We pay homage to the most notorious, challenging and thrilling corners in the history of U.S. motorsport. You might think they are just a plain piece of asphalt laid to a certain length, angle and elevation, but to racing aficionados across the world, these turns give rise to moments which separate the men from the boys. Anyone can take a corner at speed, but to drive it at the very limit of adhesion knowing the dangers takes great skill. And so, from these corners, legends are born. Sadly, some have also paid the ultimate price as well. Here are the most extreme corners in motorsport.
The Corkscrew, Laguna Seca
Probably the most famous double-apex in the whole of North America, the Laguna Seca Corkscrew’s challenging sequence of corners is instantly recognizable to any motorsport fan around the world. The Corkscrew is situated at the highest point on the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, a 2.2 mile (3.6 kilometer) track based 35 miles outside of San Francisco on the Monterey Peninsula in California. Perhaps the fact it’s situated in Wine Country and also twists from the first apex left, instantly dropping steeply downhill to a switchback right, means that Turn 8 and 8A has been labeled “The Corkscrew.” During the years in which Indycars raced at this circuit, one of the most dramatic moves ever seen took place in a 1996 CART meeting when Alex Zanardi audaciously out-braked Bryan Herta on the final lap of the race at The Corkscrew. In an area of the track that many judge too narrow to attempt any sort of pass, the move elevated Zanardi into the pantheon of the racing gods. But sadly, this treacherous corner has also claimed lives. In practice for the 1999 CART race here, the young talented racer Gonzalo Rodriguez flipped over the barriers on the outside of the corner and was tragically killed. The Laguna Seca Corkscrew is a corner that has always been treated with the highest respect.
Turn 1, Indianapolis
If there is one sight in racing that never fails to take our breath away, it’s the first lap of the Indianapolis 500. This is the moment when 33 cars are waved off by the green flag and unleash all their power to commence the 500-mile, 200 lap race. One of the biggest single day sporting crowds hold their breath as these racers accelerate through 200 mph and power round Turn 1 jostling for position. The first corner on the 2.5-mile track is the same as the other three on the oval, a 90 degree left-hander, but the line the drivers take and its characteristics are very different to the other three turns. When traveling at 225 mph (or 330 feet per second) threading your car through Turn 1 is a daunting proposition at these speeds. And we’ve seen accidents here on the very first and also on the very last lap of the race. Last year, Takuma Sato’s attempt to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead of the Indy 500 ended in the Turn 1 wall. “If you see how grey I am today,” said four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears once, “it’s because of Turn 1 at Indy….”
The Kink, Road America
Found on one of the oldest motor racing circuits in the U.S., this is a vintage corner worthy of its place on such a historic venue. The Road America circuit near Elkhart Lake has been hosting races since the 50s and is arguably one of the best tracks in the world, set in beautiful Wisconsin countryside. The fastest corner is a right-handed dogleg, known as the Kink (Turn 11) and, depending on the grip available to you, it’s either down one gear or a dab of the brakes. Perhaps a lift or even – if you dare – flat-out. Rounding the previous corner, the Carousel, speeds build as you head down towards Kettle Bottoms, the fastest part of the 4-mile (6.5 kilometer) track. The section linking them is the high-speed awesome Kink. What makes this bend so dangerous is the lack of run-off and the hard wall lining the outside of the corner. Make a mistake and it’s going to hurt.
Turn 1, Circuit of The Americas
This is the newest corner found on the North American continent. The brand new Circuit of The Americas was completed last year as the new home of Formula 1 in the U.S. The track is a purpose-built facility, just outside Austin, Texas and features one of the most unusual corners in the entire F1 calendar. The first turn is a dramatic 113 foot incline, which drivers arrive at over 200 mph and brake down to just 40 mph to navigate the tight left-hander. Over the race weekend last November crowds flocked to the outside of the steep curve (enough to have taken your breath away if you ran up it on foot) to watch an F1 car climb the daunting crest. They watched in awe as an F1 car’s carbon brakes glowed red hot at around 1,200 d C scrubbing off 140 mph in just two seconds.
Turn 4, Talladega
This is a corner renown for notoriety. Like the banked curves of its sister circuit at Daytona, the banked Superspeedway turns at Talladega are a daunting sight. The fourth and final turn on this 2.6 mile (4.3 kilometer) facility is banked at 32.5 degrees and it’s typical for a pack of over 30 NASCAR machines to take this piece of Tarmac, nose-to-tail at over 200 mph. It’s a sensational sight for anyone lucky enough to stand on the outside of the corner. But whereas Turn 1 at Indy is a nerve-wracking experience on the first lap, Turn 4 at Talladega is a nervous place to watch on the final lap. With cars bump drafting each other, vying for victory, accidents are common. And with the pack so close, a confrontation at the front can involve most of the field. Indeed, last October Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were dueling for victory when they touched, Stewart spun and then flipped over in front of the field and in total 25 cars were involved in the last corner chaos. Turn 4 at Talladgea – never a disappointment.