Races at the high–speed ovals such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Texas Motor Speedway generally draw the most attention among those who follow the Verizon IndyCar Series. However, the road and street circuits which make up a larger portion of the current slate of events each have their own “action” hot spots where several memorable moments have occurred. Now some of these have been more tilted toward the positive side, while some have been not so good.
In this week’s commentary, I take a look at the five wildest corners currently in IndyCar and why each deserves its top billing.
5. St Petersburg Street Circuit’s Turn One:
The first braking zone of the season has often seen three and four–wide passing attempts work out great for some, yet poorly for others. Marco Andretti’s recent wild ride comes to mind here, among several others most commonly occurring at the opening of the new year. The off camber nature of this oddly angled right–hander, plus its bumpy nature and the funnel down effect at the apex makes contact here sometimes unavoidable.
The key to mastering this section is getting off the final hairpin cleanly to maximize the airport runway front straight. Any slip or slide will make one vulnerable to any Push to Pass aided overtake at turn one, unless one defends the inside lane and forces the trailing car to take a long way around.
4.Watkins Glen International’s Inner Loop Chicane:
While New York’s Thunder Road features several great corners, the Inner Loop chicane has been the scene of many out braking duels in both IndyCar and NASCAR. Created in 1992 to slow down cars on the fast back straightaway, the section inadvertently created probably the most opportune chance to gain positions on the circuit. Being able to complete a maneuver before entering the first part of the Inner Loop to finish off a pass successfully is required, as the curbs at all parts of this section will launch a car off the ground. As a result, a full out of control scenario where a trip to the outside gravel trap is certainly possible.
Being able to hold the accelerator wide open through the uphill Esses and turn four will open up any the door of opportunity to gain ground with Push to Pass activation most effectively done just entering the chute before the run to the braking zone.
3. Exhibition Place Street Circuit’s (Toronto) Turn 3:
Although the narrow nature of the Exhibition Place design has made passing famously difficult over the years, the run down Lake Shore Boulevard to the tight, turn three right–hander serves as the area where overtaking most commonly is attempted. Although several successful passes come to mind, one of most infamous challenges gone wrong came in 1989 when Mario Andretti tried to pass Teo Fabi. Andretti moved alongside Fabi, only to find the abandoned Alfa Romeo of Roberto Guererro parked in the same area. Although Andretti managed to escape the nasty impact without suffering injury, the incident would significantly change the way the series would handle stopped cars on the track.
Minus Andretti’s unfortunate situation, the majority of incidents occurring at turn three have been much less wild. The key to gaining or holding position here is getting the braking zone right and being positioned correctly entering the corner. The closer one applies the brakes in relation to the pedestrian bridge on Lake Shore Blvd., makes one more likely to lock up or miss the sweet spot of the corner. This can result in contact with the outside tire barrier and/or position loss since the turn’s narrow nature makes side by side racing next to impossible. You also do not want to get caught on the outside line entering the corner as it is not the most efficient way to hit the entry. An approach using the middle of the road or just left of center should allow for a dive to the inside of the car in front.
2. Streets of Long Beach’s Turn One:
The braking area at the end of Shoreline Drive in its current and previous configurations has been witness to many great moments over the years. Although the infamous turn 11 hairpin draws a majority of attention, getting out of this section cleanly is the goal to make any overtaking maneuver at the conclusion of Shoreline possible. One great example came in 1999 when then CART rookie Juan Pablo Montoya made a pair of successful overtakes at turn one on the way to his first career North American open–wheel victory. The section was also a controversial corner in 2016 as Simon Pagenaud appeared to cut off the pit lane exit entering turn one to maintain the lead over Scott Dixon.
Although gaining ground is certainly possible at the 90-degree left–hander, the consequences for getting the turn wrong can be nasty. The tire barrier and runoff roads have caught many drivers who elected to be too cavalier at attempting a late out braking charge and sometimes the impacts with the tires have been so wild that cars have even rolled over as a result. Even before the 1999 track reconfiguration around the city’s aquarium, the former turn one was equally memorable as a 90-degree right–hander with many successful overtakes and several unsuccessful moments, including Scott Pruett’s wild shunt in practice for the 1992 race.
1. Barber Motorsports Park’s Charlotte’s Web Hairpin (Turn Three):
Although the quick turn nature of the Birmingham, Alabama layout makes most of the corners here a follow the leader exercise, the story is different when the IndyCar fleet enters the tight and tricky downhill hairpin, named for the spider statue beyond the left side barriers. The tougher braking zone makes missing the apex common here and drivers can be punished for trying to get out of the hairpin too soon. Recall earlier this year when Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal were battling, which eventually resulted in contact and the Team Penske pilot going off course, before finally reeling in and overtaking the damaged car of Rahal to secure the race win.
Getting off of the uphill turn two without spinning the tires and coupled with a pressing of the Push to Pass button on the steering wheel should allow for a passing attempt to occur at Charlotte’s Web, whether a driver takes the inside lane or even the outside lane. Unlike the other facets of the Barber circuit, the hairpin is wide enough to account for side by side racing and does offer decent grip using the longer, outside route.
Although every road and street circuit currently in the Verizon IndyCar Series has its own character and has its own signature section, the five challenges mentioned above currently provide the most excitement that open wheel racing has to offer.
Agree with my list? Believe there is another corner(s) worth a mention? Post your comment below or leave a comment on Twitter.
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