Silverstone quagmires to be consigned to history

THE paying spectator was vaulted to the top of the motor racing agenda today as Silverstone unveiled dramatic details of its five year plan to make the home of the British grand prix the best and most sophisticated formula one circuit in the world.

Images glutinous spectator areas, the bane of the British race fan's life since time immemorial, will be consigned to the history books along with embarrassing memories of last year's disastrous round of the world championship which saw flooded car parks being closed on qualifying day and fans refunded their entrance fees.

Last year's race took place on Easter Monday, an untypically early date which was interpreted by many motor racing insiders as a coded warning to Silverstone from the sport's governing body that it should get its act together and improve its facilities. It is a lesson which has clearly been well learned.

"All the other leisure activities which we, as motor racing, compete against have much better toilets, much better restaurants, a better experience for entire families," said Sir Jackie Stewart, president of the British Racing Drivers' Club, the owners of Silverstone who last year charged 120 pounds for basic admission on race day.

"Motor racing has got to change the way it does business, because we are not used to those things. If I'm ever talking to a government minister or an MP and they're discussing what motor racing needs, I ask them if they've ever been to Disneyworld. If they have, I ask them what they stood on when they got our of their car. They say tarmacadam. I tell them, well, we haven't got any of that."

Rob Bain, chief executive of Octagon Motorsports who have leased Silverstone from the BRDC, in order to stage the race for the next 15 years, emphasized just how much investment has been made over the past few months.

"We've spent about 750,000 pounds on car parking at Silverstone," he said. "We've laid about 800,00 square feet of netting which will reinforce the car parks, built about four miles of additional access roads to those car parks. Going beyond that (to 2003), the spectator will get better value. Better entry and exit times. And better viewing on the track itself."

The first phase of an overall 80 million pound development will see the circuit completely revamped in time for the 2003 British grand prix with an imaginative new track layout designed for better spectator viewing and enhanced overtaking prospects.

World Championship rivals Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard have both been consulted and given the new circuit layout their blessing. Funding for the first 40 million pound phase has been provided jointly by Silverstone's BRDC, Octagon Motorsports and Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One management company.

The revisions to the track are the work of the Stuttgart-based architect Herman Tilke who designed the state-of-the-art Sepang circuit in Kuala Lumpur which has hosted the Malaysian GP since 1999.

The circuit layout has been significantly changed with the formula one pit complex relocated from its current site between Woodcote and Copse corner to the exit of Club corner at the opposite end of the track.

Club corner itself will be reprofiled into a banked parabolic right-hander in a bid to enhance viewing spectacle. After the new start/finish line the circuit will dog-leg right onto a new section which completely bypasses the old Abbey chicane and Bridge corner. The revised section will rejoin the current layout just before Woodcote corner.

In the longer term Silverstone will be developed into what BRDC president Jackie Stewart calls "a center of excellence" which will be parts two and three of the development plan.

This will include educational facilities to encourage the next generation of motor racing engineers, an interactive visitors' center, a kart circuit and a museum of British motorsport.

Stewart is seeking government funding of 40 million pounds for this second phase of the development, after four meetings with the prime minister over the past few months,is optimistic that it will be forthcoming.

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