Herbert drive to put Rockingham on map

Awe-inspiring power of Champ Cars can rival Formula One's attraction

A 230mph Indycar head-to-head between Johnny Herbert and Mark Blundell is likely to take place next year on the first banked oval circuit to be built in Britain since Brooklands closed in 1939. Rockingham Motor Speedway, which is under construction at Corby in Northamptonshire, has been promised a round of the Cart World Series, which is based in the United States but takes in races in Canada, Brazil, Australia and Japan and has been looking for a foothold in Europe.

A 230mph Indycar head-to-head between Johnny Herbert and Mark Blundell is likely to take place next year on the first banked oval circuit to be built in Britain since Brooklands closed in 1939. Rockingham Motor Speedway, which is under construction at Corby in Northamptonshire, has been promised a round of the Cart World Series, which is based in the United States but takes in races in Canada, Brazil, Australia and Japan and has been looking for a foothold in Europe.

The race on 22 September 2001 will be the first opportunity to see what are now called ChampCars since a forlorn attempt was made to encourage British interest in Indycar racing by having events at Brands Hatch and Silverstone in 1978, when bad weather left the cars underperforming and the small crowds unconvinced.

In the unlikely event of the British Grand Prix being struck from the calendar, Formula One's hold on the British motorsport public is never likely to be attracted away, but the awe-inspiring power of the ChampCars will clearly draw large numbers to a unique multi-motorsports complex which will eventually have sufficient spectator capacity to rival Silverstone and Brands Hatch.

A bonus for the new circuit is that the highly popular British Formula One driver Herbert has just returned from watching ChampCar racing in the United States and says he has hopes of competing in next year's series. Blundell has already established himself in Indycar racing and a Scot, Dario Franchitti, is a challenger for this season's championship. Nigel Mansell wasthe first British driver to make a consistent transition from Formula One.

The irony of the series has always been that the bulk of the turbocharged, eight-cylinder, methanol-fuelled cars, which accelerate from 0 to 100mph in just over four seconds, are made by the Lola and Reynard companies in Britain. At the moment there is no opportunity to test them on a genuine banked racetrack. The close proximity of Rockingham to the Midlands means that manufacturers will ensure that the new circuit is well used, although some local objections have been raised by CARS (Campaign Against Rockingham Speedway).

The complaints are largely countered by the fact that the "brownfield" site, which was once used for quarrying ironstone for the now defunct steel industry, is unsuitable for house building and that local unemployment is high. Corby Council have been supportive. Rockingham employs over three hundred workers on site, and when open the circuit will require a large number of part-time helpers.

A frequently heard European criticism of what in the States is known as the FedEx ChampCar World Series, held under the auspices of Cart (Championship Automobile Racing Teams Inc), is that it is processional. However, the first eight races of this season have seen eight different winners, and in any two-hour race the lead may change up to 50 times. Blundell is a converted enthusiast, not only as a driver but spectator. He said: "To see at close quarters the 26 cars competing in quality motorsport is fantastic. It's a bit like watching Formula Ford with nine-hundred horsepower engines. I think the average speeds at Rockingham will be between 215 and 225mph." Top speeds of over 250mph are achieved on some American circuits.

Rockingham was first mooted nine years ago and was six years in the design, planning and fundraising stage. Work on the 300-acre site began in May. Opposition on the grounds of noise is difficult to sustain since the 1.5-mile main oval track, with a kart track, small oval and road course within, will act as a sound baffle, which is not the case at most of Britain's old circuits, particularly those, such asSilverstone, which are based on Second World War airfields.

By completion, over two million tonnes of earth will have been moved. The main grandstand will seat 11,000 and there will be additional seating for 30,000. Peter Davies, managing director of Rockingham, said: "America's premier motorracing series will be a huge spectacle, comparable but different from Formula One. The fact that we are to host an event of the magnitude of the FedEx ChampCar World Series in our debut year is astounding, a real boost, not just to our investors and management team but to Corby and Great Britain."

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