As Cambridgeshire is surrounded by four major circuits, it’s never been easier to experience the thrills of motor racing first hand. With the 2011 season just around the corner we take a look at the tracks, discovering their differences and what they have to offer whilst an up and coming driver from the area tells us what they’re like from behind the wheel
Rockingham Speed Motorway
Located a few miles from Northampton, Rockingham Motor Speedway was officially opened by the Queen in 2001 making it Europe’s newest circuit. It’s also the UK’s first purpose built banked oval since Brooklands in 1907. Fast and demanding, two of the oval’s corners are also used as part of the twisty infield circuit making it very different from the flatness of Silverstone. Nowhere else can you watch a pair of Formula Three single-seaters side by side on the steep banking before hitting the straight. And since its 52,000 capacity grandstands line the track, you get an excellent and unparalleled view of the action. Although the days of it hosting an international event are behind it (two rounds of the American Champ Car series were held there in 2001 and 2002) for 2011 Rockingham will continue to be part of the British Touring Car Championship plus other major domestic series.
“Rockingham is totally different from the wide expanse of Silverstone or Snetterton. Within the confines of the oval, the infield is tight, with little room to stretch. Past the Deans hairpin you’re mainly just using third gear as you accelerate and then quickly brake for the next corner. The highlight of the circuit, though, is the first corner since it’s part of the banked oval and is the only part of the track where you can really put your foot down. Already carrying plenty of speed thanks to the straight, as you come off the banking you’re really flying. The tricky part, though, is the next corner. A really tight hairpin, I know plenty of people who have out braked themselves – especially in the wet – and have carried straight on.”
Silverstone prides itself as being the heart of British motorsport and it’s probably right. It remains the home to this country’s Grand Prix, giving it the highest profile of any UK track. As a result every conceivable form of motorsport has a round there – from a Citroen Saxo to Fernando Alonso, you’ll find it all at Silverstone. Although it’s seen its fair share of modifications over the years, the track remains one of the fastest in the country. Its long corners and blistering straights means there’s always plenty of overtaking. Some baulk at the circuit’s flat, featureless nature (a remnant of its airbase heritage) that results in limited viewing, but they’ve never been there at race time. Noisy and colourful with as much to see off the track as there is on it, when it’s full of spectators the circuit takes on a personality of its own.
“Despite the recent changes, Silverstone is still a very quick circuit, especially Copse corner. After a slight dab on the brakes I was going through last year at 90mph. Although I didn’t find the circuit daunting due to its reputation, when I drove out of the pits – the same one used by the Williams F1 team – I still found myself thinking (as someone who aspires to reach Formula One) of all the drivers who have driven out of these garages and around this track. And you immediately feel its significance by how wide the track is. Whereas the likes of Snetterton is four cars wide, Silverstone is wide enough for five. Yet you feel more closed in. Glance in your mirror and you can always see grandstands towering above you.”
Situated in northwest Leicestershire, Donington Park is one of the oldest surviving tracks in use in Europe having been created in 1937. Yet despite this history, following a former owner’s failed bid to stage the British Grand Prix it’s outlook was bleak. After tearing the track apart the money ran out before it could be put back together again. Thankfully new investment has been found that can finish the work meaning racing will commence in 2011. It’s even been confirmed the circuit will host the UK’s round of the prestigious World Touring Car Championship. Motorsport enthusiasts will rejoice at this news since it’s a superb track. Where as Silverstone is flat, parts of Donington climb upwards before falling away again. The best corner is easily the Craner Curves. A series of fast sweeping left and right corners, it’s not uncommon to see touring cars swap paint as they bunch up for the cleanest racing line.
“Donington Park stands out because of the gradients at some points of the circuit. The slight straight before the Old Hairpin is especially steep. As a result your braking distances are much shorter since it’s easier to scrub off speed. The circuit’s highlight, though, has to be the Craner Curves. Carrying plenty of speed as you come out of Redgate corner, you take them flat. With a right then a left-hander, they seriously affect the car and you can feel it shift around quite a lot. And if you’re off line even a fraction then the grip levels change, meaning you either have to come off the power or find yourself sideways. It can be very dramatic.”