Sometimes it's easy to forget, but Ricky Rudd, the defending champion for this Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350 on the road course at Infineon Raceway, is an accomplished road racer. Two of his 23 career victories came at the 2-mile, 10-turn course in the wine country of Sonoma, Calif., and two more came on the road course at Watkins Glen, N.Y. Rudd talked about what it takes to drive a lap around Infineon.
Question: Can you describe a lap around the Infineon Raceway?
Rudd: "At the beginning of your lap, at the start-finish line, you are already at speed. Just about the time you get there or shortly before, you grab fourth gear. You run in fourth gear under the walkover bridge. Then there is a sharp bend. You get out of the throttle right about the time you get under the bridge. "You've got to be careful keeping your car on the left side of the racetrack. The car has a tendency to drift to the right as you climb the hill. You want to make sure you keep it all the way to the left side of the racetrack and be very careful not let it drift over to the right. What happens is you get in the middle of the track and if you let it drift over you will be off in the dirt on the right side. The track is sort of off-camber right there. So, keep your wheels on the left side of the track, almost on the speed bumps, the ripples, almost in the dirt on the left side climbing the hill.
"Turn two, you are in fourth gear climbing the hill, then you go to third and you go to second. Sometimes you'll skip the third gear shift and just come across the gate and come from fourth into second, heel-toe downshift, and matching your revs. Have your shifting done before you turn into the corner. It's a right-hander. You put your right side tires almost halfway up on the speed bumps and use up every inch of racetrack on the exit, accelerating hard. On new tires it is pretty much full throttle. Later on during the race it gets real greasy there so you can only run about 60 or 70 percent throttle until you get the car aimed straight. Then it's 100 percent throttle. You're in second and grab third. On the exit of turn two you build up as much acceleration as you can. You make a shift somewhere around 8,500, 8,800 rpm and make the shift to third. You get into that little short chute there and you either gear down or leave it in third. It depends on the situation, really. There is not a lot of speed one way or the other. It takes care of the motor a little bit if you leave it in third.
"Then, in turn three, which is a left-hander, you usually get a lot of body roll there because the car is primarily fixed to turn right, so it is almost like driving down into a hole. When you get to the bottom of the little short chute there, you are turning and braking, and it gets real busy right there. "You want to be careful not to use up a lot of the racetrack because you want to be on the left side as you exit turn three. That way you get a good entry into (3A), which is that uphill, right-hander. You don't want to put your tires up on that speed bump too much because if you do, it'll make your car get airborne a good bit. You'll pick the right side, inside, tires up maybe two foot off the ground. It looks pretty for the photographers, but it causes you a little bit of trouble on the exit of that corner. It slows the exit speed up a little bit when you do that.
"Coming up approaching four, you can't drive as deep as you think you can there. I'm not really sure why. It's downhill for one reason, so you are accelerating really hard. You're still in second gear or third gear. Generally, I make the shift back in three and run second gear through the entrance of 3A and the entrance of four. You accelerate hard into that little backstretch they have there, leaving it in second gear, you are turning about 9,000 rpm there as you approach turn five. You slow down pretty good there, but you want to get all you can get. You want to drive pretty deep. There is a lot of passing that goes on the entrance to five and usually there is a lot of action because the guys try to make a pass, and if you don't have your car under control, it will make a wheel hop. So if you are trying to pass somebody on the inside you are going to take him and yourself off the track together. You see that go on quite a bit.
"You're in second gear as you enter turn five, but right before you make the right-hander into five, you grab first gear. Some guys do. Some guys don't. I use first gear there. You make the right-hander and stand wide open in the gas as you exit. And even though there is a little series of little small curves there, it really drives like it is a straightaway. The first corner you really get to is a sharp left-hander that starts the esses (S-curves). As soon as you accelerate out of turn five, you are in first gear and you grab second. Right before the esses, you grab third. There are several different ways you can go through the esses. You can get aggressive with entrance to the esses and you can make time there, but when you exit the esses you pay the price. I like to approach the esses and enter the esses fairly slowly so that when you exit you can make a longer straightaway as you are approaching back to the pit area.
"Eight is the last right-hander out of the esses. You are in third gear and accelerating hard. You grab fourth as you are going left. It says it is turn nine, but it is actually one big sweeping corner. It's wide open through that section and you grab fourth gear. You feel like you are driving downhill. You are approaching turn 10 and a lot of time seems to be made and lost here. The biggest thing about turn 10 during the race is that as you make that right-hander you are downshifting from fourth to third. As you make the right-hander, the car tends to use up every inch of the racetrack. Sometimes you see guys get off on the left side of the racetrack, and that is not a good area to get off on. If you get off on the exit of 10, usually the car whips around and crosses back over the racetrack and tears the race car all to pieces. So you don't want to be too hot entering 10. I've done better by floating it into 10 and then accelerating hard out of 10 and down into turn 11. Ninety percent of the passing goes on as you enter turn 11. You're in third gear and you grab second; you grab first gear and then you bend to the right. It's a very, very sharp corner. The cars don't tend to handle real well there because it's so slow and very, very tight. You steer it into the corner, but you end up sliding it off at the exit of the corner. You see a lot of cars get out of shape there because you are using all that acceleration during the race and you tend to spin the tires real aggressively if you're not careful there. The biggest thing you want to do there is ... to have the car accelerate without spinning the tires. If you overheat your rear tires, you'll pay the price later on in the race, at least in that tire run.
So, you accelerate out of 11 in first gear, grab second gear, grab third gear and right as you are rounding the little curve there as you are approaching the start-finish line you grab fourth gear. You are accelerating hard up through fourth gear until you make the left-hander, the bend before you come under the footbridge. You climb the hill and you're back at turn two."
Question: That's a lot of work for one lap. How many laps are in Sunday's race?
Rudd: "One hundred-ten."