There's no doubt that most IndyCar drivers' spider sense tingles as they slam on the brakes at the end of the long Lakeshore Boulevard straight and prepare to negotiate Turn 3 at Toronto's Exhibition Place street circuit.
The long braking zone, combined with the slow corner at the end of a 280 km/h run, offers a great overtaking opportunity and drivers must be on their toes to keep rivals behind and to avoid getting caught up in the disastrous crashes that commonly happen there.
"It's obviously very inviting and whether you are the pursuing car or the car being chased you always have to think twice and check your mirrors twice because it's easy for a guy to get a little ambitious and overcook it," said Oakville's James Hinchcliffe, who drives the No. 27 United Fiber & Data car for Andretti Autosport.
"Sometimes the best offence is a good defence there and watching a guy sail by all locked up is better than not realizing he's coming, turning in and getting taken out."
The regular carnage at the tight corner over the years means that drivers must keep their eyes peeled for danger. To do well in Toronto, drivers must avoid becoming another victim .
The peril is amplified on restarts after caution periods. They usually deliver a bunched up field going headlong into Turn 3 two-wide on tires that may lack a bit of grip because they aren’t yet back up to optimum operating pressures and temperatures.
In those instances, luck of the draw plays a key role. With two good lanes and smooth braking zones on both sides of the track, drivers have to pick the inside or outside train of cars on Lakeshore and hope things work out fine.
"It really is just a guessing game — it's like flipping a coin and the decision always sucks every time you come up to it," Hinchcliffe said.
When a pass does go well, drivers still must be aware of the overtaken car, because the walls seem to close in on the drivers and it's very easy to not leave enough room for the other car.
NTT DATA driver Ryan Briscoe intends to bring that very subject up in the drivers’ meeting on Friday morning.
The veteran Australian has never crashed in Turn 3 and he’s depending on cat like reactions to ensure it doesn’t happen in either of the doubleheader races in Toronto this weekend.
“I have never actually hit the wall there — it will probably happen now because I just said that,” he said through a laugh.
“Things happen so fast there and if you actually replay it in slow motion what we do when a wheel locks up for example, we might surprise ourselves by how quickly we start releasing the brake to try to unlock the wheel and bring the grip back to the tire. While you’re doing it you don’t really think about it, it’s just a natural reflex and you just know what to do.”
A big error in Turn 3 will almost certainly put you into the ever-present walls or tire barriers, but even a small mistake can cost drivers dearly in time.
"If you miss the initial brake point by 1/100th of a second, you are going to miss the apex by a couple feet and that's going to kill your time," he said.
"The whole time, from the moment you hit the brakes, you are looking at that wall [on the inside of the turn] and you are trying to judge the release of your brake pedal, the input from your hands and our speed all at the same time and you are making an infinite number of changes."
Drivers also need to get as close to that inside wall as possible because that's where the grip is. Being even a few centimetres off scrubs mid-corner speed and also means you can't get on the gas as early as possible when exiting the turn. But drivers also have to be careful not to get on the power too early because there's a little kink called Turn 4 where the wall looms closer just as the engine's turbocharger kicks in.
Although it is not a long run from Turn 3 to Turn 5, getting on the throttle early and hard can still mean a huge advantage over a rival.
It all adds up to one of the most action packed corners in IndyCar that also demands almost delicate precision from drivers.
"There are some corners where if you are a mile an hour faster or slower it's not going to kill the corner, or if you are six inches off the line there's still grip, but Turn 3 is one of those sensitive corners with a narrow window, the whole approach is systematic and almost second nature but you are always paying a little bit more attention," Hinchcliffe said.
"You have to get the speed just right in Turn 3, because too slow and you are leaving time on the table, too fast and you'll overdo it and lose grip in the mid-corner and you will have a poor exit. Or worse."
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