It was more like Siberia than Silverstone in Northamptonshire last weekend, but that didn’t stop thousands of people turning out to watch the first ever rallycross event at the F1 venue.
It didn’t only attract the crowds: World Rallycross Championship stars Sebastien Loeb, Timmy Hansen, Guerlain Chicherit and Andreas Bakkerud also came along to get a chance to sample the brand new venue.
Bosses at Silverstone have forged a 972-metre circuit on the infield behind The Wing pits which includes a spectacular jump and 60 per cent on loose surface.
Last weekend’s opening round of the British Rallycross Championship was a perfect dry run for the Speedmachine-branded World round, which will be coming to Silverstone on May 26/27.
Loeb won the event at a canter ahead of Hansen and Bakkerud, but the main interest centred around what they made of the configuration. The views were mixed, with many concerned about the slippery surface.
That was perhaps understandable because the track was being used for the first time, and the weather was not favourable. It didn’t stop snowing all day and the temperature barely altered from minus two degrees.
But there were some positives. Swede Bakkerud was keen to get a closer look at the challenge.
“People were already saying that the Silverstone track would not be as good because it doesn’t have the same viewing for the fans – they said that the spectator stands were too far from the circuit and it was too flat,” he said.
“But then I got here and walked around the circuit: I think it is going to be a pretty interesting track for the World Rallycross Championship to watch from. The first turn, for example, is great and the fans can get close to the cars at the back of the track and where the jump is.”
While the Norwegian was impressed, Loeb felt there was still work that needed to be done to finalise the track
“I reckon there will be a lot of flow in the circuit and I like the jump, particularly because you have a corner right after it which makes it a real test, and I think the joker lap is pretty cool. Between turns two and three, you have to have a pretty good rhythm there to go quickly. The demands are high and I think you will really see a difference between the fast and the slow guys here.”
While the Norwegian was impressed, nine-time World Rally champion Loeb felt there was still work that needed to be done to finalise the track.
“The circuit is OK but for me it’s not fast enough,” he said. “Like most of the tracks, it would be more interesting if we could have some very fast sections where we have some fast corners, like in fifth gear with a straight behind, so we could maybe hope to have some more overtaking possibilities.
“Here it [overtaking] will not be easy, I think there are some opportunities in some places, but not easy. I don’t know if it’s possible to do some changes [before the World RX round], maybe the track is like this. Also, we don’t have any kerbs at the moment, it’s just like a natural track.”
While those were the opinions of the drivers, the fans were impressed. A large grandstand has been built alongside the start line, which is just behind the wing, and crowds gathered at both the opening turn, and the jump section, which is adjacent to the Stowe pits complex.
Coming off the jump, the cars are immediately on the brakes and into a 90-degree right-hander which is a very exciting stretch of the course and could lead to some spectacular overtaking.
Silverstone’s managing director Stuart Pringle said that the design and format of the track had adhered to the demands of the WRX promotor IMG.
“We have followed the guidelines set out. The fans got a great view and the meeting ran well,” he said. “The conditions weren’t in our favour but the overall reaction was positive. We could put kerbs on the track rather than have tyre stacks marking the corners, but you know what drivers are like – they would soon start making up their own lines if we did that…”
Now the British meeting has taken place, bosses at the track can begin to prepare for the Speedmachine meeting and a new chapter in Silverstone’s history.