The picturesque rolling hills of Infineon Raceway play host to round 13 on the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule. Best known for its elevation changes (matched on the current schedule only by Barber Motorsports Park), its technical and physical demands make it one of the most challenging circuits of the season. “We talk about some tracks having elevation changes. Well, Infineon would earn the ‘Six Flags’ denomination of all racetracks!“ says Newman/Haas’ Oriol Servia, whose best finish on the California road course is sixth back in 2009. “Not only are there ups and downs, but the many blind corners make it a layout full of strong emotions.”
Defending race winner Will Power has both good and bad memories at the track. Two cars ago, he broke his back in a collision with Nelson Phillipe. Last year, on his return to Infineon, he dominated the weekend. “Infineon-great day, perfect weekend,” he said of last year’s race. “I always liked the track, wasn’t real keen on the (corners) where I broke my back! I know that was definitely in my head and every time wondering ‘Is someone sitting there?’ But, they put up all these yellow lights that you can see for about seven miles coming from the track. Honestly, you can see the lights from miles away! But, it’s still a little too late because you’re still committed by the time you see them.”
Power continued, “But, good track, technical, tires go off badly. It is sort of tough to pass there, you can pass going down that back straight. In general, qualifying is very stacked up because everyone’s tested there. It was a good weekend to come back from a broken back the year before and go back there (with a) clean sweep---most laps led, pole, win, all in front of the Verizon people. They were all there and I told them ‘If I win this race, I’ll do a big burnout in front of your corporate box, so I got that opportunity.”
Local boy J.R. Hildebrand, who has raced at Infineon numerous times through his career, describes some of the unique challenges it offers. “Infineon Raceway, as it’s supposed to be called, I know it as Sears Point, is my hometown track so I’m obviously really excited to get back there and do some more racing. But, it’s another really tough circuit. The passing zones there are really small, so it puts a high priority on getting out and qualifying well. But, that in and of itself is quite a chore because the track, with its many undulations, it’s got a lot of elevation change, a lot of hard breaking zones, along with these kind of strange fast corners in terms of the way the car works through them. It’s a really tough place to get the setup right and there you end up seeing a bit more drawn out session in terms of the way the qualifying order ends up. There have definitely been times where the top five guys are half-a-second faster than the next bunch of guys just because it’s so tough to get it right around the place. But, it’s a really neat circuit and I’m certainly looking forward to getting back there.”
In terms of the Championship, Infineon also had made a small habit of dramatically shaking up a title chase. In 2007, then points leader Dario Franchitti damaged his front wing in a battle for the lead with teammate Marco Andretti after Andretti exited the pits. Scott Dixon won the race and took over the points lead (ultimately, Franchitti would be champion that year).
In 2008, a poor strategy call by Dixon’s Target team had him pit under an early caution when many of the leaders stayed out. He never regained that track position, finishing 12th, while Helio Castroneves won, essentially cutting his points deficit to Dixon in half that day.
With Power 47 markers behind Franchitti, he’ll need more of that Infineon magic to keep his title hopes alive.
View the weekend’s schedule here.
Listen to the drivers preview the action.
Martin Plowman will make his second start of the season on Sunday’s Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. He finished 18th at Mid-Ohio.
A couple of new faces will grace the grid, with Ho-Pin Tung in Dragon Racing’s No. 88 entry and Gorgio Pantano filling for Justin Wilson. This will be Tung’s first INDYCAR start, after crashing out of Indy 500 qualifying, while Pantano will make his first start since 2005 (then with Target Chip Ganassi Racing for the Infineon and Watkins Glen rounds).
Ryan Hunter-Reay remains the victor of the Movethatblock.com 225 after a three-member panel upheld the finishing order. Story here.
Will T. Ribbs returns to the cockpit of a racecar for the first time in a decade. He pilot the Firestone Indy Lights entry for the team in which he owns, Willy T. Ribbs Racing. Even though I have been out of the car for 10 years, I have never 'officially' retired," Ribbs said. "Chris said he got the idea for me to race again when he heard Wally Dallenbach say during an IndyCar broadcast that he was going to drive a Lights car in Edmonton.”
He continued, "For whatever reason, Wally didn't do it, but the more Chris kept talking to me, the more I got pumped up about racing again, and Baltimore is the perfect place to do it. I'm sure the consensus will be that I should not be racing against these young guns, but as Chris reminded me - when the [Sprint] Cup boys come down and race in the Trucks and Nationwide Series, no one seems to mind. So I told Chris, 'Done deal, I'm in!'”