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