rockingham wet grip
things can only get wetter
The Rockingham Motor Speedway now offers drivers the chance for drivers to get their cars thoroughly out of shape on a state of the art wet handling facility. Andy Enright tries it.
Although it's probably known as the venue for the UK's only banked oval track, Rockingham offers a lot more than just the oval. The latest development is a Wet Grip facility the like of which has never been open to the public, in this country at least.
Recent developments have seen Rockingham expand its infrastructure and it now attracts manufacturers looking for a motorsports-related venue that can cater for training, new product launches, corporate events and dealer programmes. There's even a Welcome and Conference Centre with capacity for 350 guests. Although Corby is never going to be a glamorous draw, Rockingham offers more sophisticated facilities than other longer established names. The guts were torn from this unprepossessing town when the British Steel works closed in 1979. Much of the Rockingham facility is built on the site of this complex and although it can't hope to provide as many jobs as the steel plant, its ongoing viability is nevertheless crucial to the local economy. There's a new air of excitement there these days and new facilities re constantly being developed, the latest being a £1.5 million Wet Grip facility with the installation of a high tech kick-plate.
The kick-plate - the only one in the UK - means Rockingham's Wet Grip facility is able to offer car manufacturers and component suppliers the ultimate automotive demonstration venue capable of meeting their varied and exacting needs. As a vehicle crosses the kick-plate at speeds of between 15 and 40 mph, sensors in the ground are triggered and a hydraulic piston below the surface of the plate creates a 'kick' movement. The rear of the vehicle then swerves, causing it to start skidding on the adjacent wet performance surfaces.
The kick-plate also makes it possible to simulate at low speeds what happens to a vehicle during violent manoeuvres at higher speeds. The plate's ability to produce varying levels of kick - and therefore skid - means organisations can carry out precise testing of ABS braking, traction control and ESP systems in a safe and controlled environment. "The kick-plate makes Rockingham's Wet Grip facility unique in the UK," commented Rockingham Chairman, Len O' Hagan. "The kick-plate is the only one in the UK and one of only three in Europe.
"This is a fantastic feature that makes our facility first choice for driving training programmes and testing new technologies such as ESP. We have already received excellent feedback from clients using Wet Grip and the kick-plate can only lead to greater customer satisfaction."
The existing wet performance surfaces, together with the kick-plate, now give manufacturers the opportunity to evaluate a combination of driving ability, electronic systems and the effects of physics on their vehicles in the same place, at the same time. Developed in co-operation with MIRA, the Rockingham Wet Grip facility offers unrivalled extreme weather automotive demonstration facilities. The performance surfaces have been developed in line with the latest manufacturer standards and simulate ice, rain, and even the effects of wet leaves. Also unique in the UK are the water walls, which can be randomly programmed with 19 different settings and create the closest possible simulation of a real-life emergency avoidance situation. IT may not be the fountain show at the Bellagio but it's pretty impressive.
We tried the Wet Grip facility with three very different cars; a lightweight Lotus Elise, an all-wheel drive Subaru Impreza WRX and the muscle of a 380bhp Aston Martin V8 Vantage. The kick plate really keeps you on your toes and when the power was wound to the max it would send the little Lotus into unrecoverable 720-degree spins. A little less savage kick would result in long slides that really tested your car control. The Impreza was child's play on the wet surfaces, serving up lazy four wheel drifts that were controllable on the throttle. Whilst this was huge fun it wasn't very demanding. The Aston was the toughest car to master and some of the wet grip surfaces had you tiptoeing on the throttle pedal and sawing great handfuls of opposite lock. Huge fun in other words.
While it would have been nice to see a proper wet handling circle, the Wet Grip facility currently comprises a section of track that you can drive onto from a dry loop, effectively offering a semi-circle of low friction surface. Step out of your vehicle on the wet cobbled section and unless you're wearing decently grippy shoes, chances are you'll end up on your backside. It's that slippery.
While other tracks rest on their laurels, Rockingham has been busy building for the future. If there are better track facilities anywhere in the UK, I've yet to see them.
For more information and video of the kick plate in action visit www.rockingham.co.uk