"I don't think the drivers miss it much" - O'Neil on Rockingham Motor Speedway
For a third consecutive season, The British Touring Car Championship will not be travelling to Northamptonshire in England to race on the Rockingham Motor Speedway. After the closure of the venue in late 2018, BTCC pundit Paul O'Neil reckons it's not hugely missed by the drivers.
First appearing on the BTCC calendar in 2003, the venue was a permanent fixtature until the circuit closed with the Touring Cars blasting round the 1.94 miles for the last time in 2018. The Championship raced on the International Super Sports Car Circuit (ISSC) with lap times around one minute and 24 second mark.
During his time in the BTCC, O'Neil raced on the circuit in 2003, 2009, 2010 and in 2011. In an exclusive interview with Pitlane to Podium, O'Neil said: "I’ve has some of my best races round Rockingham and because of the surface and tyre degradation, the cars used to be slide all of the place. I drove the Chevrolet Cruze LT in 2011 around there but it was horrific as it used to burn it's rear tyres out."
During the course of being on the calendar, 38 races were held at Rockingham with 17 different drivers taking victory. Triple Champion Gordon Shedden and Double champion Jason Plato were the two most successful drivers to have raced there with both securing six wins apiece.
The circuit largely favoured Honda driven cars which included Shedden and fellow champion Matt Neal. Between all the Honda drivers to have won there, they scored 12 wins in total with BMW taking seven.
After some of his "best races" round the circuit, O'Neil commented on the features and why he missed going there. He said: "If I was still racing, I’d miss it because it was successful for me, it was technical and there were some fantastic corners. Turn 1 was amazing, the left-hander into the gracelands, you know, it was a combination of great and challenging corners. There was nowhere else like it in the country."
Owing to why most of the current drivers on the BTCC grid don't miss it, O'Neil put it down to the different generation of drivers. He said:
"The drivers don’t really talk about it as much as maybe if Knockhill stopped getting used. I think, if I’m going to answer this honestly, I don’t think they miss it that much, I really don’t."
"I don’t think the drivers do because there’re they are a different era of drivers and there’s some of the drivers who haven’t gone round it that much to love it."
After months of speculation, the fate of the circuit was confirmed in late 2018 after being sold to Rockingham Automotive Solutions. It will now be a logistics hub for the car industry and there'll be space for 50,000 vehicles and 40,000sq ft of office. The main grandstand is to be converted into office space but the supporting grandstands are due to be demolished.
Commentating on the circuit's closure, O'Neil said: "It’s a shame because it was a fantastic facility and it is a shame it’s not there anymore. I’m a bit gutted about it."