Rockingham is the perfect venue for the all-American auto festival Cars & Stripes.
It is at Rockingham that you’ll find the UK’s only US-style oval circuit, which is one of two motor racing speedways in Europe. And it is only at Rockingham, of all the UK’s circuits, that the lap record belongs to an Indianapolis 500-style Champ Car – at an astounding average lap speed of 215.397mph!
In fact, Rockingham’s oval is the fastest racing circuit in Europe. The first banked oval track built in the UK since Brooklands in 1907, it is 60 feet wide, 1.47 miles long, and quadrilateral in shape. To help cars carry speed, the track surface is cambered from the inside to the outside of each corner by up to seven degrees.
Each of the four corners looks slightly different from the spectator’s viewpoint, and each feels distinctively different to drivers. The nature of the circuit encourages exceptionally close racing, with cars bunching together and tucking into each others’ slipstreams to gain that magical ‘tow’ through the air that’s worth a few more miles an hour.
The sheer spectacle of racing at Rockingham – the high speeds, the closeness of the cars, and the engine noise captured inside the man-made bowl – makes it a special place to visit. And, unlike so many other venues, you can see the whole circuit at any one time. The track is overlooked by four grandstands plus the glass-fronted Rockingham Building, which houses another grandstand and hospitality suites. Near this building, two pedestrian tunnels lead under the track to the pit and paddock complex in the infield.
Although an oval is the perfect setting for Cars & Stripes, this isn’t Rockingham’s only circuit. On the ground inside the oval, Rockingham has four other circuits. The way these circuits interconnect with each other gives 13 track configurations in all.
If you’re curious about that 215mph lap record, it was set by the Lola-Ford of Brazilian Tony Kanaan, who went on to become a winner of America’s biggest motor race, the Indianapolis 500. American Indy Cars (or Champ Cars as they were called then) participated in the first big race at Rockingham, in September 2001, just four months after the venue was opened by Her Majesty the Queen.
When the ChampCar World Series reappeared at Rockingham the following year, the winner of the 500-mile race was Dario Franchitti, a three-time Indy 500 winner and Britain’s most successful IndyCar driver. America’s premier single-seater series subsequently returned to racing only on the American continent, but Britain’s most popular motor racing series, the British Touring Car Championship, took its place as Rockingham’s annual main event.