Sonoma Secrets

Ahead of the SCCA National Championship Runoffs, we asked local experts for Sonoma Raceway advice

Sonoma Raceway is considered among the most challenging tracks in North America. Some have espoused that if you can be fast at Sonoma, you can be fast anywhere. It’s a track that never lets you rest, has many corners that are off camber, have blind exits, or little room for error. And it’s intimidating. Luckily, for those who will race at the California track for the first time at the 2018 SCCA National Championship Runoffs, we have found some local experts to offer a few tips.

“There are big consequences at [Sonoma], so you have to be mindful and respectful of some of the corners,” says Mark Drennan, who calls nearby San Jose home and is one of the favorites to win the Spec Miata title. “Turn 10 is probably the most treacherous and the highest-consequence corner. It’s super fast and there really isn’t much before you hit the wall, so it’s better to be safe than sorry for that corner.”

Drennan also makes note of another corner that can have big consequences, but a driver can get away with an off if he or she reacts correctly. “If you drop a wheel on the exit, that’s OK,” he explains of Turn 8A, the right-hander in the esses. “Do not, especially if your hands are a little bit slow, try to save it, because you’ll end up in the tires on the right. I’ve seen it many times. Just drive straight – the track actually curves back around – and you’ll be fine.”

Bill Weaver is another driver intimately familiar with Sonoma. The Formula Mazda racer has won a lot of races there, including both days at the Sonoma Majors race in June, and spent his early years racing in the Russel School program at the track. Like Drennan, Weaver is a favorite to win his class at the Runoffs.

“Like any track, you have to understand the peculiarities – and this particular track is probably the most technical track we run on,” Weaver says. “People talk about Laguna being technical, and I don’t think it’s nearly as technical as [Sonoma]; but mostly, I think it’s understanding the balance of the car and where you need to put the car on the track and where to be cautious and where not to worry too much about it. 

“Like any track, you just really need to understand the variations in the asphalt and the angle of the track – the off-camber, on-camber, whatever,” Weaver continues. “Nothing is really unique about it that isn’t true about any track – you just have to understand how to balance your car properly in those corners. There are a couple of corners that are pretty severely off-camber, like Turn 4. You can get off that corner really well or not well at all depending on where you set the car.”

Finally, Tim Barber, whose Spec Miata-specialist prep shop TFB is located at Sonoma Raceway, advises not to be afraid of the paint if it’s not raining. “Most of the racers that are getting ready for the Runoffs know how to hit an apex,” he says with a grin. “When the sun is out in [Turn] 11, find an apex. Don’t drive in the middle of the road.”

On a more serious note, he stresses the physical demands of the track. “The Runoffs races are long, and you don’t really get a break around here. Take a deep breath on the crooked straights, like around the flag stand. Take a deep breath and reset for the next lap because you don’t really get a chance to catch your breath. [Sonoma] takes a lot of finesse, so keep your focus.”