While in England recently I made
a point of stopping by the new Rockingham Motor Speedway to see the new
facility first-hand in anticipation of next months inaugural CART Champ Car
race. What I saw was a first-rate facility that is nearing 100%
completion and will be ready for CART in more than enough time.
was 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).
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
the CART race will be less
than a F-1 race, though not as low as some fans feel they should be a for a
first-year event. At the recent Silverstone F1 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.
Ticket prices for the CART race
range from $35 to about $110 on Friday, and $110 to $200 on race day.
Thursday all seats are about $33. A 3-day grandstand seat ranges
between $175 and $300.
Though the track is centrally
located in the Midlands of England, getting to it will require a car.
There is no longer any rail service to the nearby town of Corby, but Corby
is working to get that changed.
Rockingham's dilemma is
educating the British fans just what CART is all about. CART has not
done an effective job of marketing their brand of motorsports to the the
Brits, where Formula One is king. Quite frankly, it has been an uphill
battle for the promoters at Rockingham, and although ticket sales are
picking up, they are not where they hoped they would be. So far about
22,000 tickets have been sold out of 52,000 total seats. And while
they expect a major run on tickets as the race nears, with just eight weeks
to go they have a lot of selling to do.
Rockingham tried to run an ad in
this years British GP race program but Bernie Ecclestone nixed the idea at
the last minute. Don't think for one minute Bernie doesn't view CART
as a potential threat. He's not going to do anything to help CART,
unless of course CART were to do a deal with him at one of the race tracks
he owns. One of CART's primary weaknesses is that it is not in bed
with three of the biggest movers and shakers in racing, that being The
France Family (NASCAR), Bernie (F1) and Tony George (IRL). At the end
of the day in the racing business, it's better to have more friends
than less. CART would be wise to develop an alliance with Bernie.
major marketing plan is kicking in now, and Jeff Carter, one of Rockingham's
Public Relations representatives tells us it's not unusual for Europeans to
wait until the last minute to buy their tickets. What will be key to
their success is whether CART can line up a big-name British driver like
Johnny Herbert of Mark Blundell to give the Brits someone to cheer for and
part with their hard earned money.
Is interest strong? You
bet it is. People in England that we quizzed seemed to know about the
race. Already, all 7,500 seats are nearly sold out in the main Rockingham
Grandstand and those ticket holders will have 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
Media interest is very high for
the race. Already there have been requests for 500 media credentials, though
they are looking to weed that down to about 350 the first year. A lot
of F1 reporters have applied for media credentials, which is good news as
the race should get good media coverage, unless......read on.
While in England we hit off and
on rain everyday over a 4-day period. It is not inconceivable that the
entire race weekend could be a wash out given how wet Europe is. Of
course, were that to happen, CART would have a another major public
relations nightmare on their hands. While every effort should be made
to run the race on the oval, CART would be well advised to have a last-ditch
contingency plan in place. If Saturday is a washout and it's still
raining on Sunday morning. all the teams should be prepared to run the race
on the road course. The only concern we have with that is the speed
the cars will carry into the banked Turn 4, which is part of the road
course. Perhaps the Champ Cars would need to run the motorcycle
course, which bypasses Turn 4 completely.
We would expect any driver or
team member reading this to have hit the ceiling at this point.
However, what they must remember, is that the race must be run by Sunday,
the official rain date. And we do mean MUST. CART should
instruct all the teams to also pack road course gears, wings and whatever
else is necessary to run the road course should the weekend be a
washout. That means Firestone must have rain tires in the truck as
well, and the engine manufacturers must have all the engine computer mapping
necessary to run the cars on the road course.
Certainly, this will not be an
ideal situation. The engines will not perform as good as they could,
and the teams will only have perhaps 1-hour on Sunday morning to setup the
cars for the road course and in wet conditions. In no uncertain terms,
the show must go on. For if the race is run on Monday, no fans will be
there to watch. Europeans do not have their races cancelled because of
rain and they don't miss work on Monday for a race, certainly not a CART
race. CART will be faced with yet another embarrassing situation, like
they need another one this year. And to make matters worse, according
to Jeff Carter, there is a real possibility the track would just cancel the
race and refund all the fans their money. The critical F1 media on hand will
have a field day with CART. That's how serious this is.
CART must NOT fail in Europe and they must be prepared to run, rain or
shine. CART prides itself on being versatile. Let's see just how
versatile they can be.
Click all images for larger
The oval race track
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). Shorter combinations are available for race schools, corporate
days, and the motorcycle 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 very wide and open.
Recent tests by Alex Barron and Johnny Herbert saw average speeds
approaching 200 mph on a green track. Turns 2 and 3 are pretty much
one high-speed big arc, with a proper lift needed for Turn 4 and certainly
for Turn 1.
Having driven around many race
tracks in my day, my guess is that this is probably going to be a two groove
race track. If I am correct, and marbles don't ruin the top groove, we
should see some good side-by-side racing. If a car is hooked up they
will be able to pass both high and low.
Here's hoping I'm right.
And cross your fingers it doesn't rain. It should be spectacular.
And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the Brits were quite friendly
to me, everywhere in England I went. There is also a lot of History in
England, far more than the USA, so any Americans fans thinking about going
to the Europe races will find plenty of things to do, especially in
London. But why make the trip and not take in Germany the weekend
before? It will be an experience you won't soon forget.
The author can be contacted at email@example.com
to discuss this article