Real cars will race at Sonoma
WTCC RACES, like this one overseas, involve real cars, familiar brands and highly competitive racing. The series comes to Sonoma Raceway this weekend.
It is rare in today’s world of auto racing to see real cars in competition. NASCAR – which stands for National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing – has not seen a stock car in competition in living memory. The cars carry brand names – Chevy, Ford, Dodge, Toyota – but it’s cosmetic fiction and even the headlights are mere decals.
There was a time when the Hudson Hornet (thank you Paul Newman and Pixar) took to the NASCAR race circuit with barely a change from the showroom floor. But that was long ago.
In the early days of American sports car racing, people routinely drove their MGs and Jaguars and Porsches and the occasional Ferrari to the racetrack, ran the race, and drove home again. Brand loyalty was a big part of the fan base.
No more. At least not in America since the days of the Trans Am series when modified Pony Car races pitted Camaros against Firebirds, Mustangs, Challengers and even the American Motors Javelin.
The Trans Am faded away in the 1970s, was reborn in various guises and is struggling to stay alive today, but the grids are small, the races few and, for the most part, cars to which everyday drivers can relate, are absent from prominent American races.
But all that could change, if this weekend’s race series at Sonoma Raceway is a harbinger of things to come. For the first time in North America, the World Touring Car Championship series will be staged here, offering race fans real cars, albeit heavily modified, including two brands that will warm the hearts of those who love Detroit iron. Among the five or six brands competing in the 12-race championship series are the Chevy Cruze and the Ford Focus, and the Cruze is way out in front with season wins.
Like NASCAR, WTCC cars are tightly restricted within specific power and other technical boundaries. Engines are limited to two liters, and most employ a 1.6 liter, turbocharged power plant putting out a little more than 300 horsepower.
No electronic suspension aids are allowed and the racing can get quite wild and wooly, sometimes door-handle-to-door-handle with a certain amount of NASCAR-like contact.
And WTCC will not be the only real-car attraction at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. Maserati, one of the legendary names in auto racing, will bring its single-marque GranTurismo MC Trofeo World Series to the local track as well, featuring race-prepared versions of its Gran Turismo MC sports car. At the wheel of one of those cars will be actor/real-racecar-driver Patrick Dempsey (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Enchanted”), and at a second will be Hollywood stuntman and professional racer Greg Tracy.
The Maserati series will be complemented by the Auto GP, a European formula car series, and the U.S. Touring Car Championship race.
For details on schedules and tickets, see story on sports.