May 8, 2011
On the fast track
By Terry Jones, Edmonton Sun
It was like being shown around the Northern Bear by Jack Nicklaus a few years back.
Nicklaus could see his golf course. But to the uneducated eye, mostly what you saw was a lot of dirt and heavy equipment.
It was like that with Bruno Savard at the northeast corner of the City Centre Airport as he took your correspondent for a couple laps around the new Edmonton Indy track he designed and is now beginning to construct.
Except, there is no track. There’s piles of dirt and heavy equipment.
Mostly it’s a closed airport runway, now fenced off from the one which remains open — the one where the IndyCar race was held the previous six years.
It’s now full speed ahead to prepare for $3-million of paving which must be done before the end of this month to be able to cure in time for the July 22-24 event. It’s a tight window in that the spring thaw must be complete and the conditions which make Edmonton and, apparently, Montreal the pothole capitals of the world, have concluded.
There are little red flags stuck in the ground where Savard, the 34-year-old engineer who works full time for Octane Motorsports Events Inc., the Canadian Grand Prix promoters who took over the Edmonton race, began transferring his design from paper to pavement last week.
There’s also small painted marks on different parts of the runway to indicate where stands and walls will be placed.
Savard joined Octane as a part-time employee in 2002 and became the company man in charge of essentially everything physical about the Montreal race on the Expo 67 site. In 2008, he designed and built a new paddock, half of which extends over a rowing basin.
Like the Edmonton City Centre Airport, Montreal’s set-up goes up and comes down every year. Unlike Edmonton, it turns into a park where people roller skate, cycle and enjoy their summer when the Formula 1 circus isn’t in town. Edmonton should take a long, hard look at that at the June 10-12 Canadian Grand Prix there this summer.
“Stands, suites, walls, fences, paddock layouts, constructions, media centre, concession stands, security, power, phones, internet, the TV compound ...” he lists off some of his responsibilities.
“It’s a lot of job.”
It’s a lot more of a job when you have to do it from scratch at a new track in Edmonton in addition to the one in Montreal.
As a civil engineer, Savard could be out there building bridges. But auto racing is now in his blood and he now has his chance to do in IndyCar what Roger Peart did in Montreal back in 1978 in building the F1 Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
He gets to build an actual race track.
“It is my first time to do it,” he enthused.
The idea of doing it at an airport excites him.
“Some of the great Grand Prix tracks began on deserted airstrips after the war,” he said.
One which still exists, although with considerable change over the years, is Silverstone in England, the home of the British Grand Prix.
“The biggest challenge was to keep as much of the existing runway as possible,” he said.
Savard started his tour on the start-finish line in front of the pile of dirt where pavement will be poured and the pits, suites, and stands will face the track. Directly behind them, the media centre and IndyCar paddock will be located. The media will love the location.
Savard drives to the tight left hander into Turn 1 where two grandstands will be located and the greatest number of fans will be positioned to experience the new side-by-side restarts which so far have been, as Paul Tracy put it the other day when he had similar tour “a disaster”. Dozens of incidents, contact and expensive repairs have resulted from the side-by-side restarts in early-season events so far.
Turn 2 to Turn 5, it’s a mess at the moment.
“A lot of bumps,” said Savard.
“A lot of milling. And we’ll have to remove about two inches and repave over that,” he said of the runway.
“That will be the case with about 10% of the whole existing airport runway we’ve incorporated into the track.”
Savard stops at the location of Turn 4. He parks the car at what will be the very edge of the race track, gets out his measuring instrument and takes a few steps to a set of paint markings.
“Eighteen feet,” he said.
The new promoters have been heavy in promoting the fact that the stands will be so much closer to the track than before. But it won’t be until you sit in a front-row seat that you really comprehend how close that is.
Savard starts driving again up to the hairpin at Turn 5 where another set of stands will be.
Turns 5 through 11 are actually part of the old track, complete with corner apron curbs still in place from last year’s race.
Savard then drives through the area where Turns 11 and 12 are located and into the “short” straightaway — which is longer than most main straightaways in the series — facing the Edmonton skyline where another set of stands will sit at the back of the hairpin turn into the kilometre-long main straightaway.
It’s there, on the 107th Street side of the track, where most of the sold-out 200 spaces for trackside RV parking exist leading into pit lane before the main grandstand and the adjoining row of suites.
Driving on what will be the major part of the paving project behind the long straight and from Turn 1 up to Turn 5, Savard indicated the locations of the three track entrances for spectators.
“You have to make the access for fans easy,” he said.
Savard also points out the location of where the on-site parking will be, a location which will be used year-round to help pay for the paving bill.
“About 2,000 cars,” he estimates.
As was the case with the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, it’s difficult to picture what the race track will be like when the circus comes to town and the cars take to the track in July.
What does Savard expect the drivers will say when the drive it for the first time?
“That it’s the most exciting one of them all!” he offered.
“I hope everybody involved in the race and all the fans will feel this track is ‘spectac’, ” he said using the French-Canadian slang term.