Sonoma Preview

For years, longtime readers of this site have known me to use terms like “dust bowl” to describe Sonoma Raceway. I always questioned how the TV announcers could claim it was beautiful, when we viewers from home saw nothing but dead brown grass and dirt. Every time a car dropped a wheel off of the track, a plume of brown dust would fly up into the air.

Over the years when we traveled to other races; fans and people involved with the Verizon IndyCar Series that had visited the track in person, went out of their way to tell me how wrong I was about Sonoma – the track and the area. They said there was no way I could pass judgment on it without having been there in person. I was told that if I ever went to the race, I would completely change my tune.

So if you are reading this on Friday morning or before 2:00 pm EDT – Susan and I are on a westbound plane heading to San Francisco, that will arrive at 10:50 am Pacific time. Once we get our luggage and rental car we will have already missed Practice One, so we will try to check in early at our hotel before heading to the track for Practice Two. We are staying in Petaluma, which is about a twenty minute drive from Sonoma Raceway. If you were like me, you’ve never heard of Petaluma. But a couple of people that go to this race regularly said that would be a good place to stay, so we took their advice.

We decided to go to this race back in the spring. I just wanted to see for myself how wrong I was about this track. We bought our airline tickets in early June, before we learned that this track would no longer be on the IndyCar schedule after this year. Had I known that, I might’ve chosen another race for us to go to. But we already had our plane tickets and Susan found what appears to be a good hotel where we can use her points from her work travels. We are staying in the area through Wednesday, so we can take advantage of a lot of things the area has to offer. Expect a lot of pictures here over the next several days. Who knows? If we love the area as much as everyone claims we will, we may come back next year for the season finale at Laguna Seca.

Whether or not we love the area and discover that the track is actually beautiful in person, does not disguise the fact that this track has produced a lot of boring races over the years. There have been some very interesting moments in each race, but overall – there is a reason this race has developed the nickname Snoroma.

This will be the fourth year in a row that Sonoma Raceway has hosted the IndyCar season finale. It has not been a popular finale for fans, since it has been the race assigned double-points to determine the championship. But it has been a very popular destination for series and team sponsors due to the location much more than the action on the track. Since they are the ones footing the bill for the races we watch, I really don’t have a problem with that logic.

What I do have a problem with is the assigning of double-points for this race…or any race, for that matter. Double points started in 2014. I consider double-points a gimmick. I always liked the fact that each race counted the same, no matter how big or small the track was. With all of the hoopla that surrounded the Indianapolis 500, it still awarded the same points as Iowa or Barber. The double-points concept says that the Indianapolis 500 is twice as important as Long Beach or Pocono. Yes it does bring much more wealth and fame, but as far as counting towards the championship – the other races are just as important.

As much as I don’t like double-points being awarded for the Indianapolis 500 – I’m almost offended that they are offered up for Sonoma, just because it’s now the last race of the season. Many like to point out that it saves some suspense for the finale in case a driver is running away with the championship – yes, manufactured suspense. They point to Simon Pagenaud in 2016. Had it not been for double points at Sonoma, Pagenaud would have clinched the championship two weeks earlier at Watkins Glen. So what? If he earned it, then so be it. Had he lost it strictly due to double-points in the finale, I would have felt like he had been robbed. Tony Kanaan clinched the 2004 championship in the penultimate race at Fontana before the season finale at Texas. I never felt like that took away from a great race at Texas that saw Helio Castroneves win and Kanaan finish second.

Defenders of double-points like to tell me that being the traditionalist that I am, I should appreciate the concept because back in the USAC days, the longer the race distance, the more points were awarded. I like tradition, but not everything about the sixties and seventies was a great idea. Bell bottoms and leisure suits mercifully went away. Different points for different races should too.

Each year at this time, I stand on my soapbox and appeal to Mark Miles and the others in power at IndyCar to do away with this ridiculous practice of awarding double points at selected races. So far, I’ve been ignored (or most likely, not even heard). Maybe someday, enough people will gripe about it that they finally go away for good. End of rant.

One thing I’ve been told to expect is a dramatic change in elevation at the 2.385-mile Sonoma Raceway that simply does not show up on television. I’m told that the climb from Turn One to Turn Two is incredible, but it barely shows up as anything other than a slight grade increase for viewers at home. I’m also told that from the hill overlooking Turn Two, that spectators are given an impressive view of practically the whole track. I’ve learned to like attending road races in person, just because of the different vantage points you can get from moving around from turn to turn.

As for the race itself, qualifying may be more important at this track than almost any other track on the schedule. Passing is at a premium at Sonoma, but it is possible. Two of the trickiest spots are the hairpin turns in Turn Seven and Turn Eleven. Those two spots can tempt drivers to fit their cars into a space that closes quicker than expected. Many a race at Sonoma has been ruined in those two turns.

Sonoma and St. Petersburg are the two oldest non-oval tracks on the IndyCar schedule. When IndyCar first started running non-ovals in 2005, the three non-oval tracks were St. Petersburg, Watkins Glen and Sonoma. When Sonoma goes away after this season, St. Petersburg will be the only one left.

There seem to be a lot of repeat winners at Sonoma in recent years. Since 2010, only four drivers have won at Sonoma; Will Power (three times), Scott Dixon (twice), Simon Pagenaud (twice) and Ryan Briscoe. Scott Dixon also won at Sonoma in 2007, giving him three victories there. Of the thirteen IndyCar races run since 2005 at Sonoma; seven have been won by Team Penske, four by Chip Ganassi Racing and two by Michael Andretti’s team. No other team has ever won there. Simon Pagenaud has won the last two races at Sonoma, thereby making him the defending race champion.

So, who will win the final Grand Prix of Sonoma? I’ve already said that I think Alexander Rossi will win the 2018 IndyCar Championship. But I think Rossi will be smart and not have to press for the win. Team Penske seems to have a stranglehold on Sonoma Raceway, having won seven of the past ten races there. I don’t think that changes this weekend. I think Will Power wins his fourth and final race at Sonoma and will clinch third place in the final points standings.

As always when we are at the track, we will be posting here throughout the weekend. You can also follow us on Twitter for videos, photos and comments. You can follow me at @Oilpressureblog and Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back later today.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Sonoma Preview”

  1. Double points will seem like a dream if the rumors of a NASCAR style cumbersome playoff becomes a reality!

  2. Enjoy your weekend +

  3. Have a wonderful time. I wish so bad I was there too. Make sure you visit the Andretti winery.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Al Michaels once called an arm wrestling tournament in Petaluma for ABC’s Wide World Of Sports back in the 70s.

    The old USAC system argument for double points only works when all of the races offering extra points require extra effort/distance/track time. This worked in 2014 when double points were offered at the 500 mile superspeedway races. It doesn’t work at Sonoma, which is very typical in what it asks teams and drivers to do.

    For those wondering what the championship fight would look like without double points, Dixon would have to finish 10th or worse for Rossi to win by winning the race (8th or worse if Rossi scored all bonus points and Dixons cored none).

    Have a fun and safe weekend you all. Go Graham!

  5. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    Double points suck. Please remember that Indycar is a series that has come together and is healing the split. That means that Long Beach is the longest running road course in the series. Remember we are trying to heal…not separate.

  6. George, since you’re going to be in the area until Monday, consider driving down Highway 1 from San Francisco to Monterrey. Once in Monterrey, Laguna Seca is only about a 20 minute drive inland. After you visit the track, you can continue down Highway 1 along the coast to check out Bixby Bridge and Big Sur. Make that coastal drive and you’ll understand why everyone constantly calls the area beautiful!

  7. Have a great time, you two. My NY racing fans stay in Petaluma when going to the track. Check out the coast if you get a chance. South of you Muir Woods and the coast west from it are lovely. I have never been to Bodega Bay which is closer to you (famous for Hitchcock’s The Birds). Oh, and enjoy the race.

  8. Andretti’s have wine. Foyt has wine. Insert driver of your choice____________has whine.

  9. driving across the golden gate bridge and seeing the city from Marin County is great. the traffic on highway one, going north, on a Friday? not so great. but I’m sure you’ll have a great time when you finally get there.

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