Sonoma Raceway plugs into renewable energy
Located near Silicon Valley and in the heart of wine country, Sonoma Raceway is carving out a niche for itself by becoming a testing ground for electric cars and host to corporate events involving renewable energy.
The track, one of eight owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., launched a program in 2010 called Accelerating Sustainable Performance aimed at branding itself as a venue where alternative-fuel vehicles and new technology like solar energy could be tested or displayed.
But in recent years, as electric vehicles and other forms of renewable energy have become a fixation of several industries, the track has seen more companies, many of whom with nearby headquarters, test cars or hold competitions and events on the grounds. Now it plans an aggressive sales push to host more corporate meetings and social gatherings related to those industries.
“Obviously from a revenue standpoint, everything we do with track rentals is an important part of our economic model,” said Steve Page, president and general manager of Sonoma Raceway. “But it will reinforce the profile of our facility and brand, which is important to us and works well for us in the Northern California market.”
Companies that have tested electric cars or hosted events at Sonoma include Tesla and Toyota, the latter of which held its Prius Challenge at the track last year. The track is slated to host this year’s Shell Eco-marathon, a competition in which students build and race energy-efficient vehicles. It’s seen autonomous vehicles tested there within the last few years, hosted the first electric motorcycle race in the U.S., and hosted activities for academic groups and students working in related technologies.
“There’s a lot of activity that goes on here; the Tesla S Sedan had its final shakedown here,” Page said. “We figured it out because it was a third party that rented the track; the cars were unbranded. Usually you can hear cars going around the track and we couldn’t hear those cars going around the track, so we finally put two and two together and figured out what was going on.”
Track rentals are a key part of the road course’s business plan since it hosts only a handful of major races annually. That includes an annual Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the annual Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, plus an NHRA event at its dragstrip. It’s looking into hosting a future IMSA race.
Sonoma launched the program when it was named Infineon Raceway. Panasonic, its first partner, installed a solar electric system that generates about 40 percent of the track’s electricity. Other early partners included Amyris and Fuel 21st Inc. Infineon ended its naming-rights deal in 2012.
Page said Sonoma plans to host events 340 days this year, sometimes with multiple separate activities going on in one day.
“What we have managed to do is make alternative energy and transportation part of the brand of the facility, and how it will manifest itself on any given year will vary depending on what’s going on in the industry,” Page said. “Each year, as we find ways to incorporate those kinds of activities and partners into what we do, it just reinforces the brand that people now associate with this facility.”