Motorsport.com has asked drivers from the SCCA SPEED World Challenge and the American Le Mans Series to give our readers an insight of some of the 2005 venues that they will compete on. This coming weekend the teams will take to the Infineon Raceway Sears Point 2.52-mile road course located in Sonoma, California.
Bradley gives our readers a unique lap around the tricky 12-turn circuit located in wine country.
A Lap of Infineon Raceway
By Scott Bradley
In the twelve years since I first drove a racecar at Infineon the track has changed quite a bit both in name and in configuration. The majority of the changes though have been cosmetic and have done a great deal to improve safety by adding run-off areas to some of the more dangerous spots. They have been able to maintain alot of the tracks character which really places a premium not only on chassis setup but also on the drivers themselves. As a driver the track never gives you a break and if you lose focus here even for a split second the track will bite you back and most of the time the result is not pretty. So here goes...
Turn one is a very quick corner as you come up to the bridge and, like a few other corners here, the drivers ability to look ahead is completely compromised. As you arrive at the bridge the urge to overslow the corner is pretty big because you can't see around the corner but the key is to carry the speed through turn in and use the compression of the hill toward the apex to catch the car. The apex here is also a bit later than it looks at first. The key is to late apex which will help balance the car for entry to turn two.
Turn two is either a second or third gear corner depending on the car you are driving. The entry to this corner is all about having the car balanced and stable prior at turn in and this will come from driving turn one properly. As you arrive at your turn in point you will not be able to see the apex or track out because the track crests the top of a hill with the apex sitting just beyond the crest. You really have to look for other reference points on the hill opposite the track to determine proper car placement. It's also key not to allow the uphill nature of the track to trick you into over-slowing the corner. The key to this corner is to coast as much speed over the top of the crest as possible because no amount of setup changes are going to help you put power down as you crest the hill. Basically, if you are attempting to get full throttle before you reach the track out point you have overslowed the corner.
As you come down the hill toward turn 4 you have a really good brake zone as the track compresses a bit as you get closer to the corner and you can use this compression to time your braking. The corner is a pretty straight forward 90 degree right hander but the track does fall away after apex and just about every car I've driven here has a tendency to push from apex out. You need to get a good run off of this corner though because it leads onto a short straight.
The next corner turn 5 isn't much of a corner just a high speed right hand bend. Most cars are easily flat out here. They key is to reduce tire scrub as much as possible like driving on an oval and also to let the car track all the way out at exit to pick up mph.
As you exit turn 5 you come up over another blind crest and set up for the entry to turn 6 "The Carrousel" a long, fast, 180 degree downhill left hander in which you cannot see the apex until after turn in. I like to turn in a little bit late and gradually bring the car down to a late apex. Because this corner leads onto one of the longer straights on the track it requires you to commit to full throttle well before you can see your track out point. There is a compression though as you exit the corner that will help regain some of the grip you lose coming down the hill. The key is to free the car up as early as possible and get a good run onto the straight to Turn 7.
Turn 7 should really be two corners as you will find it is really two 90 degree left handers connected by a very short shoot. The brake zone and turn in for the first is very straight forward and provides a good spot for outbraking people. The entry is a bit quicker than it first appears, so you need to be sure not to overslow. As you exit the first corner you can get a good blast of full throttle to shoot over to the entry of the second left. Then a quick brake and good rotation of the car and you are into the second part of turn 7. It's key to get the car to work for you here as this corner leads into a series of corners that amount to the longest straight-away on the track. As you exit turn 7 you free the car up as quickly as possible and head for the left right combo known as turns 8 and 8A.
Turn 8A requires commitment as the trackout is blind and downhill. A bit like a high speed version of turn 3A. This corner is flat out, very quick and like some of the other corners it is best to find a reference point that will not move during the weekend so you can judge car placement for trackout. The key to this corner is to scrub as little speed as possible at turn in and really let the car run coming off the corner using every last bit of pavement.
The next corner, Turn 9, is a long left-hand bend that is flat out but car placement is important as it leads you directly to Turn 10. For Turn 9 you can place the car anywhere and get around it but the key is to finding a turn in point that will scrub as little speed as possible and get the car back to static for the turn in for 10.
Now that you have the car back to static you line up as far left as you can to turn right for 10. With the Touring Car it will probably be a light brush of the brakes to set the nose and then right back to full throttle. Turn 10 is one of the fastest corners on the track and requires the most commitment because you can gain or lose a ton of time here as it leads you onto the straight to Turn 11 and one of the best passing zones on the track. Trust the car mid corner in 10 and let it run coming off. Finding the earliest apex that will allow you to carry speed off the corner and not over-slowing the entry is huge.
Turn 11 is the final real corner on the track and the slowest as well. It's another 180 degree hairpin and a key corner as it leads onto the Start/Finish straight. Personally I like to get my turning done early on and already have the car on it's way to being straightened out by the time I get to a late apex. On the inside of the corner they normally place large stacks of tires to define the inside line. These tires have a tendency to get moved through the weekend and most of the time they get pushed in so more and more track becomes available. You have to pay attention and make sure you use every bit of track on the inside as the tires get moved. On exit you use every bit of the road running right up to the pit wall to get a good run out and up to start/finish. There is one last left hand bend before you hit the line and while it is flat out just make the steering inputs easy as you can lose top end mph without really knowing it.
As you have read Infineon is a very challenging course with lots of fast, blind corners and very little time to rest. This is the track where I first learned to drive racecars almost twelve years ago and every time I come back I remember why I love this place. It's a really fun place to drive as well because it has a certain rhythm to it and once you find it there is no better track in the country to drive!