On the road... with Ed Foster

Snetterton gets Palmer touch

Motorsport vision boss has used racing experience to help revamp track

Jonathan Palmer admits that the £3.5 million revamp of Snetterton is a bold move. However, the chief executive of MotorSport Vision — the company that owns and runs five UK circuits including the Norfolk track — expects to recover the capital cost within 10 years.

"It was a big spend for what is essentially a club circuit," Palmer tells me, "but I wanted to transform Snetterton from something that had a couple of challenging corners and two long straights into one of Britain's prime circuits. Not unjustifiably it had a reputation of being on the scruffy side and now it will be one of the top venues in the country. I think we're going to achieve that, and if we don't, it will be mostly my fault!"

So what exactly has been done? Rather a lot... Not only is there a whole new infield section — bumping the lap length up to just short of three miles, hence its new name `Snetterton 300' — but parts of the old track have been modified, the entire lap resurfaced and the paddock area extended to 20,000sq ft.

"We've tried to keep as much of the old circuit as possible," continues Palmer. "I've kept the classic corners that everyone loves like the Bomb Hole, Coram and the Esses, but I loathed the old Russell chicane. It was an abomination of a corner because you used to clatter across it, it wasn't a good overtaking point and it looked a mess.

"I also wanted to get rid of Sear because that was just a mess of concrete and it wasn't a challenging corner in its own right. What's more, it wasn't a good overtaking point because if you went down the inside there, you'd definitely get nailed down the Revett straight.

"The whole reasoning behind this was I decided that race circuits, much like hotels, shouldn't be left for decades on end in the same way. I also had a gut feeling that we could enhance the feel of the circuit for spectators and competitors by evolving what was there."

Palmer may be applying for an FIA Grade 2 licence that allows the circuit to host any race meeting bar Formula 1, but he says the main aim is to simply attract more people. "We want more people on the track and more spectators, but not particularly more events. We don't necessarily want to attract major international events, because as any honest UK circuit owner will tell you, they're not successful business models. The club racers are very important to us and I think they're going to really appreciate driving on a much more interesting track."

Palmer actually designed much of the new layout (far left) himself with help from GP2 team iSport's simulator. "I enjoy it — I was a driver, and having designed much of our Bedford Autodrome circuit I've got a pretty good idea of what should be good."

Every corner has been looked at individually and has been built not only to be challenging, but also to allow overtaking. Having driven the track it's clear that Palmer has succeeded — the various straights followed by wide hairpins certainly offer more chances to make up a place than many F1 tracks.

So what's next on the list? Oulton Park, Cadwell Park or Brands Hatch? "As I said, circuits shouldn't just be left alone," says Palmer, "but revamping a circuit may mean sorting the facilities and not altering the track. At some places — like the Brands Hatch GP circuit — you really wouldn't want to be touching the layout. There are a couple of aspects at Oulton Park I'd like to change, and a few at Cadwell, but you have to do it carefully and in phases."

It's a relief that Jonathan Palmer is keen to spend money on these UK circuits, as without regular cash injections we wouldn't be so spoilt for choice when it came to doing a track day, competing in a race meeting or going to watch one. I personally think the new Snetterton 300 is a huge improvement, but if you want the definitive answer on its success go and try it yourself. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Isle of Man TT film preview
Documentary-style piece follows riders on the road

I was recently invited to the preview of a new film about the Isle of Man TT race. The movie is due for general cinema release on April 22 and I would on urge you to go and see it.

Instead of using actors and a script, the film was made by simply following the action during the 2010 event and using historical footage. If you've seen videos of this incredible race before you'll know just how breathtaking and mad it is. The documentary-style piece follows crude but hilarious rider and truck mechanic Guy Martin as well as fellow competitors John McGuinness, Ian Hutchinson 1 and Conor Cummins. Don't miss it.

Bentley opens its design doors
Car manufacturer is lifting the lid on 'no go' design department

Just before heading to the Nurburgring (see page 104), I took the Motor Sport Lotus Elise up to Bentley HQ in Crewe.

The 350-mile round trip was worth it because Bentley has launched a new exhibition called An Unbroken Line, which follows the design of the new Continental GT from its inception to the finished product. It's relatively easy to do a factory tour at the company something I highly recommend even if it's only to see the fork, which could have been taken from your school canteen, being used to space the stitches on the steering wheels but the design process has always been very closely guarded.

Of course, this new exhibition doesn't give away any future secrets, but it does take you through the painstaking process that is car design. As you walk from the first drawings, concepts and computer renderings to the full-size clay model and finally on to the finished product, you get a great insight into what goes on behind the scenes.

The exhibition has been very popular with new and existing customers, students and the general public. "I think a lot of people are finding it interesting," says Breff Boydell (below), senior interior designer at Bentley Motors Ltd, "because it's an area of the factory people aren't usually allowed in to. On factory tours visitors get to go in almost every area, but styling has always been a 'no go'. In fact, we don't usually even point out where it is and you certainly wouldn't see it.

"A lot of people are very interested in the whole artistic side as well. People don't necessarily understand it, as it's not something you get to see unless you have been lucky enough to go into a design studio before. Also, the way we do things is quite bizarre in that we still build full-size clay models and people are preffy shocked to find that out."

The exhibition is open from Monday to Thursday for customers and on Fridays for the general public, although you do need to book in advance by e-mailing publictours@bentley.co.uk.

Indycar ace joins Roary
Sam Hornish is latest star voice to join animated series

Many of you will have heard about children's TV show Roary the Racing Car. Sir Stirling Moss and Murray both involved in the series Walker are in the UK and if you've got children (or grandchildren) between the ages of two and five I'm sure you'll have sat through an episode wishing the programme was around when you were that age.

The show which has already aired in 110 countries worldwide has broken into both the USA and Canada with the help of three-time lndycar champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish.

The Ohio driver has taken on Sir Stirling's job as main narrator for the animated series in the US and had the unenviable task of recording the first 52 episodes in one day. "I thought it was a great thing to do," he says. "I realised when I started recording it how much my kids would like it. I get a lot of feedback from fans when I'm signing autographs who say 'I heard you on Roary, my kids love it!' It hasn't got to the level of (children's TV programme) Sponge Bob Squarepants yet, but it's amazing how many people know about it."

If you haven't already heard the current NASCAR driver in action, then tune in to Treehouse TV in Canada and Sprout® in the USA. He's just recorded the second series so there'll be lots of opportunity.