For those who missed the Sonoma Speed Festival’s inaugural event last weekend, you really, really need to adjust your priorities in life and mark your calendars for next year.
Since it was the very first time I (or anyone else) would be attending this event, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. All I knew is that my long-time friend David Swig of automotive auction company RM Sotheby’s told me it was going to be epic, and that I better make my way up to Sonoma. Well, David definitely wasn’t lying.
On the day before the Sonoma Speed Festival began, I pulled a driving all-nighter, arriving at my hotel just after 4:00am. Perfect. Just enough time to unload my car and catch a couple seconds of REM sleep before I had to wake up and be at the track before the 7:30am media meeting.
I sleepily braved the rush hour traffic and made my way to Sonoma Raceway in time to check in. Once I began looking around the paddock area, I seriously woke the hell up because of the crazy machinery being pushed into their positions underneath the white paddock awnings.
For instance, when you normally see a classic Ferrari 250 GTO, it’s sitting in a museum, like the one in the vault at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.
The crazy thing about the Sonoma Speed Festival, though, is that there were lots of these classic Ferraris in the paddock and on the racetrack. It was as if they were as commonplace as Nissan S14s or Mazda Miatas.
Seeing a Porsche 917K in Gulf Oil livery in person is something that should be celebrated. After all, these historic Le Mans race cars are so rare, they usually only seen sitting in well guarded museums or at highly curated events like Luftgekühlt. However, at the Sonoma Speed Festival, there were two Gulf 917Ks in attendance, and both of them were being driven on the racetrack, just like their maker intended.
Obviously, they weren’t taking slow laps around the track, they were seen chasing down other historic cars, like this gorgeous white and green Porsche 910.
‘Holy… what kind of Ferrari is that?!’ I wondered. This was the very first time I had ever seen this type of NART Ferrari.
While historic racing buffs might roll their eyes at my ignorance, I grew up reading Super Street, Sport Compact Car, Grassroots Motorsports and Option. These types of historic race cars were certainly not covered in those magazines.
Apparently, this car was a Ferrari Berlinetta Bialbero 512 Le Mans (aka BB512 LM), and this was the very first time I had seen this model of Ferrari with my own eyes.
As I walked closer to the BB512 LM, the brake lights came on and the engine fired up. The sound was gloriously loud, with a ton of smoke from the exhaust pipes pouring out into the pristinely clean San Francisco Bay Area air.
As I made my way towards the rear of the car, I noticed the BB512 letters painted on the rear mesh screen.
This thing looked crazy in person, and you could see all the details of the engine bay from the back side of the car. It’s a cool feature for fans of automotive engineering, but it also keeps the engine bay cool by creating a low pressure zone behind the car where heat can escape.
Wandering into the paddock garages, I spotted a flash of black and gold, and I’m quite certain I dropped the F-bomb while shaking my head in disbelief. It was so amazing to see the historic Formula One machinery from the F1 Masters series. Prior to this event, I had only seen these cars in books or on the internet.
It was even cooler to see (and hear) these machines in action on the track, and having the opportunity to shoot these cars trackside was the icing on the cake for me. Pretty much everything with the iconic John Player Special livery looks brilliant.
As if seeing all the vintage Formula One cars from the F1 Masters series wasn’t enough, Sonoma Speed Festival attendees were treated to yet another special happening: The Mercedes-AMG F1 team came out and performed demo runs with their old and new F1 cars.
Seeing these cars on track was like a time warp. Probably the only time I’ve ever seen vintage Formula One cars in person was back when I visited the Formula 1 Museum at Donington Park in the UK when we were first starting the Speedhunters site. Having the opportunity to watch (and shoot) these cars as they negotiated the turns at Sonoma was definitely amazing.
I’ve always wanted to try my hand at shooting modern F1 cars, and thanks to the Sonoma Speed Festival I finally had the opportunity. The Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport F1 team brought out their 2016 championship W07/04 Formula 1 car, which was originally driven in competition by both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
According to F1 research (AKA Google), the F1 W07 Hybrid is statistically the second most dominant Formula One car in the history of the sport, with a total of 19 wins, 20 pole positions, 33 podium finishes, and a total of 765 constructors championship points in a single season.
At the Sonoma event it was driven by team test and simulator driver Esteban Gutierrez to achieve a fastest lap time of 1:15.430 on the full-course configuration – the fastest lap ever recorded in the history of the racetrack.
Walking back through the paddock area, there were many more amazing race cars to drool over, like this Martini Racing Lancia.
The classic Martini Racing stripes look awesome on pretty much everything, especially this IMSA prototype car at speed.
The classic IMSA Endurance Masters race cars were some of my favorite machines to shoot. Especially the prototypes like this one, charging uphill with headlights blazing and a Ferrari F40 chasing it.
Damn! Event goers who kept their eyes glued to this Ferrari F40 LM (as you should – it’s an F40 LM!) as it sped through the technical circuit at Sonoma were treated to occasional bursts of fire from the tailpipes of this gorgeous beast.
Did I mention that exotic race cars were in abundance at the Sonoma Speed Festival? This event marked the very first time I had ever been given the opportunity to shoot photos of a McLaren F1 GTR in my life.
To make things even more interesting, this car was actually one of only 10 Longtail versions of the famous McLaren F1 GTR. Stay tuned for an upcoming story on Speedhunters with more photos of this amazing machine.
One of the cars I was most excited to see on the track was this E9 BMW CSL, otherwise known as the ‘Batmobile.’ It was originally built by German tuning powerhouse Schnitzer, and was wearing colors very similar to the modern day BMW Motorsport graphics, but this car had bright orange stripes instead of the traditional red ones.
Hot on the Batmobile’s tail was the E21 BMW 320 Turbo being driven aggressively by GT3 driver Henry Schmitt.
Originally produced as a collaborative effort by BMW Motorsport and McLaren, this 1978 320 Turbo chassis number #003 produced 650 horsepower thanks to engine development and tuning from McLaren. Look how fat those rear tires are!
As a big fan of classic Momo steering wheels from the 1970s and 1980s, this red and yellow Porsche 935 was also a welcome sight on the track. Prior to the Sonoma Speed Festival, I only saw it parked at the Luft show in Southern California. It was so great to see this car on the track, driven by its owner, Alan Terpins, from Brazil.
Paid the cost to be the Boss (cue the funky 1970s instrumental music from James Brown). This Boss 302 Mustang looked amazing while running with the other early SCCA Trans Am muscle cars. These cars were really going after it. With huge roaring V8 engines and exciting fender-to-fender action, it’s really easy to see why ‘The Pony Car Wars’ were so popular in this era of American road racing.
One of the cooler liveries in the pack of historic Trans Am cars was definitely the blue, red and yellow paint scheme on Roger Penske’s famous Sunoco 1969 Camaro Z28. According to one of the veteran photographers I met while shooting trackside, this was actually the real Sunoco Camaro, not a replica.
It was just mind-blowing how many valuable and historic vehicles were on track at the Sonoma Speed Festival. Whoever got these cars together has a pretty amazing Rolodex of contacts.
I’ll close out my event coverage with a photo of one of my favorite cars from the event, the same car spitting flames in the opening photo. This is definitely my favorite 935 from the event, probably because of the cool and interesting Japanese characters on it. This particular car took outright honors at the 1977 6 Hours of Suzuka Circuit, and was the very last of 13 Kremer K3 935s ever built. It returned to Suzuka Circuit and won the Suzuka 1,000km endurance race in 1981.
The Sonoma Speed Festival provided much more than I initially imagined. The cars were amazing, the track is so picturesque and well built for photography, and the San Francisco Bay Area weather is always perfect; a combination of California sunshine and a cool ocean breeze. I’m already counting down the days for the next Sonoma Speed Festival – I can’t wait to shoot here again.
Historic Motorsports on Speedhunters