A unique problem almost ruined Rockingham’s Champ Car debut
When the Champ Cars came to Rockingham in September 2001 a new word entered our motor racing lexicon: the ‘weeper’. Definition: when moisture seeps through a track to create damp patches, equating on an oval to the sensation of driving on black ice. Not good, then.
For the first two days of what was supposed to be practice, the teams and drivers sat on their hands. There were no showers, but still the track ‘wept’ as moisture from earlier rainfall rose through a surface that was far too porous in its construction. A fundamental error was threatening to turn Rockingham’s debut into a farce.
I remember it well, because my editor at the time, Laurence Foster, had roped my colleague Tim Scoff and I into joining the commentary team as roving pitlane reporters. Being writers and not broadcasters, we weren’t happy especially as we had a lot of ‘dead airtime’ to fill. With nothing else happening, we interviewed anyone who moved. Roberto Moreno was collared three times in one day because when we asked him a question, he wouldn’t stop talking…
At night, it got worse. Foster had found us an all-American motorhome on the infield to sleep in. Great except the organisers spent the night trying to dry out those damn weepers with giant jet blowers. It was like trying to sleep at the end of a runway. On race day, there was a collective sigh of relief. No rain and the weepers had dried out. They managed just a few exploratory laps before lunch, then the field lined up for a shortened race. After all the nail-biting, what a spectacle. Gil de Ferran and Kenny Brack baffled all race long, with de Ferran stealing the win on the run to the flag. The four-corner 1.5-mile oval was super-fast they hit speeds of 215mph despite short straights and relatively shallow 7.9-degree banking and overtaking was difficult. It split driver opinion down the middle, but what the hell: America had come to Corby and it was brilliant. DS