By Keri Luiz
(NOTE: this is a 'reprint' of the
WTCC story I wrote for the sports section of the Benicia Herald July 5, 2012). Running it here since most of the motorsports stories are in the Sports section, and do not get
posted on the Herald's web site.
The FIA World Touring Car Championship will make its first-ever United States appearance at the raceway in Sonoma this September.
"We always have our eye out for new events that we can bring in that really fit the profile that we think our fans will respond to," said Steve Page, president and general manager of the raceway, formerly known as Infineon. "Looking internationally, the FIA World Touring Car Championship is one we've always had our eye on."
The WTCC, one of four World Championships under the umbrella of the Fédèration International de l'Automobile, features touring car racing with manufacturers BMW, Chevrolet, SEAT and Ford. It announced in February it has signed a three-year agreement with Sonoma through 2014.
The WTCC's circuits in previous years have featured races in Europe, Asia, South America and Africa, but the tour had never come to the United States before. "The manufacturers, particularly Ford, which was getting into the series, and Chevrolet, which was already in the series, were very insistent that the series needed to come to the States," Page said at a news conference June 24 during Sonoma's NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the Toyota-Save Mart 350.
Certain conditions were laid out as to what would be the appropriate venue for a race, Page said, and "one track that met all of those criteria was the one we are sitting at today." Fabio Ravaioli, media delegate for the WTCC, said the tour is "very excited to bring the WTCC to the United States for the first time. This was one of the countries that was top of our priority list."
The drivers present at the news conference also expressed their enthusiasm for racing at Sonoma. "I'm pretty confident we'll give a good show because the track suits our kind of racing type of car," Tiago Monteiro said. "There's technical areas, there's fast areas, there's overtaking areas … (It's) not too wide, not too tight, it's going to be really interesting."
But WTCC is not NASCAR, another driver said. "Our race is a little different from NASCAR because we race on Sunday with two back-to-back races," Gabriele Tarquini said. "The race is a little bit shorter than NASCAR — we normally race between 25 minutes to 30."
The second race features the fastest 10 from the first race, but inverted — meaning the driver who finished first starts 10th in the second race, second starts ninth, and so on. "Normally the second race is much more exciting than the first one because the fast cars start on the back and give some exciting race action," Tarquini said.
Sonoma will be the ninth stop in the 12-location, 24-round series that began in Italy in March and will end in Macau in November.
The September race weekend in Sonoma will be highlighted by two 50-kilometer (approximately 31.06-mile) races on Sunday, Sept 23. With just 30 minutes for each race, drivers will be very aggressive in their determination to reach the front of the field, Page said. "The action is furious," he said. "We are very excited. This is going to be a great series for this track."
For more information on the WTCC, visit www.fiawtcc.com. For more
information on the raceway at Sonoma, visit www.racesonoma.com.