Sonoma's Turn 11 retaining wall a 'pretty significant shift to the race track'

Sonoma's Turn 11 retaining wall a 'pretty significant shift to the race track'

SONOMA, Calif. — A noticeable change will be on display at Sonoma Raceway this weekend as the Turn 11 barrier will be the white walls that surround the home stretch of the 1.99-mile road course instead of the tire barrier that previously stood in its place.

With fresh asphalt on the track surface and a new visual in the final corner, Sonoma should offer a different challenge this year than prior years.

Veteran Brad Keselowski, who’s competing in his 14th Sonoma Cup race, said the new barrier is “definitely not what we expected.”

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“It’s a pretty significant shift to the race track,” Keselowski said. “We’ll see how it races.”

According to a Sonoma Raceway track representative, the change in Turn 11 was made to “protect the integrity of the racing line.”

“We kind of looked back through the past few years, and a lot of the cars were, almost every lap, they’re touching those tire barricades. It was moving by up to 20 feet during the course of a race,” they said. “So went to NASCAR, their competition folks and then we also met with the drivers competition committee both during the Coke 600 weekend, and they were good with it.”

Turn 11 is the narrowest and slowest on the course. As cars come barreling downhill through the esses on the backstretch, they enter a short straightaway just past Turn 10 that forces heavy braking into the corner.

In prior years, pushing the wall back opened up an even lower lane, and drivers found areas of extra grip in the painted section.

With the retaining wall now installed around the turn, drivers said it will be slightly trickier with fewer visuals.

“It’s a little bit blind, but you’re kind of getting used to it and understanding the radius of how far I got to turn the wheel to make the corner without hitting it,” Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin said. “So I think there will definitely be a few that cut it too tight and risk knocking a toe link out, but hopefully it’s not us.”

Hamlin’s JGR teammate Christopher Bell was an outlier in the Turn 11 discourse, explaining that his racing line won’t bring about much change for his approach in the corner.

“I didn’t really notice much difference,” Bell said. ” I guess it’s probably going to make it a little bit more congested. If there’s a crash, you’re not going to have anywhere to go. But other than that, normal racing conditions, I didn’t notice a difference.

“It definitely makes it harder to see, but running in your normal line, I mean, you’re just trying to keep it tucked tight there.”

The prior tire barriers allowed drivers to avoid cars gone astray in the narrow corner, but with the new wall wrapping the whole corner, the margin for error decreases even further for the technical turn.

“A lot different hitting the wall versus hitting a tire, you can imagine,” Keselowski said. “The risk versus reward proposition changes, and that changes the way you race.”