turn 9 is being relaid! I was so excited to see this. It’s a massive undertaking and is clearly being done with an eye to investment in the future of the event. If only one slab can be relaid each year (very likely given the cost), this was definitely the place to start — this turn was in horrendous shape. It will be very interesting to see if this kind of repair work continues into future years.

Here’s a closer look at the work at turn 9 and as it continues around turn 10.

There’s a particularly bad bump at pit in (or rather, there was) that’s being repaved as well.

All of the grandstands through this section of the track are up, and most of them are pretty close to completion. The pit suites are roughed in but aren’t very far into their construction as of yet. The Ferrari suites at turn 11 are still marked on the track map for this year, but the build hasn’t started on them.

There are a few patches on the front straight that look like this.

I have no idea what those square sections in the middle are, but there are at least three of them now between turns 11 and 1.

Some very large sections of the front straight are being repaved as well. Here’s some of the work set in front of the iconic view of the CN Tower and Princes’ Gate.

Although the condo developers have done their best to make this shot impossible to get, it is still doable. It just takes a lot more work than it used to.

Here’s a particularly nasty-looking bit of repair work taking place at pit out.

This next patch of work baffled me.

This is in turn 1, well off the racing line. They might get that wide on the restarts, maybe, I guess. But it made me wonder again what the influence was for doing all of this work. Maybe the city agreed to it on the condition that certain sections not relating to the racetrack were included or something. It struck me as odd, anyway.

Meanwhile, the concrete slab going into turn 1 looks as nasty as ever.

Again, I assume this is because trying to patch concrete with asphalt or tar is a waste of time. (Those poor little weeds have no idea what’s coming to them.)

Our tour ended at Princes’ Gate, just north of turn 2 where the track merges onto Lake Shore Boulevard.

None of the track-level painting has been done yet, and none of the manhole covers or sewer grates have been welded back down. That’s fairly normal for this stage of the game, though. It’s amazing how much these crews can accomplish as the clock ticks down for a street race. To my untrained eye, everything appeared to be running on schedule, and the volume of work being undertaken this year is impressive. It will be interesting to see what the drivers have to say when they hit the track for the first time less than two weeks from now.

To end our afternoon, my daughter and I turned back through Coronation Park and headed for home.

Welcome back to Canada, INDYCAR. See you soon!