Motorcycle Track Guide: Rockingham

Built as an Indy-style oval, with an infield track grafted on as an afterthought, join Niall Mackenzie for a lap of the east midlands track

Along with every other motorsport fan in the UK back in 2001, I couldn’t wait for the opening of the fantastic new £60 million pound Rockingham Circuit near Northampton. As I drove in I was blown away with the acres of parking behind the state-of-the-art grandstands, the hospitality suites and media facilities. But I had one look at the international circuit knew it would never work for bikes.

Mating infields to oval circuits lined with concrete walls has never worked. I’ve ridden at Daytona, Lausitzring and Homestead, all quite exciting in a scary way, but no fun and definitely dangerous. I’m glad Rockingham is surviving but I was gutted at the opening and still am today. A Valencia type facility would easily have fitted the space available and probably cost less. It is not a complete disaster however, and while it may not be in the UK’s top ten, the shorter (1.7m) national circuit I’m about to talk you round is still fun, quite challenging and most importantly very safe.

The Rockingham national circuit might not be an all-time classic but it’s great facility for teaching and learning track skills. It incorporates some great slow and fast corners, a few changes of elevation and if you’re after getting your knee down for the first time I couldn’t recommend anywhere better.

The surface is good and is also stupidly grippy in the wet. If we had no other options in the UK I’d be happy to ride there every week – but we have, so I don’t. Every time I cruise in through the main gates and see the imposing Tri Oval grandstands I just can’t help thinking how good this place could have been.

Sector One

You might just get into 4th gear on this short straight before instantly shifting back to 3rd for the right-hander of turn one. This corner is faster than it first appears so you’ll probably find you’re braking too hard, slowing yourself down too much until you get a few laps under your belt. The pitlane exit is a good starting point for a braking marker but also try to get into using the entire track on the entry as this will help open out the corner on the exit. Not rushing in is important, as you want a clean exit onto this fast 4th gear straight that bends slightly right all the way round to turn three.

I love this next tricky, right/left/right section – very satisfying when you get it right. Being ahead of the game is the key, so get your body position shifted to the right early, as you’ll then be set up for turning in. Then you should have a gentle squeeze on the brakes while backshifting to 3rd gear as you turn in. Also at this point you should be easing your body back into the middle of the bike as this will help you through the following left. As soon as you’re over the crest and through the left kink you should then be back on the right side of the bike for turn four. All of this comes up and is over in a flash but if you react quickly for the upcoming corners you’ll easily make up time on the riders ahead.

Sector Two

You’ll approach turn four in 3rd gear but will also be accelerating all the way through using all the track on the exit before peeling right into turn five. I might not be revving out in all the gears, but I shift to 4th gear to settle the bike over this rapid bumpy section then wind the throttle on as I straighten up and get to the edge of the track ready for some hard braking into turn six.

This 90-degree right is the slowest corner on the track and will normally be 1st gear. But get your bike upright and off the edge of the tyre as I’ve seen some classic highsides out of this one. You’ll be into 2nd gear as you head up the rise to exactly where you want a nice late apex to keep you tight to the right on the exit.

Sector Three

I like to shift up to 3rd on the exit of turn seven as the next three consecutive lefts make mid-corner gear changing tricky. I peel into turn eight from the very edge of the tarmac, clipping the apex and heading straight back to the outer edge on the exit. I then do exactly the same at turn nine but for turn ten I find a much later turn-in point works best – and for two reasons.

This is a fast, grippy corner but it’s easy to run through it fast and be too wide on the exit. When this happens you have to make a big effort to get back to turn eleven which is the final 2nd gear right. The other reason for squaring it off is you’ll spend less time on the extreme edge of the tyre so you can accelerate harder and more safely.

Sector Four

Whatever your decision from turn 10, a wide approach to turn eleven is best before coming back and tight to the apex. You can actually drift into the pitlane entry as you drive onto the final straight but keep your wits about you while doing this as it’s oh-so-easy to run out of tarmac.