Feature Article

A year of progress shapes Rockingham
Mark Cipolloni
April 27,  2000
Note:  This article was originally printed on 7th Gear.com when I worked with those fine folks


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We recently did a story on the Lausitzring track in Germany, one of two European tracks trying to win a CART date for 2001.  We felt it only fair that we do a similar article on the other track, Rockingham, in England.

Click to enlarge.  Courtesy Rockingham Motorspeedway

Artists rendering of track.  Click for larger view

Rockingham is being built for two reasons - the first is to introduce oval racing back to England, and the second is that England desperately needs more race tarmac - for testing and track days (there are 73 racing clubs in UK that need a place to race). 

There is a huge following of Champ Cars in England - and thousands of people who work for companies building CART related equipment live within just a 30 mile radius of Rockingham - and all of the firms have said they will bring their entire staff to finally be able to watch CART first hand!   

Recently there has been an oval track building frenzy in England.  Not only are Rockingham and the Lausitzring nearing completion,  others are being studied right now in France and Germany. So even if CART decides not to run one either Rockingham or Lausitzring, the Europeans are developing enough oval tracks to make a European oval track series a reality.  There is already a new stock car series set up for 2001. 

CART used to suffer a bad image in Europe because of the constant badmouthing in the press by people like Bernie Eccelstone and Niki Lauda.  As of late, they have stopped badmouthing of CART, as they recognize that oval track racing may be good for Europe.  With so few ovals in Europe, the new European oval track owners effectively have a corner on the market with their new novel product, and ticket costs for a CART race will be much less than a F-1 race.  At last weekend's Silverstone race a three day pass, with seat, a hat and a program, costs a little over $600 (yes, six US hundred dollars).  Standard general admission for Silverstone is just over $140 (to stand on an earth embankment) and $250 minimum for a race day seat. The circuits have to charge that sort of price to cover the cost of bringing the F-1 show to town.  Imagine, then, if they paid significantly less, to see the world's fastest open wheel racing, with plenty of overtaking, from a comfortable seat, with US style facilities -- their market research (and every fan e-mail they get) tells them that the European motor sport fan just cannot wait.

Rockingham's dilemma is not whether fans will come, but how many seats to build for the first year!  Their job will be in years two and three, to keep the crowd coming back - and that is up to both CART and the promoters to give them a good show in year one.

Location is important, not just for their proximity to the 150,000 strong motor sport industry there in central England, but for the general sports fan.  Unlike the average track in Europe that is accessible only by narrow country roads, Rockingham is the first U.S. style facility -- purpose built, that can be accessed by freeways and modern access roads, with plenty of parking.  Even a train stop is planned for the track.

Horse racing's spectator facilities have traditionally been more permanent, cleaner, better designed and more female friendly in England than any motor sport facility - and that is their target.

Is interest strong?  You bet it is.  Already, daily, one hundred new people sign up for race tickets and opportunities to drive Rockingham as part of a racing club. Corporately, there is great involvement in Rockingham. With Rockingham's marketing partners and agents worldwide, they are putting together attractive packages on every aspect of their commercial development. You can expect some announcements soon.   The Jim Russell Racing Drivers School will hold classes at Rockingham and the Rockingham Supporters' Club already has some 3,800 registrations before the circuit is complete.

Click on image for larger viewBuilding Progress
A year since the start of major construction, the Rockingham Motor Speedway is steadily taking shape on the 300 acre brown field site, located on the northern outskirts of Corby, Northamptonshire in the heart of the East Midlands region of England.

After six years or more of design, planning and fund-raising from both private and institutional investors, the main construction works commenced on May 25th, 1999. Despite wet winter weather, the work carried out by Morrison's PLC is running on schedule and the facilities will be completed towards the end of this year. 2001 will see the first full year of racing action at Rockingham including a full national calendar of car and motorcycle racing, arranged by the British Automobile Racing Club.


Site Master Plan

About 1-year ago

About 6 months ago

More recently

Rockingham is being constructed to rigorous design and environmental standards. The first work to be carried out after securing and clearing the site, a former ironstone quarry and steelworks site, was the movement of over 350,000 cubic meters of earth within the site, to form the structure of the banked oval. Over half of this material was piled around the track over 9 feet deep on the top of the foundations, a process known as surcharging, to compress the foundations and ensure the necessary smoothness for when the tarmac is ultimately laid. When completed, over two million tons of earth will have been moved.

The surcharging has now been removed and the earth is being used to build up around the outside of the track.  The drainage work is about to begin and the 9 meter high acoustics structure which surrounds the entire circuit and racing facilities will be constructed. The circuit's buildings contractors, Rugby-based Stepnell Limited will now commence with the building of the main grandstand and race control buildings, while work is now progressing on the infield circuits, the three access tunnels beneath the banking to the paddock area and the laying of over 12,000m of drainage piping.  The structures will be erected right through to the fall.  Interior work and final details will be done over the winter and done by early spring 2001, when the UK race season gets underway. 

The final building process of all will be the laying of the asphalt, a process which will commence later in the summer and last 15 weeks. The construction teams will lay 126,000 square meters of the black stuff, with the track surfaces being laid to a tolerance of +/- 1mm.  Now that is smooth!

Click to enlarge.  Courtesy Rockingham Motor Speedway
Click all images for larger view

The oval race track is 1.5 miles long. Width is a constant 60 feet, plus a slow running lane, plus the long pit in and out width.  Maximum banking in the turns is a flat 7.5% (4.2 degrees) with 3.5% (2 degrees) on the straightaways. The full combined oval and road course gives them a full FIA spec 2.7 miles road course, (same direction as oval, left handed of course), which will host major rounds of European and UK championships, both cars and motorcycles. Shorter combinations are available for race schools, corporate days, and the National circuit for non oval start/finish straight use. The track reminds us a little bit of Nazareth, only 1/2 mile bigger, and the very flat Milwaukee track which affords a lot of side-by-side racing.

The main oval's shape is, from all the computer models, very wide and open. Computer simulations they have used - show the long back stretch, Turn 4, and the front stretch are likely to be quick, with a proper lift for One; and 2 and 3 being technically interesting.  The banking and turn to straight transitions designed details were finalized only after talking to US track designers officials, team managers and engineers.  They didn't want another Texas Motor Speedway fiasco on their hands.  The UK-based race car manufacturers see the layout as providing a great deal of wide open, side by side entertainment.

"It is a big undertaking, but exciting too and it's great that we are running true to plan" said Peter Davies, Managing Director of Rockingham Motor Speedway. "But all of this is just a means to the end. Of creating a world-class sporting venue and a stunning racing spectacle for visitors to the Speedway. You ain't seen nothing yet !"

Rockingham has big plans for 2001 calendar
A year from today, Rockingham Motor Speedway will have completed its transition from "A dream to reality". 2001 will be Rockingham's debut season as a premier British motor sports venue.

The full sporting calendar will be finalized later this year, in association with the British Automobile Racing Club and the sport's governing body, the MSA. Plans are well under way for a series of keynote events which will bring everything from Edwardian cars of a bygone era, right up to Britain's newest championships, to race at Rockingham.

One of the highlights of next summer's calendar will be an historic motor racing event, which will not only allow close racing on the combined oval and road course, but also the sight and sound of the monster cars of the past being run on the banked oval, just as cars of the pre- and post WW1 era raced on the world's first motor racing circuit, Brooklands in Surrey. In particular, this new event will offer the potential for the monster aero-engined racers of the 1920s and 1930s, some with engines up to 24-litres and names such as the Napier Railton and the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, to stretch their legs one more time.

"As the first banked motor racing circuit in England since Brooklands, it is only right and proper that we offer the chance for machines that raced on that track, to again show their paces in their natural environment" said Christopher Tate, Marketing Director of Rockingham. "We've already had discussions with a number of the clubs and with the owners of such cars - they are all very enthusiastic. It would certainly make a great spectacle for historic racing experts and new fans alike."

One feature of Rockingham will be a new series for big American V8-powered racing saloons. The series organizers show great interest in using the Rockingham banked oval circuit and wishes to hold at least four championship rounds there in Corby. In addition there are plans afoot to invite American racers to Rockingham, in a 'transatlantic challenge' to match their driving skills against European drivers. 

"We'll be making a formal announcement on our challenge event later in the year" said Tate. "Already at this early stage we're getting a lot of enthusiasm from both sides of the Atlantic and I'm sure that we'll have a great event".

As part of their commitment to bring at least 14 exciting national-level events to Rockingham in 2001, the British Automobile Racing Club is aiming to run events for the established UK series, at all levels of car and motorcycle racing. They will principally use the 2.7-mile infield 'road-race' circuit, which combines a part of the banked track with a demanding series of corners and height variations, over 85% of which is visible from each of the grandstand seats.

Tate concluded: "Whether the events happen on the oval or on the infield circuit, we are looking forward to offering the best in spectator facilities and the best view possible of some great racing action".

Photos and and some information contained in this article were supplied courtesy of Rockingham Motor Speedway.

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