The Need for Speed
Wine isn’t the only thing that has become better with age in northern California; vintage racing was alive and well this past weekend in Sonoma! Just about anything that you can imagine belonging on a racetrack from the past came out to race.
Privately owned 1970s – 80s Formula One cars, 1960s Trans-Am cars, pre-war Grand Prix cars, and many more, were not just showcased, but raced at Sonoma Raceway. I felt as if I had stepped into a time machine to watch motorsports history take place. That being said, as a millennial, I never once felt out of place. The entire weekend was a learning experience and has made me even more interested in racing than I was before.
Sonoma Speed Festival: Accessible to the Common Man
Sonoma Speed Festival has practically taken Goodwood Festival of Speed and brought it straight to us here in California; I say this as a positive thing. No other “festival” has been special enough to even be considered for comparison with such a monumental event.
Monterey Motorsports Reunion is the only event that comes to mind in this category, but my problem with that is its accessibility for the common motorsports enthusiast.
Sonoma Speed Festival was awesome and should certainly be a new fixture on any motorsport enthusiast’s annual calendar because it is accessible in a way no longer possible with Monterey Historics. It is not easy finding a place to stay nearby during Monterey Car Week. Renting a room doesn’t seem too crazy for a normal weekend trip, but anyone who has been to Car Week knows that this could mean spending over $500 per night for a 2-star motel. Usually the entire city is booked, and that outlay doesn’t even cover the fee to get into the event.
Sonoma Speed Festival: The Races
One of the most exciting parts of this past weekend in Sonoma for me was seeing the old ‘John Player Special’ livery Lotus F1 cars amongst the other legendary team cars from Brabham, Tyrrell, McLaren, and more. Mario Andretti, Aryton Senna, and James Hunt were just a few of the names that were painted on some of these historic cars.
The way some of these cars were driven impressed me more than modern pro racecar drivers, because deep down they are all aware that these cars are irreplaceable. Full disclosure: it even stressed me out seeing real history being driven flat-out at times but it was exciting to watch.
Sonoma Speed Festival: The Cars
Aside from the wheel-to-wheel action, there were a few demonstration laps from very special cars.
Mercedes AMG F1 brought out their 2016 championship-winning car to put on a show for the crowd and break the record for fastest lap time. With Esteban Gutierrez at the wheel, the car looked almost too fast for the track! Mercedes also brought out a 1938 W154 Grand Prix car, which ran a few demonstration laps.
Quite possibly the best sounding car to grace the track this past weekend though, was the McLaren F1 GTR that performed demonstration laps. This particular car happens to be street-legal in Europe as well, which I thought was an interesting detail.
If those demos weren’t enough for you, there was also a Ferrari 250 GTO that ripped around Sonoma raceway for a lap or two. Speaking of Ferrari 250 GTO, there were three at the event, as well as a couple of 250 SWB, a 250 GT TDF, and more vintage Ferrari race cars that I couldn’t even name off the top of my head. If I could name them, I still would not be able to fathom what it is like to race in an event like this amongst millions of dollars worth of racecars. I’d like to think it would be the highest level of fun that a motorsport enthusiast could experience, but I think it may just be the most stressful experience.
In fact, I’m convinced that these drivers aren’t very old; they just age about 5 years every time they participate in a historic race event in their multi-million dollar racecar, which happens to be ‘1 of 33’ in the case of the 250 GTO.
One of these Ferraris was involved in an epic battle on Sunday’s Group 3 race against a Shelby GT350 for first place. It was one of the best racing battles I have ever witnessed in person, and it felt like history was repeating itself in front of my eyes with a classic 60’s Ford vs. Ferrari duel.
In the paddock, there were some impressive displays from RADwood, Bring-a-Trailer, Superformance, and more. My personal favorite was the Radwood display, featuring a Tommi Makinen Mitsubishi Evo VI, R33 Skyline, RUF 911, Mercedes 190E Evo 2, and a Ford Escort RS Cosworth amongst others. That display took me straight back to the days I would come home from elementary school and drive those same cars on Gran Turismo®, always thinking there was no way I’d ever get to see them in real life.
Another display near the grandstands hosted the McLaren F1 GTR, where I was able to get up close and personal with the car as well as enjoy a glass or two of wine from a few select local wineries, which included Adobe Road winery. They had a delicious race-inspired line of wines and are owned by a former Le Mans-winning team owner and driver, who just happened to be racing his 2003 class-winning car throughout the weekend at Sonoma Speed Festival.
Sonoma Speed Festival: The Video
Once the weekend was over, I felt like I was setting the ‘ole time machine back to 2019, and saying goodbye to one of the best events that I have ever attended. Whether you’re a baby or a boomer, there was something there to fascinate you. As I was heading down the road back to SoCal, I just thought about how cool next year’s event will be. Yes it will be difficult to top this year, but I have faith because this has just set the bar and let people know that there’s a new speed festival in town and it’s hopefully here to grow, just like the grapes in wine country.
Michael Gallardo found interest in cars at around 6 years old. Going to the drag strip to watch NHRA races and riding in his Dad’s VW Beetle were the earliest memories that he can credit his passion to. A year after high school, Michael bought his first car, a 1986 Porsche 944. Ever since then, he has been switching it up and trying to experience all of the cars that he possibly can. Interests include watching Formula 1, going to the shooting range, collecting watches, trying new places to eat, and an occasional round of golf.