‘Failure is not an option’: Behind the scenes at Snetterton Race Circuit
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
The roar of an engine and the thrill of racing is what Snetterton Race Circuit manager Jamie Hopper lives for. Reporter MARC BETTS met him for a tour of the track.
Snetterton Race Circuit has been a feature of the Norfolk countryside since 1951 when racing enthusiasts Oliver Sear and Dudley Corman convinced the landowner to start allowing motor racing on the Second World War runways.
Over the years the circuit has welcomed many famous drivers including Ayrton Senna, Martin Brundle and Kimi Räikkönen, with the track being a staple in the Formula 3, British Touring Car and British Superbike calendars.
At the heart of the track is 53-year-old Jamie Hopper, who has been involved with the circuit for the past 22 years.
Being used for racing or testing 279 days of the year, Mr Hopper has to make sure it is always ready for action.
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"Failure cannot be an option for us", Mr Hopper said. "If we are expecting 20,000 people through the gate we can't say on the Sunday morning 'can you come back next week?'
"We have to be prepared for the weather - any failures of facilities have to be overcome. Our customers are demanding, pay quite a lot of money and expect what they pay for which is not unreasonable."
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Work never stops at the circuit with a host of improvements being made during the 12 week off season. On average around £13,000 a month has been spent on the track, in various forms, since Motorsport Vision (MSV) took over in 2004.
A major improvement in recent years was the creation of a new section of track which extends the length of the circuit to 2.96 miles. This has allowed the track to host more intense racing.
Mr Hopper said: "We have different configurations - we can run effectively with a one mile, two mile and add them together to create a three mile circuit.
"The SN300 [three mile circuit] is used for racing the most and at MSV we designed and built it ourselves at the end of 2010 for the following season.
"It was a 20 week build that we completed in 12 weeks because that's the only time we had.
"That was a real boost, bringing life back to the circuit. It's made the events we host busier because the length of track has allowed us to race more things at the same time.
"The paddocks get busier with more competitors turning up, and it protects some of the race series that were starting to look elsewhere."
Despite Snetterton Race Circuit being a popular spot for fans and British racing championships, it has a long way to go before Formula One makes a home in Norfolk.
"Formula One is called a grade one event so you have to have a grade one license from the FIA," Mr Hopper said.
"We have a grade two license meaning we can do everything expect Formula One.
"Motorcycles are different and whilst the track would be capable, the infrastructure here wouldn't.
"Silverstone for example, which hosts Moto GP and Formula One, is a 700 acre site whereas we are 200 acres. We'd be parking people in the fields from here to Thetford."
But the track has plans for the future with an area of land at the site's entrance earmarked for development.
He added: "We haven't quite worked out what we want to do with it.
"We have ideas for hotels, engineering units and retail related to motor racing and performance driving, rather than retail as in food shops."
Visiting the track and hearing the engines roar is great experience for fans of any age. Mr Hopper said that the location of the track adds to that magic and provides a boost to the economy.
"Norfolk is a fantastic county," he added, "I absolutely love it.
"We are probably one of the largest employers in the area welcoming around 200,000 visitors every year.
"Guest houses, hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and takeaways - we generate a lot of business for them.
"We are a tourist destination even on days when we have cars testing we have members of the public come in to see what is going on.
"It is almost certainly a boom for the county, we have such a history here, we are definitely part of the furniture."
The dangers of motorsport
With high speed racing comes high risks.
Snetterton Race Circuit provides its own medical team during testing events and is increased throughout race weekends.
Jamie Hopper, circuit manager, said: "For racing we will have a large team as there are more opportunities for it to go wrong.
"We are not just looking after those on the circuit but all those in the paddock and the public.
"Our paramedic here is well regarded and we have a good system in place with three paramedics during testing with fire trucks, and a couple of ambulances.
"On race meetings just for the crowd we will have eight or nine doctors then a medic on every corner of the track, and six ambulances ready to go."
The circuit also trains medical staff.
"We have medical training days," Mr Hopper added. "We need trauma specialists so we provide a lot of training for Norfolk and Norwich Ambulance as on a day to day basis they don't get experience of trauma."
Snetterton as a family destination
Alongside the major British Superbike and British Touring Car championships, Snetterton Race Circuit hosts a number of races.
Circuit manager Jamie Hopper said it can be a great day out for the family and even if a race is not taking place, members of the public visit the track to see what is happening.
He said: "The entertainment highlights this year kick-off with the British Formula 3 and GT championship in May.
"If you like your supercars, Lamborghini, Ferrari, McLaren and Porsches that is the event for you.
"My personal favourite of mine is truck racing which we have in September. It's a real family event with the sounds of the trucks and smell of burning rubber.
"The trucks are just smoke and fire breathing behemoths of five tonnes of trucks that can accelerate quicker than the supercars."