It was the end of an era last weekend, as Rockingham Motor Speedway held its last race meeting, the Super Send Off.
The Northamptonshire circuit opened its doors in January 2001, and was formally opened in May 2001 by the Queen, Rockingham being the first purpose built oval in Britain since Brooklands was established in 1907. Built on the site of a former steel works, Rockingham was ten years in the planning and promised alongside other championships to introduce American style oval racing to the UK.
Rockingham fostered it’s own series, ASCAR, which was later rebranded Days Of Thunder, however the series demised in 2007, the same year that BTCC began its annual Rockingham Round, although the Championship had fielded a one off event there in 2003. 2004 saw the Special Stages Rally first appearance at the venue. The Rockingham Rally Stages will be closing track action at the venue for the final time on December 1st and 2nd.
From 2001 to 2003 British Superbikes held a Rockingham round, it lost the 2004 round to Croft as there were calls to hold some of the Championship further north. The Rockingham round was due to be reinstated in 2005, however BSB pulled further participation at Rockingham due to safety concerns. In later years there were proposals by Rockingham to bring BSB back but financial restraints meant it could not be achieved.
In August of this year BTCC announced they would not be returning to Rockingham in 2019 stating uncertainty over the circuits future as the primary reason, with other championships following suit, Rockingham then made the announcement that all events for the rest of 2018 would go ahead but there would be a change of business operations in the future. Soon after Peter Hardman, Rockinghams CEO confirmed the closure speculation and revealed the plans for the venue being a huge automotive logistics hub.
There have been mixed feelings amongst motosport fans over the closure of the independent circuit. While the venue has been described as soulless, with the vast empty grandstands adding to a sense of isolation, Rockingham is often stated as a great track for testing, it was fast and always provided good racing. For spectators, it being a new purpose built track, the facilities were excellent and central location an advantage to race goers from far afield.
The Super Send Off attracted a large amount of spectators and marshals wishing to say a final goodbye to Rockingham, many of whom have been volunteering at the venue for numerous years. There were three categories racing: Saloons, Sports & GT and Single Seaters, as well as individual races there was also an hour race.
In Single Seaters the win in both races went to Dave Wheal, joining him on the podium in the first race was Ewen Sergison in second place and Will Cox in third place while the second race found Robert Bailey in second and Marcus Sheard in third. Bailey had an eventful race, spinning a few times in his Jedi MK6 but not stopping him from finishing the race just a few seconds behind Wheal, while Sheard took his podium place at the last corner overtaking Will Cox with just seconds left on the clock. There were DNF’s for Sergison and Nigel Lackford but the small grid still provided some excellent racing.
In the Saloon category Andy Baylie in his Volkswagen Golf took the win in both races with Daniel Kell taking second place and Gary Miller in third place in race one, while Martin Poole and Jason Evans completed the podium in the second race.
Pip Hammond shared racing duties with Esther Quaintmere, Hammond taking their Vauxhall Nova out in the first race bringing it home in fifth place, while Quaintmere completed her race in twentieth place.
But it was the One Hour race and Sports & GT races that saw a significant Rockingham win with the venue’s CEO Peter Hardman taking a fantastic victory in all three races in his Radical SR3.
The day finished with a firework display as Hardman crossed the line in the final race, a poignant farewell to a circuit that has divided opinion, seen some of the biggest names in motorsport race there and given 17 years of entertainment to spectators and drivers alike.
Images ©Andy Fitzpatrick full gallery will be added to www.finishlinephotos.net