When Valentino Rossi broke his leg at Mugello last June, he was forced to miss the next three races, the first time he had done so since entering the World Championship back in 1996. The first of the races Rossi missed was the British Grand Prix at the newly restored venue of Silverstone, the track layout modified especially for the return of MotoGP. As a result of that accident, Rossi was the only rider left on the grid who had not ridden at the Silverstone circuit, and as the track counted as new on the calendar, the Italian was still entitled to test there to learn the layout.
Rossi's problem, of course, was that he could not simply turn up at a track day to learn the circuit, as Randy de Puniet did. While De Puniet is a big enough of a star to attract a far bit of attention at a track day, Valentino Rossi's celebrity means that he would never get a clear lap, or probably even a chance to go out and ride.
So a compromise was found, and as it turned out, an ideal one: at the ceremonial opening of the new Silverstone Wing, the brand new pit, paddock and conference center complex, an event attended by a host of racing greats past and present, Rossi joined the festivities and used the occasion to grab three hours of track time on a Ducati 1198SP World Superbike machine. Unfortunately for the Italian, the WSBK machine developed an electrical problem after just 4 laps, and so Ducati, seizing the opportunity, immediately shipped in a 1098 streetbike - complete with license plate, turn signals and mirrors - for the Italian to use while his team worked on correcting the problem with the WSBK bike. In the end, Rossi put in some 30 laps on the two machines, before lapping the track with Formula One driver Mark Webber in the Australian's Porsche GT2 RS.
Below is the Ducati press release from the test, some photos courtesy of Ducati Corse, and the official press release on the opening of Silverstone's rather magnificent looking new Wing facility:
SILVERSTONE WING OPENING
Tuesday May 17 2011
VALENTINO ROSSI AT SILVERSTONE WITH DUCATI 1198
Valentino Rossi joined other great motorsports champions from the past and present in an inauguration ceremony for a new, ultramodern paddock structure at England's Silverstone Circuit. The Silverstone Wing, as the British venue's enormous new facility is called, comprises spacious garages, a media center, offices, and an auditorium, and it will host the seventh round of the MotoGP world championship on June 12.
Rossi, who missed the track's 2010 round due to injury, used the occasion to turn some introductory laps with a World Superbike 1198 and, while that bike was in the garage for a check of its electronics, with a standard 1198 street bike, complete with license plate and mirrors. The Italian greatly enjoyed his track time—about thirty laps in all—as a way to get to know the circuit.
"I really had fun," said Valentino Rossi before leaving for Italy. "After a few laps with the 1198 Superbike, we had a problem with the electronics and decided to use the 1198 street bike that Ducati's UK affiliate rushed to us. I really liked riding that bike here. The track is nice—difficult and very technical. It makes you work hard because there are very fast sections where having the right trajectory is important, and others that are very narrow where you have to have good grip under acceleration. The first turn is completely blind, and you must hold a very precise line, and in general the entire first section is really great, definitely the part I like most. In short, I enjoyed it, especially because there were many drivers and riders who have great histories in motorsports, like John Surtees, who told me that he raced here in the '50s. I wasn't following racing then," joked the Italian, "but he was great."
Launch of the Silverstone Wing heralds an exciting new era for British motor sport
Silverstone Circuits Limited, and its owner the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), today opened the circuit's state-of-the-art new Pit, Paddock and Conference complex – The Silverstone Wing. His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, KG, who is also President in Chief of the BRDC, formally opened the new building that represents the second stage of a multi-million pound investment in the Home of British Motor Racing and heralds an exciting new era for British motor sport.
The official opening ceremony took guests on an evocative journey through the history of Silverstone, including appearances by many of the biggest names in the history of British motor sport. Five of Britain's six living Formula World Champions – John Surtees OBE, Sir Jackie Stewart OBE, Nigel Mansell OBE, Damon Hill OBE and Jenson Button MBE – were in attendance, along with fellow Formula One luminaries, Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Frank Williams, Christian Horner, Ross Brawn, David Coulthard and Murray Walker.
The worlds of MotoGP and World Superbikes were also represented at the launch, by a host of Britain's best riders, including Cal Crutchlow, Jonathan Rea and James Toseland, who showed their support for their home circuit and the stunning new facility.
The ‘show' element of the opening ceremony culminated with a focus on the present and future of Silverstone, which was represented by three current greats of world motor sport. Britain's most recent Formula One World Champion, Jenson Button, was joined on stage by nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, before 2010 Formula 1 British Grand Prix winner Mark Webber brought things to a close by driving his Red Bull Racing Formula One car into The Wing and coming to a stop in the middle of the room.
All of the drivers and riders paid tribute to the impressive new facility, which will host its first major motor sport event, the FIA GT1 World Championship, on 03-05 June. This will be quickly followed by three of Silverstone's biggest events of the year; the AirAsia British Grand Prix (MotoGP) on 10-12 June, the FORMULA 1 SANTANDER BRITISH GRAND PRIX on 08-10 July and the British round of the FIM Superbike World Championship on 29-31 July.
More than 800 guests were at Silverstone to witness the formalities, including the great and good of British motor sport, local dignitaries, motor sport governing bodies, BRDC members and media. Following the opening ceremony the guests enjoyed exploring the new complex, which includes 41 garages, a race control building, a podium, media centre, hospitality and VIP spectator zones.
With three large halls, a conference facility, business centre and a 100-seat auditorium, the Silverstone Wing has also been designed to accommodate conferences, product launches and experiential events, and will be the largest covered exhibition space between London and Birmingham.
"Today was a very important day in the history of the British Racing Drivers' Club and Silverstone Circuit", commented Damon Hill. "The official opening of the Silverstone Wing represents the culmination of many years hard work and gives a clear statement of intent for the future. We are honoured that our President in Chief, His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent, KG generously agreed to perform the opening ceremony.
"Over the last sixty years, under the stewardship of the BRDC, Silverstone has grown beyond all recognition. Silverstone has a significant historical legacy, but we maintain our place at the forefront of contemporary international motor sport, hosting an array of world class events and activities. This is in no small measure because British competitors have consistently led the way at the highest level of global motor sport for over eighty years.
"The BRDC is extremely proud of this new building, but we acknowledge that none of it would have been possible without our superb and exceptional Silverstone team. Silverstone is a cornerstone of our industry and the BRDC will continue to develop the circuit to ensure that Britain has a world class home for motor sport and related technology."
For Richard Phillips, Managing Director of Silverstone Circuits Limited, the launch represents an important stepping stone in the redevelopment of Silverstone. "Building on last year's successful Grand Prix track upgrade, The Wing is another great milestone in Silverstone's history and we must recognise and thank the BRDC for having the insight and vision to invest in to the future of the venue as we continue to expand and diversify the business. This building will not only be a wonderful base for our major race meetings, but has the flexibility to accommodate conferences, exhibitions, launches, banqueting functions and experiential events," said Phillips.
"Silverstone is now one of the best motor sport facilities in the world; and British motor sport has an iconic home that we can all be proud of."
Bernie Ecclestone, president and CEO of Formula One Management, was unable to attend, but sent a message of support prior to the event: "I am very sorry that I am unable to be with you on this important occasion for F1 and the future of Silverstone, but rest assured I have followed all the progress from planning through to the current launch of the Silverstone Wing. The new pit and paddock complex is a state-of-the-art facility and will form the backbone of Silverstone's plans to be a world class facility of its type. I am delighted with the progress and prospects for the future of Silverstone. It is a great shame that it could not have been completed 10 years ago, but well done Silverstone."
John Barrow, Senior Principal of Populous - the design and architecture firm behind The Wing - commented, "This new striking pit and paddock design not only reflects the speed and excitement of racing itself, but it has already become a pioneering landmark and a symbol of Silverstone. We are very proud to have improved one of the greatest circuits in the world and the Home of British Motor Racing."
Click on the following link to view and download copyright free images from the opening of the Silverstone Wing: http://www.flickr.com/photos/silverstonecircuit/sets/72157626585843359/d...
Background information on The Wing
The Silverstone Wing will provide a world-class facility for teams, officials and spectators alike, including 41 garages, a race control building, a podium, media centre, hospitality and VIP spectator zones.
It is the largest conferencing venue between London and Birmingham.
Building and construction figures:
- The Silverstone Wing measures 390 metres in length
- The build programme, from start to finish, will be 54 weeks (end of April 2010, to Spring of 2011)
- Up to 110 personnel work on site at any one time
- Total man hours in the construction phase of the project expected to reach 260,000
- The height of the ‘blade' measures 30 metres
- The roof area spans 9,700 square metres
- 1,200 tonnes of steel has been erected in and around the building
- Approximate floor space for ‘functional areas': 41 garages covering 6,200 square metres; Media Centre covers 2,780 square metres; Spectator and hospitality zones cover 8,200 square metres; Race Control covers 950 square metres