SONOMA, Calif. -- Sometimes adventure means getting lost and going
around and around and around. Sometimes it just means going around.
At 110 mph.
The Jim Russell Racing Drivers School here has teamed up with
the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa to offer
adventurous couples a three-day, three-night package of race-car
driving and luxurious living.
Dubbed the Monaco in Sonoma package, the plan includes one
three-day Techniques of Racing course at the Jim Russell School, a
three-night stay for two at the resort, a choice of two spa
treatments or two rounds of golf at the Sonoma Golf Club, dinner
for two at Sante (the resort's premier restaurant), two wine
tastings at Gloria Ferrer winery and a bottle of Gloria Ferrer
Just don't expect to go wine tasting and then get behind the
wheel of a Formula One car.
The opportunity to drive those cars, in fact, is one of the
highlights of the course. The thrill of driving an open-cockpit,
open-wheel car is unique, according to the school's Del
"Regular cars have fenders. There are no fenders with open-wheel
cars. And 110 mph in an open cockpit feels like 150 mph in a
Most people have never driven a Formula One-style car, so the
Techniques of Racing course is truly a learning experience.
Students who complete the course are eligible to apply for their
Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) license, which enables them to
race in club competitions.
"This isn't a fantasy camp," said Leutbecher.
Though it may not be a fantasy camp, students should rest
assured they'll spend plenty of time behind the wheel.
About 20% of the course takes place in the classroom; the rest
is on the track. By the second day, students are being timed and
critiqued by their instructors.
The track used at the Jim Russell School is Infineon Raceway,
the same track used in professional races such as Nascar's
Dodge/Save Mart 350 and the Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Unlike oval tracks, such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,
Infineon loops through the Sonoma wine country in a series of 12
turns, with elevation changes of up to 300 feet. The scenery is
beautiful, but it's probably best to keep your eyes on the
Thankfully, the Monaco in Sonoma package allows time to
experience some of that scenery.
The Gloria Ferrer Winery opened in the 1980s on the site of an
old cow pasture. It's a much prettier place today, with lush
vineyards adorning the Sonoma hills.
While the winery makes a range of reds and whites, it is their
sparkling wines -- styled after French champagnes -- that have
garnered most of the awards.
Guests at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa should not
miss the chance
to taste more of the region's fabulous wines at Sante, the
hotel's premier restaurant. The restaurant's staff is adept at
pairing those wines with menu choices, so don't be afraid to ask
Although many visitors take the advice of Conde Nast Traveler
and make "a special trip just to eat [at Sante]," the hotel itself
is a lovely place.
The main draw, of course, is the opportunity to relax in natural
thermal mineral waters.
The hotel offers a variety of spa treatments, and visitors on
the Monaco in Sonoma package can choose from a range of massages,
facials, manicures, pedicures, herbal body wraps, mineral baths and
other spa treatments.
"This package enables couples with different interests to enjoy
the same vacation," said Leutbecher. Indeed, it's a rare trip that
combines the thrill of race-car driving, the indulgence of a spa
and the elegance of fine dining.
The Monaco in Sonoma package costs $3,595, pays agents a 5%
commission and is available through 2004.
To book a package, agents should call Jim Russell's Leutbecher
at (800) 733-0345. For more information on Jim Russell Racing
Drivers School, visit www.jimrussellusa.com. For more information on
the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, visit www.fairmont.com/sonoma. For more on Gloria Ferrer
Winery, visit www.gloriaferrer.com.
To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to
[email protected] .