Community of Speed
Fast times at Sonoma Raceway
Ryan Briscoe, 2012 winner of the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, prepares for a little speed.
There is a community of speed, with a common address and a busy calendar of meetings, all of them convened on the rolling flank of a jutting hillside called Sears Point, down by the top of San Pablo Bay.
That’s where the former Infineon race track, for now called Sonoma Raceway, waits for a new name while it hosts a lineup of major events that covers almost the entire spectrum of motor racing and the disparate socio-psychological profiles that populate the universe of racing fans.
Early on the calendar is an annual orgy of Italian red, a congregation of brilliant Ferraris massed in multi-million-dollar splendor for the Ferrari Challenge North America, a race series in April for teams and individuals who have the roughly $300,000 it takes to own a 458 Ferrari Challenge (sort of a two-seat, adult Hot Wheels), and the $55,500 for a full season “championship package.”
The raceway season also includes a stellar motorcycle weekend in May, during which the best two-wheeled racers in the world lay Superbikes practically flat while going flat-out around the track’s multiple corners. Superbikes are the closest terrestrial equivalent to skydiving and you don’t have to ride a Ducati 1199 Panigale S Tricolore to enjoy the show. For those so inclined, and willing to don a full suit of leathers, a Superbike hot lap is sometimes available, if you know who to ask and haven’t had a heavy lunch.
In June, the annual Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival descends on Sonoma, with three days of vintage car races that recently included the winning car from the 1952, 24 Hours of LeMans, along with several hundred other classic—and frequently priceless—examples of rolling, racing artwork.
The big guns come out in late June for the annual NASCAR race weekend, RV rodeo, and Good ‘ol Boy Jubilee. NASCAR is a racing series (actually several), a sanctioning body, a culture, a state of mind and (for some) a cause, if not a religion. Sonoma Raceway, being a tight, twisty track of many corners, is an ideal place to watch adult bumper cars caroming off each other in pursuit of the checkered flag.
In July, two weekends of NHRA drag racing reduce (some would argue) the evolutionary quotient of the audience as spectators inhale clouds of unburned nitromethane, tire smoke, and Bud Light fumes.
That’s followed by the highbrow event, The Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, wherein fenderless torpedoes of exquisite mechanical sophistication try hard not to touch each other for fear of terminal damage.
New this year, one of the most popular race series in Europe, the FIA World Touring Car Championships, make an American debut, with real production cars modified for racing, using tiny but powerful 1.6-liter turbocharged engines. Of special interest to domestic car fans, the Chevy Cruze has a commanding lead in the series.
The season closes with the Classic Sports Racing Group’s annual Charity Challenge in October, another trip down sports car memory lane with about 300 of your favorite classic racing cars. Wine Country and Sonoma Raceway have been growing up together for 44 years. So far it feels like a good marriage.
From the 2012 Fall issue of SONOMA