IndyCar’s Urban Playground

Front straight for Honda Indy Toronto race

The Verizon IndyCar Series’ annual visit to Toronto and the tight street circuit that slices through Exhibition Place — past the Enercare Centre and the Princes’ Gates then down Lake Shore Boulevard and around BMO Field — presents a unique challenge for drivers and an urban racing refuge for Torontonians.

The series is well known for its diverse racing across a wide range of racetracks, from high-banked superspeedways to smooth road courses that follow the undulations of the local terrain. The series also visits three street circuits with locations that span the width of the continental United States. Its only trip across the northern border is to the streets of Toronto, Canada’s most populated city and the fourth largest in North America.

With an estimated population of 2,929,886 as of July 1, 2017 according to Statistics Canada, Toronto is the largest city to host an IndyCar race. While the Long Beach and Fort Worth metropolitan areas are more populated thanks to their proximity to Los Angeles and Dallas, respectively, Exhibition Place’s location near the heart of downtown Toronto gives it an urban flair unmatched across the series’ 17 events.

Racing on the shore of Lake Ontario adds picturesque beauty to the 1.786-mile street circuit while its metropolitan setting makes it remarkably accessible for local fans. Steps away from the track’s north entrance is a transportation hub that’s unique on the IndyCar schedule. The GO Transit station, situated on the Lakeshore West line, links points east and west of Exhibition Place along the lake while TTC streetcars ferry commuters to Toronto’s Union Station where connections to other parts of the city and surrounding suburbs can easily be made.

For natives of the bustling multicultural city, traffic and parking — common pitfalls of successful race weekends — become nonissues thanks to abundantly available public transpiration options. Per event promotors Green Savoree Racing Promotions, the Honda Indy Toronto has experienced three consecutive years of increased fan turnout. Thanks to their continued support, the event trails only the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in street race longevity.

The same locale that promotes easy access also places unique demands on the racetrack itself, which must snake around new construction at the evolving Exhibition Place. The most recent reconfiguration of the track in 2016 due to the construction of Hotel X moved pit lane from the south side of Princes’ Boulevard to the north side where it begins at Turn 9 and exits after Turn 11 before the start-finish line. The resulting layout creates a serpentine pit lane, presenting drivers with an added challenge.

Ryan Hunter-Reay laps Honda Indy Toronto street circuit
Concrete barriers line the Toronto street circuit, leaving drivers with no choice but to keep it on the proverbial island. | Adam Pigott/Spacesuit Media

Like the other temporary circuits that IndyCar visits, the city streets around Exhibition Place weren’t originally constructed as a racetrack. Winter and normal wear year round combine to create a bumpy circuit where stamina and a well-behaved race car often count far more than outright speed. On either side of the bumps are concrete walls that invite the occasional slap while well-positioned tire walls serve to soften the blow if a turn doesn’t work out as expected.

Despite the nature of the track, the racing in 2018 was fierce and competitive with 184 on-track passes, 148 of which were for position. When the length of the race and the number of cars is taken into account by considering at the total number of miles completed over the race distance, this year’s Toronto race was only surpassed by the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg in position passes per mile.

RoundRacePassesPosition PassesMiles CompletedPasses per MilePosition Passes per Mile
1St. Petersburg3662834411.80.0830.064
3Long Beach2001343729.360.0540.036
5INDYCAR GP2141904965.800.0430.038
6Indianapolis 50063342814335.000.0440.030
7Detroit 196823682.450.0260.022
8Detroit 2144603642.500.0400.016
10Road America1611254848.910.0330.026

Even though it may be tempting to dismiss Toronto’s place on the IndyCar calendar as just another street race, the new universal aero kit has proven adept at delivering exciting racing at even the tightest of temporary circuits. The overall passing statistic bears this out with St. Petersburg, Toronto and Long Beach slotting in just behind the oval rounds at Iowa Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway as the races with the most passes per mile.

Superb racing, an encouraging fan turnout and the cosmopolitan backdrop of Toronto are just three of the compelling reasons why IndyCar’s only Canadian race is truly its urban playground.

While the date for next year’s visit to the streets around Exhibition Place has not yet been released, Green Savoree is confident that the festival of speed will be back next year, continuing its run as one of the most tenured events in North American open-wheel racing.