Driver Special: David Rutledge writes about his season with Lynx Racing

6 October 2000

By:  David Rutledge

Many things have happened since my last column, all of which added up to a
season that has enabled me to grow to the next level in my racing ability.

The Monday after the Molson Indy Vancouver I flew back down to San
Francisco. On Tuesday Steve Cameron (Lynx Racing's Team Manager and Driver
Coach) and I spent most of the day refining some new driving techniques at
the go-kart track. Later that same day, I drove down to Monterey so that I
had time to play in a driver's charity golf tournament before the Honda
Grand Prix. We played in a format called a Texas Scramble, great fun, and
wound up seventeen under par. I was particularly happy, as it seems that
when I have a good round of golf it follows up with a good race.

Laguna Seca is only two hours away from San Francisco, the home of the Lynx
Racing Team and team owner Peggy Haas. Jackie Doty, the other team owner
lives right in the Monterey area. Lynx traditional has a large hospitality
tent right across from the start finish line and as I was getting into the
car I could hear the many guests cheering from all the way across the track.

We started off the weekend with a setup similar to what worked so well for
us at Road America, and, with a few changes before qualifying we were able
to post the third fastest time. The start of the race was great; I pulled
into second place in corner two ahead of former Lynx driver Buddy Rice and
just behind Daniel Wheldon. For the first part of the race the lead pack was
separated, but for the last ten laps Rice pressured me in every turn. On the
final lap, I came into turn three to find dirt from the gravel trap
scattered across the inside of the track. As a result, my car stepped out in
the rear and lost momentum that is crucial because it builds from turn two
all the way up to the "Corkscrew". This allowed Rice to get a run on me
entering the corkscrew. He was carrying to much speed and hit my inside rear
tire causing me to slide sideways. I saw the tire smoke from him locking his
brakes even before I felt the contact so I was ready to react. The slide was
almost past the point of recovery before my car hooked back up and I was
able to make it to the finish line ahead of Rice -- with my left rear tire
fully deflated!

With the next race just six days away on the oval at Gateway Raceway near
St. Louis, we had a lot of work to get the car changed over from road course
to oval configuration, and the crew did a great job. The car turned out to
be reasonably quick although not quite settled in a couple of areas around
the track, but we still qualified well, less than a tenth of a second out of
first. The race started out well, and I was able to run up in the top five,
although the car still felt nervous. All of a sudden, on lap seventeen, my
rear tire blistered and the handling suddenly became very
loose. The race ran the full distance without a yellow flag so we couldn't
pit to change it and I was forced to drive very cautiously to a
twelfth-place finish. Not a great result, but both the team and I were happy
with my driving during the weekend.

Then back to Northern California and more practice in the go-kart before
heading for a test in Big Springs, Texas. The track there is an old
abandoned airport, bumpy and slick, much like a street circuit. Toward the
end of the day we tried a setup on my car that my teammate Mike Conte and
his engineer, Craig Perkins, had developed. It felt so good, we decided to
start with that at the season's final race in Houston.

The Houston race organizers really know how to put on an event, and on
Wednesday we attended the Mayor's Grand Prix Gala, followed by a press
conference on Thursday at the fabulous Northgate Country Club where I took
swing at a 175-yard hole-in-one for a million dollars for charity.
Unfortunately, my achieving fame as a golfer will have to wait until next
year.

Once we got on track Friday morning we found that the Big Springs test paid
off big. My car was very good from the first session; it had good overall
grip and was more forgiving to drive, which was important on the bumpy
tight track. We were able to qualify second, just a fraction of a second off
of pole-sitter Bordin, to make it an all-Canadian front row, with lap times
that were nearly two seconds faster than last year's pole. Coming into the
weekend I was concentrating on bringing together everything that I had
learned during the year, all the good experiences as well as the mistakes.
At the start I was able to pull right in behind Bordin, to hold second. The
race was full of caution periods throughout the first half and Andrew and I
were able to run about the same pace. Rice, who won the 2000 Atlantic
championship with his third-place finish at Gateway, had qualified third,
but dropped back on the start and by midpoint was back behind me. This
position was very similar to Laguna Seca, however this time I didn't allow
him the opportunity to come close. I was very pleased with the race as I
finished a strong second, just sixtenths of a second behind Bordin.

This was a great way to finish of the season and excellent way start the
next season, as I will be back with Lynx in 2001. It's a great feeling to be
able to carry on to the following year with the same team, the first time in
my career that I've had this opportunity. It makes a big difference to be
able to build on something rather than having to start all over again, and
I'm really looking forward to running for the championship next season. See
you next year!!!
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