Track Guide: Sonoma Raceway
Learn how to go faster at Sonoma Raceway with help from Spec Miata ace Thomas Micich
Track Guide: Sonoma Long
Welcome to our second edition of Track Guide. The notebook on how to be fast at tracks around the U.S. In each edition we will cover a different circuit giving drivers the best approach to tackle a track and bring down those lap times.
Located in Wine Country, just 30 miles north of the San Francisco Bay Area, in California lies Sonoma Raceway formally Sears Point to those who have been around a while. The road course is a 12-turn, 2.39-mile circuit, with an average speed of 77 mph and an average lap time of 1:51.426, based in a region known for its high-quality wineries and its mild weather year-round.
The main attention-grabber within this track is The Carousel, a set of high-speed turns starting from turn four, a tight right-hand corner going into a light, high-speed sweeping turn five, only for turning heavily to the left in six and ending right into a hairpin in the opposite direction at turn seven. That segment is so difficult to maneuver with regular stock cars that NASCAR bypassed it from 1998 until 2019 and only brought it back to life for the circuit's 50th-anniversary celebrations. Having them run this configuration was so exciting to see that it has stayed ever since. It has always been the signature feature of Sonoma Raceway.
For this Track Guide we'll be discussing the traditional “Long” course which utilizes all of the original corners that Sonoma has always had. We wanted to bring some direct insight from an ace driver who knows their way around Sonoma. Thomas Micich, NW Spec Miata Tour Champion in 2023, just raced there a few weeks back at an SFR SCCA Regional and was kind enough to share some of his secrets for getting around this twisty and fun circuit. He ended up winning the Sunday feature race, besting 37 other miata drivers to take the checkered flag in the rain. Needless to say, we’re confident he knows a thing or two about how to be fast here.
As you cross the start finish line on the short front straight you’ll be immediately starting to turn in for 1 which is a long uphill climb that leads to 2. Thomas tells us that “in a Spec Miata you don’t have to be out by the wall on drivers right….in the middle is where you want to be for the shortest distance. You want to get as close to the wall on drivers left. Almost clipping it at the apex.”
For higher horsepower cars, you’ll have to pull the throttle back a bit and you might want to be a bit more over to the right, a little closer to the outside wall, to set up the turn and open up the radius a bit. The priority is to get set up for turn 2. Coming up the hill work the car over to the left side of the track right as you’re getting under the bridge. Give the car as much throttle as it can handle while keeping the car to the left. You want to focus on rolling your momentum up the hill. “Keep the car tight and as close to the outside track line as you can” Thomas suggests.
As you head up the hill on the left, get the car as straight as possible under braking. Slow the car down enough to get the front end to turn in without killing your momentum. “You really want to get on power as early as your car allows to exit well here.” This usually happens before you crest the hill or during the crest if you’re in a higher horsepower car. You’ll want to get the passenger side of the car down to the apex near the curbing. Then release the wheel and let the car take itself to the outside. Use all of the curbs on drivers left without running out of road, which is easy to do here.
“As you exit 2 the track will naturally take your car over to the right and set you up perfectly for Turn 3”, Thomas insists. Make sure you’re all the way over to the right to straighten out three as much as possible. There is a little curb on drivers right that the Spec Miata guys will normally roll over a bit to open up 3.
The focus here is a “a lot of entry speed”, Thomas tells us. “Use the car to scrub speed through three” at the apex curbing on drivers left. Even Spec Miatas have to lift here just a little bit. Get back to throttle as much as the car will allow.
As you are going up the hill towards 3a, be over to drivers left using all of the road and then get over to the apex as much as you can on drivers right when you turn in and crest the hill. Thomas suggests being just “inches away from the curbing” to not upset the car going over the crest. Car positioning is ultra important along with your timing for turn in. If your car is too far left at the apex of 3a you can run out of road on exit. As you come up the hill be sure to turn in early enough to get the car to the apex at 3a which will allow you to roll the throttle sooner. Use all the track on exit and carry your speed down the hill to 4.
It’s a downhill run into 4 which makes it easy to overshoot your brake point and miss your turn in. Get the car slowed down but once again not so much so that it ruins your momentum. Thomas recommends “really using the tires to scrub on entry to slow the car down.” From there work the car down to the apex and focus on one, early, clean throttle application to get a good run out. Use all of the available curb and track on the left to maximize your exit.
Generally a flat or close to flat out corner for most cars. Breath the throttle a little bit and keep it as tight and right as your car will allow around the bend to set up 6.
Sonoma’s most iconic corner. The carousel. If your car floated out to the middle through 5 work to get it back to the right as much as you can. Faster high horsepower cars will brake on the way up the hill. A momentum car like a Spec Miata can brake at the crest modulating pressure to keep your speed up while also getting the nose of the car to turn in and over to the left. Thomas says this is a tricky corner to get your timing right, granted it’s another blind entry.
“As you're cresting the hill you want the car pointing left a bit already. Try to turn in a little early and then scrub speed with the tires as much as you can on the downside of the crest to help get the car over to the left without over slowing with too much brake.” As you're winding your way down the hill towards the middle of the corner it’s okay if the car rolls about half a car length off the inside. Oftentimes it’s a delicate dance working on and off the gas pedal.
Thomas encourages the idea of trying your best to “roll into throttle gradually and smooth, as soon as the car can support it. Doing this will certainly be easier in a momentum car then it is in a high horsepower car. But the goal is to keep the car settled and set as best you can while still hustling the car through the corner. Don’t transfer too much weight or the rear will want to step out. Once you’re full throttle at the base of the hill drive the car all the way across the drag strip to maximize your exit using all of the road out on to the rumble strips.
Turn 7 / 7A
At the end of the straight you want to get the car to drivers left, pretty close to the wall. “You’ll want to brake late but hard”, Thomas says. Your main focus is getting a good run out of 7a at the second apex. As you enter 7 you can roll past the first apex and miss it just a bit to keep your momentum up. One or two feet off the curbing. Thomas describes it as making a “nice big arch and then squaring it off on exit at 7a” for a good full throttle application to take you down through the esses with good speed. The earlier you can get on throttle the better and use all the road on exit driving the car out to the big curb on the left that NASCAR uses for the other configuration.
As you head towards eight with some good speed built up you’ll want to keep the car as far to the right as possible before making the left. Keep the car straight and give the brakes a slight tap to settle the nose and aid with turn in. “It's smooth yet quick with a middle to late turn in getting the car to the apex curbing on drivers left”, Thomas states. Once again focus on keeping your momentum up as best you can as all of this speed continues to build up as you head through the esses.
This one comes up fast after getting through 8. You want to flick the car towards the right. In a Spec Miata this is flat out. In a higher horsepower car you will be modulating the throttle to get through here fast. Thomas describes it as a “smooth but quick transition with your hands. And you definitely want to use all of the track.” Turn in late and because if you get get caught turning in too early you might end up chasing the front end and running out of track after cresting the small hill.
The slight bend at 9a is mostly a flat out left hander for a majority of cars. Keep it tight and to the left to use as little track as possible. Thomas reminds everyone to “keep in mind that you need to get the car over to the left and straight on the curb when approaching the brake zone for 11. Setting it up correctly is crucial for a fast clean run through while keeping your speed up. You’ll want to have your left side tires on the rumble strips when approaching to widen the corner. It’s a firm yet short brake zone to slow the car down enough to make the corner. “It takes a bit of bravery to go through here.” Work your speed up slowly, build up your confidence and get the car position dialed in. You want to be on throttle as quickly as possible letting the car float out towards the rumble strips. Don’t pinch the wheel too hard. Just let the car use all of the road / curb.
Once through 10, you have a short second to grab your breath. You’ll fall down a little bump and that’s about when you’ll be wanting to hop on the brakes. Be as far left as possible and trail brake in. Be patient on turn in and come down late as it’s a full 180 degree corner. Thomas says, “if you’re sliding a bit in the middle you’re fast in a Spec Miata.” Scrub speed with the tires and use the car to slow it down in the middle. Try to get on throttle as quickly as you can but be patient with the amount at first. “You can even spin the rear tires in a Miata.”
Just a slight bend in the straight away but be sure to take the shortest distance possible and keep it to the inside.
Most corners in Sonoma are very momentum focused and reward drivers that can scrub speed and get back to the throttle early and often. Keep this in mind at your next track day or race weekend! We hope you learned a few things along the way. Be sure to go watch some of the best drivers do many of these things on LapMeta.