Rockingham Motor Speedway – a new life of the fastest race track in Europe
Rockingham Motor Speedway, located near Corby in Northamptonshire, England, is one of the only two big oval race tracks in Europe (the other one is Lausitz) and the fastest racing circuit on the continent. The 1.48-mile speedway was opened in 2001 and since then, it hosted the American Champ Car Series and various European stock car competitions. The current competitions on the 1.94-mile circuit, that combines a part of the oval and the infield course, are mostly British national championships (touring cars, GT cars, F3).
A lot of time between the idea and the opening ceremony
The story about the second British oval circuit in history (the first was Brooklands) started when racing enthusiast and entrepreneur Peter Davies saw the opportunity in the abandoned British Steel ground in Northamptonshire. He purchased the land in 1991 and planned the multi-purpose racing facility with the road course and American-style oval.
But, the lack of money was the problem, so the construction of the Rockingham Motor Speedway, named after a nearby Rockingham Castle, started eight years after, in 1999. The main investors were England’s Guy Hands and America’s Gerry Forsythe. Forsythe’s connections led to the inclusion of the Rockingham Motor Speedway into the Champ Car calendar for the 2001 season, together with the all-new superspeedway at Lausitz. The new circuit became operable in January 2001, but it was officially opened by the Queen on May 26, 2001.
Rockingham is Britain’s first motorsport stadium
The impressive facility, which was, in fact, the Britain’s first motorsport stadium, has a spectator capacity of 52,000, including 6280 seats in the Rockingham Building. The Rockingham Motor Speedway features 1.48-mile 4-turn oval with bankings from 3.5 to 7.9 degrees, infield road course with different layouts and rally stage. Thirteen configurations of the track were offered, with circuit length varying from 0.67 miles to 2.45 miles.
The first visit of the Champ Car Series to the Rockingham, in September 2001, was marred by 9/11 terrorist attacks and the horrific accident of Alex Zanardi a few days earlier at Lausitzring. The additional problems were caused by heavy rains and some damage on the track, so most of the practice runs were written off.
Gil de Ferran won the first Champ Car race at Rockingham
The race was held on September 22nd, 2001, in front of 40,000 spectators. The race named Rockingham 500k was shortened to 140 laps (403 km) because of the late start and impending darkness. The winner was the defending champion Gil de Ferran, after overtaking Kenny Brack in the final corner on the last lap.
During the race, the fastest lap (25.251 sec) was made by Patrick Carpentier, but the outright record was set by Tony Kanaan during the pre-race runs. His lap of 24.719 seconds, with an average speed of 215.397 mph (346.65 kph), is the fastest lap ever on any of the European tracks and that was the reason why Rockingham Motor Speedway is called the fastest race track in Europe.
British victory in front of British crowd
The Champ Car returned to Rockingham in 2002. After a full distance of 500 kilometers, the winner was the British driver Dario Franchitti. The home crowd was delighted, but since only 25,000 spectators were on the track, the organizers decided that Champ Car wouldn’t return to Rockingham in 2003.
Since then, the focus was changed to the ASCAR Series, the stock car series that was inaugurated at Rockingham in 2001. In the next couple of years, there have been some name changes of the series, but stock cars remained at Rockingham until 2007.
In the meantime, different motorcycle and car racing competitions came to Rockingham to run on the road course: British Superbike (from 2001 to 2003), British F3 (since 2002), British Touring Car Championship (since 2003), Rockingham Stages Rally (since 2004), British GT Championship (since 2006).
Road course racing almost every day of the calendar
In 2006, the new owners switched the focus on the racing events to the road course, and the circuit became the host of the non-racing events, including test and track days, manufacturer launch events and dealer training. The circuit is now operative for almost 360 days of the year, mostly on the road course layouts. In recent years, the oval was used only for the Pickup Truck Racing championship.
The oval course is forgotten by the major racing series and the Rockingham has a new life. After the last stock cars left Rockingham Motor Speedway, the race track completely changed its character and became one of the most prominent Britain’s road courses.
Shedden and Plato have six BTCC wins at Rockingham
BTCC visited Rockingham for the first time in 2003 and then again in 2007. Since then, the Rockingham is a regular host of the annual BTCC races. The first winner in 2003 was Matt Neal. Later, he won three more times but he is not the most successful BTCC driver at Rockingham. Until 2016, Gordon Shedden and Jason Plato collected six wins each.
Video : A lap around Rockingham in an F3 car
Address: Rockingham Motor Speedway, Mitchell Road, Corby, Northamptonshire, NN17 5AF
Phone: 01536 500 500
Official website: rockingham.co.uk