Turn 4 is where it all comes together or falls apart

Turn 4 is where it all comes together or it all falls apart in the Indianapolis 500.

Last year, Josef Newgarden protected his lead when he dove deep to the inside of Turn 4 to hold off Marcus Ericsson for his first Indy 500 victory.

JR Hildebrand, Dan Wheldon

IndyCar driver J.R. Hildebrand crashes into the wall on the final lap as driver Dan Wheldon (center) heads to the finish line to win the Indianapolis 500 auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, 2011.

Conversely, J.R. Hildebrand hit the Turn 4 wall on the last lap in 2011, allowing Dan Wheldon to pass him for his second win, a victory that took on added poignance later in 2011 when Wheldon was killed in a racing accident at Las Vegas Speedway.

Turn 4 is the source of controversy. In 1995, Scott Goodyear blazed past the pace car on the final restart. He was disqualified for refusing to accept the black flag and Jacques Villeneuve won the race.

Incidents were avoided in 1982 and 1992 when Gordon Johncock and Al Unser Jr. held off Rick Mears and Goodyear to earn air-tight race wins.

It was where Sam Hornish Jr. bravely rode the back of Marco Andretti to set up his race-winning pass in 2006, one of the closest finishes in Indy 500 history.

Even if there isn’t an iconic finish? Turn 4 fans almost always know who won the race before anyone else does.

“You see the winner before they’re the winner,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles said.

On track

The profile of Turn 4 has changed a lot through the years. Until 1973, there was an interior wall that made the turn much tighter than it is in its current configuration. There was very little run-off.

The pit entrance was a very narrow slot in that wall structure. Pit stops could be dangerous and high-speed accidents in Turn 4 were often calamitous.

Indy 500 The Dead Auto Racing

In this May 30, 1964, file photo, smoke billows from the fatal crash of Dave MacDonald and Eddie Sachs during the 48th running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway,

In 1964, Dave MacDonald hit that interior wall and caromed back on to the track surface. The resulting collision killed MacDonald and Eddie Sachs. Turn 4 was engulfed in black gasoline smoke, necessitating the first red flag in Indy 500 history.

In 1973, Swede Savage’s car lurched violently to the inside of the turn and struck the wall at full-speed. Savage’s car broke into pieces. Savage died 33 days after the accident.

Savage’s accident was the impetus for the track to re-profile the turn to something close to what it is today. In the 1990s, the pit lane apron was added, though cars are still exposed to the racetrack proper when entering the pits.

It’s just one of many things that make Turn 4 a place where risk is part of the equation.

Will Power, the 2018 Indianapolis 500 race winner, noted that pit stops can be a dicey proposition.

“If you can be flat out of Turn 4 and then brake and slow down if it’s a time game. It’s so easy to ruin a race day if you get a speeding penalty. You have to play it cautious there to be honest,” Power said.

Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner, said the risk isn’t just related to a potential pit lane speeding penalty.

“The brakes are stone cold. There are actually devices inside the brakes that also help to pull the pads back from the rotors in order to reduce the rolling resistance,” Rossi explained.

“In order to compensate for that you have to pump up the brake pedal in the short chute before you pit,” Rossi continued. “Even doing this correctly, it is still very hard to get the car slowed down from 200 miles per hour because of all of the left turn tendencies and offsets that exist in the car setup.”

All of that said? Rossi noted that Turn 4 is the easiest to handle in normal conditions.

Off track

Turn 4 is where everything lays out for the fans that sit there. The view from Turn 4 is arguably the most impressive of any in the track.

IndyCar Indy 500 Auto Racing

Driver Helio Castroneves slides into the pit area after hitting the wall in the fourth turn during the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2018. Fans in Turn 4 have witnessed iconic moments in Indianapolis 500 history.

“To get to see all of the iconic parts of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You see the pagoda, the pylon, the entire front stretch. You have a spectacular view of the racing,” Boles said.

Besides having a front row perch for the climax of the race, fans in Turn 4 get to see the race strategy more so than fans do in the other turns.

“You get to see the pit strategy better. In the other turns, you don’t know they’re pitting unless you see them on the warm-up lane,” Boles noted.

Turn 4 seats are popular, but can be economical depending on your preference. While 2025 renewals in the Northwest Vista cost $250 for deck seats, the J Stand, which is at the turn exit, ranges from $100-$115. North Vista seats, some of which are near Turn 4, go for $95.

Turn 4 also has some of the legacy of the track in its original form, though most fans who sit there would likely never know it.

Various renovations and track refurbishments over the years have either removed or buried original parts of the facility, but Boles said you can still find an original piece under the Turn 4 bleachers.

“When the track was built, in order to build the banking, they had to build it up,” Boles explained.

Doug Boles photo

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles is shown in the pits during a recent Indianapolis 500 practice.

“You can literally stand on the backside of Turn 4, where you can’t see the racetrack, but you can see the original bricks on the inside of the wall that were built over. There’s a nod to our history and the bricks.”

It’s a history that is constantly being re-made by the drivers who make it famous. Of the drivers who were asked? All of them had roughly the same answer when it came to their favorite turn.

“The last turn is when you’re leading the last turn on the last lap of the race when you’re not going to get passed,” Power said.