Sonoma Raceway notebook: Busy month kicks off with speed festival
Sonoma County’s motorsports racing venue will kick off the month of June with one of its biggest events of the year, starting on Friday.
Sonoma Raceway, in its 50th anniversary season, hosts the inaugural Sonoma Speed Festival this weekend. It kicked off with a festival at the city of Sonoma’s plaza on Thursday night, featuring a parade of classic vehicles traveling from the raceway to the downtown area.
The festival is a celebration and competition of historic racing vehicles that will race in different group classifications across the track, dating from the early 1930s to high-performance racing vehicles raced within the last decade.
Perhaps the highlight vehicle of the weekend won’t be in a race group, but in a spotlight of its own — a 10-time Grand Prix-winning race car that was previously driven by Lewis Hamilton will be doing a series of test laps around the track on Saturday and Sunday. Officials from the speed festival said the vehicle is the most successful chassis in F1 history — in addition to the wins, it has claimed nine poles and 14 podium positions in 59 races.
The Rokit Williams Racing team vehicle is being flown in from the Monaco Grand Prix and will have members of the current racing team on hand to run the event, including current test driver and former Formula 1 competitor Esteban Gutierrez.
It will be the second F1 car to make laps at the Sonoma Raceway within a month, as a Ferrari F2004 took turns around the raceway on May 9. A raceway spokesperson said the two cars were brought to the track by race rental clients, and that this weekend’s appearance by Hamilton’s car will be the newest F1 car to ever hit the track.
Tickets for this weekend event are $95 per day at the gate and $150 for a weekend pass. Parking is included and the passes allow spectators to walk right up to the cars in the paddock. For more information, visit www.sonomaraceway.com/events/sonoma-speed-festival.
NASCAR coming soon
The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series will return to Sonoma Raceway for another race weekend from June 21-23. The series will reintroduce the carousel configuration instead of its bus stop, racing on the full 12-turn, 2.52-mile road course.
Martin Truex Jr. won last year’s race from the front row. Elk Grove’s Kyle Larson started on the pole but finished 14th. Los Gatos native A.J. Allmendinger led five laps before blowing his motor.
Allmendinger’s teammate, Chris Buescher, started 25th and finished 12th, his best finish in three races at the road course. He’s currently on a hot streak this season, recording back-to-back top-10 finishes with a 10th-place finish at Kansas and a sixth-place finish at this past weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
“That was probably the hottest 600 I’ve been a part of,” Buescher said. “I believe it’s the longest one I’ve been a part of. It was, by a pretty good margin, our best finish. Maybe that’s what we need more of — longer, hotter 600s and we’ll be OK.”
Buescher has enjoyed success at road courses while racing in the Nationwide series, winning at Mid-Ohio in 2014 and recording several top 10s since then at other tracks, despite not having any major background racing on road courses.
“I didn’t do anything other than the occasional legends race on an infield road course,” he said. “Just little stuff here and there. But I enjoyed it every single time I went. I think that’s really helped me be better at road course races. I always feel like, when we go to them, we have a good attitude about it and try to enjoy it and be better.”
Having his teammate Allmendinger as a successful road course racer in open-wheel and stock cars also helped.
“Having (Allmendinger) as a teammate was helping me with my road racing,” he said. “Him being so good at it, giving me a lot of info helps me every time we go to the race track.”