It’s late February and a group of journalists has congregated on a chill morning to witness the unveiling and shakedown run of the latest Benetton Indycar.
The Brooklands-based team’s new signing Jenson Button is at the helm and he reports that he is pleased with the car after 20 minutes of leisurely lappery. His 245mph best is 15mph shy of a competitive speed, but he is confident that there’s plenty more to come. The Indy 500 is to be his season’s priority, but of course he hopes to shine at the five rounds of the CART series held in Britain — one of which is scheduled for the latest oval to spring up, Rockingham. Of these races, the most prestigious is the Jim Clark 500, which will have its 35th running at Brooklands, the world’s fastest track, in July.
Just imagine if Brooklands had reopened after the war instead of the above being a flight of fancy. Would British motorsport have had an entirely different look? Probably. In its heyday, Brooklands was a tad isolated and extremely specialised. But as communications shrunk the world, its natural link with American motorsport could only have strengthened, making it a stepping stone into Europe for this brand of racing.
Okay, I’m extrapolating quite hard here, but to visit Brooklands is to instil a sense of wonder. The scope of the Outer Circuit bowls you over. That it was built 94 years ago by 700 men inside of nine months makes the huffing and puffing generated by the construction and ultimate ruination of the Dome seem even more absurd.
Scrabbling up the Members Banking, one makes a mental note: John Cobb — brave man. When he set what would become the track’s lap record in perpetuity with the Napier-Railton, rumour had it that they had to massage his forearms before he could let go of the steering wheel. I don’t know if this is correct and, in truth, I have not checked my facts because, even Wit’s a racing myth, it really ought to have happened.
Brooklands was a place for real heroes that was perhaps denied its greatest years — but which was great nevertheless. Let’s hope that Rockingham picks up the oval baton and proves that our lack of a such a track has been a gaping hole that should not have taken 72 years to fill. It would appear that this brave venture is going through some growing pains (Matters of Moment, page 4), but so did Hugh Locke-King’s dream — and that became Brooklands. Rockingham are adamant they will meet their 2001 deadlines (including their Historic festival) but, in truth, the proof of their pudding will be those difficult third and fourth years, when the newness has worn off. So it’s important that you give it your support — be part of the right crowd and get crowding.