Have you ever wondered what it’s like to go screaming into the first turn at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
“If you’ve ever seen how gray I am today,” said Rick Mears, one of three men to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, “it’s because of Turn One.”
An Indycar weighs a tad over 1,600 pounds, is 76 inches wide, and is 16 feet long. On Race Day – the last Sunday in May – 11 rows of cars, lined up three wide, cross the fabled Yard of Bricks under the waving of the green flag to start the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500. Powered by engines that generate just under 700 horsepower, the cars barrel down the 50-foot-wide straightaway at over 225 mph.
“Turn One is not an easy wide-open,” cautioned Dario Franchitti, who has hoisted the Borg-Warner Trophy three times. “You turn in flat and have to keep it flat in order to gain lap time, but as you turn, you don’t know what you’ve got. You’re really going into the unknown.”
Turn One at Indy is a foe as formidable as any competitor. Drivers hit the first turn traveling 330 feet per second. That’s the length of a football field – plus one end zone – every second. Drivers try to enter the turn, a 90-degree left-hander, with the right side of their car as close to the wall as possible in order to increase the radius of the turn. The larger the radius, the less speed the car scrubs. Hit the wall and your day – and, possibly, life – is over.
“I wish I had a phrase I could use to describe Turn One at Indy,” said three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves. “But in all the years I’ve been coming here, I still can’t put one together. It’s just too much to capture easily.”
Most Saturday night dirt tracks across America are a quarter mile. That’s Indy’s Turn One. It is the length of a drag strip. The open wheel cars barrel into a the first turn – a curve that can only accommodate single-file or two-wide racing — at full-tilt boogie. Always the Speedway’s most challenging corner, Turn One – and its’ 1,400 foot wall — takes on the appearance of a widow maker.
“There’s something about that corner,” observed 1969 Indy winner Mario Andretti. “You almost don’t get to catch your breath from lap to lap. Turn One at Indy ranks right up there with the great ones, for sure.”
There is an old adage in motorsports that you cannot win the race on the first lap, but you can lose it. Smart drivers enter the first turn at The Brickyard carefully. The architecture of the track is a little different on the entry, which changes the way the car handles. Turn one generally has a tailwind, which becomes a crosswind at the turn’s exit, giving drivers yet another variable to deal with.
“Turn One was always the most notoriously difficult corner,” continued Andretti. “You’ve got the grandstands there, but you really felt the buffeting and the wind was unpredictable. That’s one issue you know to look for.”
An ethanol-fueled rite of passage, negotiating the first left at the IMS is a hair-raising moment. At entry, the curve is banked 5.40 degrees. At it’s apex, it reaches 8.27 degrees, and the exit to Turn One has an embankment of 5.14 degrees. Drivers experience a g-force of 4.3, nearly four times that of the Saturn V moon rocket just after launch.
“It,” said Helio Castroneves, speaking of Turn One, “is indescribable.”
One good turn deserves another. A driver’s reward for successfully navigating Turn One at Indy? Three more corners to worry about – and a total of 800 for the day.