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Furious fender-bending action? Well, Sonoma has become famous for its angry drivers...

Furious fender-bending action? Well, Sonoma has become famous for its angry drivers...

Can you say 'demographics'? This WTCC thing might have some good angles to check out (Photo: WTCC)


   By Mike Mulhern

   SONOMA, Calif.
   Fords versus Chevys banging fenders around Sonoma Raceway is nothing new, but the drivers track boss Steve Page introduced here Sunday morning have decidedly heavy accents, and certainly not American.
   Now Gabriele Tarquini, Tiago Monteiro and James Nash might not quite be household names, particularly among  NASCAR fans.
   And Tony La Russa, the legendary baseball star, Sunday's grand marshal, drew a bigger media crowd and more fawning journalists.....
   However the latest addition to this track's calendar, a Sept. 23rd World Touring Car championship sprint, could be a very interesting international pop for this San Francisco road course.
    Now adding a major event in the middle of the season with just a three-month lead time might seem a bit odd. But Ford Motor Company is jumping into the WTCC game this season and it wanted an U.S. stop on the wide-ranging tour.
    Chevrolet has been in the game for 10 years now, since the series was first formed, and it had one of its WTCC Cruze racers here under the frontstretch grandstand.  So the tour gives the two American car makers yet another venue to battle BMW.
    Just how well this thing will come across to an American audience....well, sports car racing has always been a niche part of the sport anyway, and aside from the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of LeMans.....


    Not quite sure what this Sonoma WTCC thing is all about, but looks like Ford and Chevrolet like the world-wide battleground it provides (Photo: WTCC)


   And at the moment there are no American drivers in the field, and no NASCAR headliners. And Page says no plans to pair the WTCC event with Sonoma's annual June Sprint Cup weekend, though it would seem a perfect fit.
    Still, there are angles here to keep an eye on. Consider that Charlotte Motor Speedway just hosted a Global Rallycross Championship event (think Travis Pastrana), for one.

   Thinking outsidfe the oval...
    The kicker here: The WTCC is owned by Eurosport, a French-owned version of ESPN that carries various events like the Dakar Rally. NASCAR's own international presence has been rather haphazard at best over the years, so this could be a positive.  
    The WTCC promotes itself as a tour that has an international viewing audience, and it carries these races live. This season it's raced in Portugal, Italy (Monza), Spain, Morocco, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria, and next up is Brazil, followed by Sonoma, Japan, Shanghai China, and Macau.
   So what channel to see it on here?  A WTCC spokesman said negotiations are still underway for both a network and a cable channel  to carry the race, which is set for a 2 p.m.PT/5 p.m. ET start, which puts it right after NASCAR's playoff race at New Hampshire International Speedway (also owned by Bruton and Marcus Smith).
    Of course a 5 p.m. ET start is 11 p.m. in Paris.
   But the WTCC format is for a tight TV package -- two 30-mile sprints...just the kind of thrill show that could really liven up NASCAR's own qualifying Fridays.


  Wonder if Bruton and Marcus Smith could add this 'pit girls' angle to their NASCAR  weekends? (Photo: WTCC)





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