D.W. Burnett / PUPPYKNUCKLES
Even among America’s many natural terrain road courses, Sonoma Raceway stands out. Not only is it the only road course in the world with a schedule oriented primarily around a NASCAR Cup Series date, it’s a unique track built around climbing up and then down a hill before finishing in a flat complex of more traditional corners. Think Mount Panorama in Australia with less extreme corners and a more forgiving runoff.
For pros, that makes Sonoma a particularly challenging place to race. Blind uphill corners early require bravery and commitment, while a downhill complex of esses later rewards momentum and decisions made two or three corners earlier. Few passing zones make that momentum all the more important, while the oval-like turn 11 presents a perfect chance for drivers in fendered cars to use their bumper to create their own passing opportunities.
For driving, however, Sonoma’s unique features make it a unique, flowing course with a distinct challenge. In a visor cam video from a 2017 IndyCar test, you can see how Scott Dixon handles it: patient inputs, quick reactions, and trust in the car’s downforce. Back when IndyCar raced at Sonoma, Dixon secured a championship by winning a season finale at the track.
Sonoma is also part of Road & Track‘s Route to Vine, a rally through California’s wine country. In addition to a day at the track, the rally features scenic road drives, tastings at local vineyards, and a tour of Bruce Canepa’s legendary museum. The rally is in February, with sign-ups open now.