My first impressions of Sonoma Raceway’s recent Winter Jam were that I might be in a little over my head with the whole event.
As I mentioned in my earlier article, this was my first time back at a drift event in years, and my first time covering one for Speedhunters. Within the first hour of the first day, I already had hundreds of photos and thoughts about stories to share. But I’ve always been the type to feel inspired to succeed whenever I’ve been in situations where I’m out of my comfort zone, so with that in mind, I marched forward to turn 7 on Sonoma’s track.
This wasn’t explicitly said anywhere, and I’m not sure how many people felt this way other than myself, but it almost seemed like Winter Jam’s layouts are based on difficulty levels. I came up with this theory after studying the course map that was provided to us during the media meeting, which I’ve included a photo of for you guys to see as well.
On the map, you can clearly see certain sections with more difficult looking turns, hairpins, and straights. What you can’t see though is the complexity in elevation changes, which I’ll dig deeper into in a bit.
I chose turn 7 first because it was a head-on shot of the downhill run which then transitioned into a hairpin, so I figured it would make for some great switch shots. In my opinion, this section was designed for the more moderate drifting skill level, but there were still a great amount of awesome cars running this course.
One of my favorites ended up being a drift-inspired E55 AMG; this car had a lot of presence, not only because it was unconventional, but also because it was abnormally clean for a drift car. Drift cars have actually made it a fashion statement to have battle scars, kind of showing off how hard the drivers can go without remorse. But it was nice to see a car that took pride in retaining its dapper form.
Next up is what I like to think as the most difficult layout on the track – turns 3, 4 and 5, also known as ‘Summer Jam’. This section starts off shortly after turn 2, which is a straightaway, following into an uphill banking left, that then transitions to a sharp right going downhill, and then another downhill right, with a slight bank to it. It’s a difficult section due to the drastic change in elevation during the turns, and even grip drivers tend to lose control in this portion of the track.
After speaking with some of the pros who frequented this section a lot during the day, they mentioned it makes the car unpredictable. One driver told me that you have grip going into the apex, but that as soon as you hit that elevation switch, it makes the car lose almost all steering feel. Which basically means that you have to get that entry just right in order to regain control after the apex.
They said one thing to me, and that was the potential for cars to take flight (though no one actually did, thankfully). It’s safe to say, you’d have to be a daredevil to give this section a go, which is probably why the really experienced drivers loved it so much.
Speaking of which, many of the pros spent the majority of the day on this section. I’m going to say this was more likely due to their ability to carry some seriously high speeds through these turns, and the only way to do that was to have a very high horsepower car. A couple of my favorite cars were of course the pair of RAD Industries JZA80 Supras I first encountered in my previous article. Dan Burkett and Fredric Aasbø seriously ripped.
Moving on to the next section of the track, the skid pad, AKA ‘The Peanut’, which was by far the easiest layout of the numerous available sections to drift. It was basically a large open space behind the grandstands at Sonoma, and it was the only layout that had less restrictions when it came to safety equipment for the drivers (fireproof suits, neck guards, FD-approved roll cages, etc.).
While I believe the amateurs were using this section to gain more experience, the pros used it to test their cars and warm themselves up before taking a leap towards the more complex sections on the track. Regardless of the matter, it was cool to see some seriously odd cars out there getting sideways.
Yes, that is an old Ford Thunderbird.
MFR – Marcus Fry Racing
With those two sections completed and lunchtime creeping up fast, I figured it was a great time to take a break and hang out with my buddy Marcus from Marcus Fry Racing. Marcus earned his Formula Drift license a couple of years ago, but was forced to sit out of the recent season due to some technical and business complications. But this year he plans on returning, and with a bang to say the least.
As I mentioned previously, I was at his shop along with Faruk and a few other mutual friends a few months back, getting ready to do a full shoot on his monstrous Datsun 510 drift car. I don’t want to give too much away as there are a lot of juicy bits to come in his upcoming features, but I will say one thing, and that is that Marcus is the LS God of the Bay Area.
If you ever come across anything with an LS swap in it from this part of the country, chances are, Marcus had some sort of input on the build. His most recent pickup is an insane fifth-gen Camaro which used to belong to another Formula Drift driver, and I’m happy to say that I got to ride in it.
It was a great way to spend lunch, and prep for the final event of the day – tandems.