Sonoma Speed Festival 2019: Track Action

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“You can’t drive a Van Gogh,” as the saying goes. Cars can be admired for their physical beauty, like a painting, but they also have a higher functional purpose. So when you see cars just sitting static, especially race cars, it feels like something is missing. When they’re in motion on a race track, everything clicks into place.

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The pace car for this event was the 991.2 Porsche 911 Turbo S.

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In the real world, it’s kind of a dentist’s car, which is probably why it looks so cool on the track to me. You’re much more likely to see a 911 Turbo sitting in traffic than hurdling down the road or track like the super sports car it is.

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But we aren’t here for that modern stuff, we’re here for the sweet vintage metal from a bygone era.

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It always amazes me how far forward the driving position in Formula One cars had moved by the mid 80’s.

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Overall, in what would prove a theme for the weekend, the first actual “race” we saw wasn’t much of a race. It featured two cars going for the win, a few people going quickly, and then some slow guys tootling around. But hey, what do you expect when you put amateur drivers into a wide variety of cars and throw ’em all on the track at the same time? Some of these classes spanned over 20 years of machinery, and there’s no dancing around the fact that most of these guys have bigger wallets than driving skills. Hey, there are some very big wallets out there…

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Down in the paddock, I poked my head out of the back of the garages. This is actually a pretty cool place to watch the action, despite the (low) pit wall being in the way.

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Bit of variety, eh?

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This battle took a few laps to complete–the only safe passing zone is here at the hairpin.

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After the Radwood demo was the Trans Am group, which usually provides the best vintage racing. Unfortunately, there were people standing in the “no standing” area, hence the heads in frame. And check out that guy right on the wall holding up a cell phone! I’ve shot right on the pit straight a few times, and it can be kinda terrifying (and exhilarating!). This is a gentleman’s sport and, unlike the Goodwood Members’ Meetings, crashes are extremely rare at these sorts of events out here.

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I was just sitting in a seat in the bleachers, so I experimented panning at full zoom (200mm)…

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…as well as full wide (70mm).

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The Boss 429 was in the battle for a while, but it ended up becoming a two horse race between the Javelins.

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Back to my go-to spot at Turn 2. It’s been interesting to watch the progression of the barriers here as safety standards continue to increase.

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This is from this weekend’s event here in 2019.

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And this was 2016, which I believe is the year after they installed the barriers in the lower section.

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But this was actually the state of it in 2017; you can see where the wall was. Why they would go through the trouble of removing it for any particular event, I’m not sure (this was at the CSRG vintage races)–and it also seems a bit strange for the tire stacks to be so close to the track itself.

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As you can see in this photo from 2013, there used to not be any barriers at all in front of the spectator chain link fence until near the apex of Turn 2. Note the orange tires at the T1 apex; those were only put in place for WTCC to prevent them from cutting the corner. Sears Point veterans will also notice that the big deck over Turn 2 hadn’t been built yet; once you got to the top of the grandstand, it was just a flat dirt area.

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These last two photos are also from 2013. There I was, hanging on the fence, clutching my Nikon D90 and 18-105mm kit lens, with nothing more than a flimsy chain link fence and air between me and a field of IndyCars. I loved every second of it. And check out that photographer–back then, there was just an imaginary line between a couple cones that kept photographers away from the track. It’s amazing how much track safety standards have changed, even in just the last five or ten years. Note to self: obtain better photos of the current state of T1/T2 next time I visit Sonoma.

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Anyway, back to the present day, where millions of dollars in vintage metal went head to head (casually).

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This guy’s a little too tall for the Speedster windshield, but I think the roll bar might be effective.

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On the other hand, both the windshield and roll bar in this 356 are completely useless!

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Speaking of tiny cars, the driver of this E-Type must be very short to fit inside that thing with a helmet.

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In my area we are pretty spoiled by all the Ferrari 250’s running around, but to see a “Tour de France” model is exceedingly rare even by my standards. This is one of those cars where you don’t even care if the driver is learning the track, off the pace and missing apices; it’s just a treat to see it out there driving around.

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Due to Rennsport, we’ve gotten a few extra looks at the über rare Porsches, like these 356 Abarth Carrera GTL’s.

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Flickr has really been frustrating me in the past year or so–they changed their image compression algorithms, so while the photos still look amazing when viewed on their website, the hosted JPEGs have gone down the toilet. For whatever reason, it seems like slower pans are very difficult to compress (I noticed that Instagram really struggles with them as well), so this post is basically a showcase for gnarly JPEG compression. Sadly, everything on this page looks much softer than it should be. Oh well. If you see something you like, you can see it in much higher quality just by clicking on it.

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Can’t go wrong with a red Ferrari.

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I got a little caught out when the F1 GTR was running, so I just shot it through the fence.

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It was a pretty hot day, so we made our way up to the very top row of the T2 grandstands, which get a little bit of shade near the end of the day from that big redwood deck.

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After a few shots at full wide (70mm), I called it quits and rested myself in the shade. I could have done more, but to be honest I just needed a break after a day of walking around in the sun.

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Back to the paddock, I noticed they were running the group I most wanted to see! But sadly, I was only able to catch some faint glimpses from the back of the garage area.

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There was one more group, so we watched it from the grandstands, which is the closest spectator section to the pits.

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I dig shooting from here because you can get that classic start-finish line shot fairly easily. The cars are going straight by you in a perfectly perpendicular plane. If you need somewhere to start with panning photography, this is the most basic shot type of shot to try.

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It’s also fun to pull back a bit and get a wider pan that encompasses some of the background.

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They do start turning into T1 around the start-finish line, but this E21 always looks like it has major toe-out and/or understeer, not to mention crazy caster.

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During this last group, they prepped the strip for the historic drag demo. Back in the day (pre-2002) the road course main straight encompassed the drag strip, which meant it was super wide. It must have been very interesting to go on and off the sticky section. Next week’s NASCAR race is set to use the “original” course (as opposed to the bypass from T4 to T7), although a few things have changed, like Turn 7 and of course that super wide main straight. I’m looking forward to it; maybe they should switch layouts back and forth every year? NASCAR, y’all can have that idea for free…

Sonoma Speed Festival 2019: Poke Around the Paddock

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Not exactly a new event, more like a rebrand: that was the story heading into the Sonoma Speed Festival, which is now “the” historic event of the year at Sonoma Raceway now that SVRA isn’t hosting their vintage racing event there.

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In the past, historic racing at Sears Point was pretty much just a track day for old race cars, and spectators could show up if they wanted to. I think that’s all most people expected anyway, but with Monterey Historics getting more epic as the years go by there was surely some pressure to raise the level at Sonoma.

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But me? I just like walking around and seeing race cars.

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So that’s what this post is going to be about: none of the fancy stuff, just a good ol’ fashioned walk around the pits and paddock.

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Can you imagine driving that thing with your legs straddling the unshielded rear differential? Sheesh.

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Of course, I can’t help but seek out the Porsches, even the ones that I’ve seen a million times.

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Wow, sugar scoop headlights on a race car.

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I definitely prefer a suite of S.E.V. Marchals!

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No matter how many times I see a 917, I’m always intrigued. Especially this particular car with its lovely patina.

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But here’s something I never, ever see…a Ferrari F40 LM!

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I was super intrigued by this car, walking around and taking in the details.

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There was some other surprisingly new machinery parked nearby.

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They aren’t exactly “vintage” but they’re a bit too slow to compete with modern stuff. These cars just need some time.

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Which classic would you take on the Coastal Range Rally?

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I stumbled on the warmup session for the Trans Am group, and it was glorious.

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I wandered around, mesmerized by the thunderous symphony of a dozen or so straight-piped V8’s at fast idle.

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Most people use pit bikes if they need motorized paddock transport, but I saw this guy rolling around in this neat little lawnmower powered “hot rod”.

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This well-used Gullwing was a late arrival to the Bring a Trailer parking lot.

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Rad plate!

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This is my friend’s V8 Vantage, which was originally silver but is now rocking this stunning yellow wrap.

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Only one button on the steering wheel. Those were the days.

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They had the historic drag cars pulled out because they were actually going to run them on the strip after the road course sessions were over. Unfortunately, I forgot my ear plugs and they are INSANELY LOUD, so I passed on that.

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Dish!

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After spending the whole day walking past the McLaren F1 GTR and seeing throngs of people around it, I finally spotted my chance. The corral was empty! But as soon as I got into position, no fewer than three camera-wielding McLaren fans descended. Wow.

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So I took a couple pics of the Lancia, and waited. I was able to get a bunch of snaps of the McLaren, and I’ll document that car in its own post.

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The modern cars were rolling back in–sadly I didn’t get to see them run at all. This was definitely an event I would like to attend on two separate days; I feel like I saw everything I wanted to see in the paddock, but on the other hand I didn’t get to see much track action.

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Just one more F40 LM pic.

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We caught one more session from the grandstand, and then headed out. There’s always one last car to notice for the first time, which was the case for this pretty snazzy Hudson Commodore convertible spotted in the parking lot.

Next up: action shots!