Clive Bowen – Founder and Director of Apex Circuit Design Ltd., invites us into the workrooms of his company.
To sum it up, at Apex we offer more than just a circuit design capability; we take a holistic approach to our projects and look not only at a track but what is needed around it. We look at things in commercial terms, environmental terms, sustainability terms and in terms of the visitor experience as well. When designing a track we analyse every small detail from drainage across the whole site to what TV camera angles could be and we have developed some very special tools to allow us to do that. We encourage all our staff to hold a racing license and to actively take part in motorsport, this gives every member of my team a clear understanding of the user experience at all levels.
The most important thing is to enhance the visitor experience. Our focus when we are zoning a destination, or even upgrading an existing destination, is to create an experience that will encourage people to buy property. It’s not just about having a great design of toy barn or weekend lodge, its also the need to nurture the feeling for property owners that they are part of a club, have great views and are near other like-minded folk. We look at things associated with those properties so that, in addition to circuit views and access, there are other amenities to keep the rest of the family entertained with things like play parks for the kids or tennis courts, swimming pools, restaurants, retail or even a spa. Often there will also be a hotel. You then end up with a fairly conventional country club model, not a new idea as it has been done all over the world in other sports like golf and sailing and of course in the US the motorsport country club is a thriving industry.
The difference with our design philosophy to the US model is that our focus is also on there being credible motorsport on track as well as track days for club members and a full mix of commercial land uses.
Our focus when we are zoning a destination, or even upgrading an existing destination, is to create an experience that will encourage people to buy property.
When conceiving an entertainment destination, retail is something you would put in even without high-end property; a race circuit acts like a magnet in the same way many other major sporting venues do. A few years ago a developer of factory outlet centres said to me that he wished he had a crèche for men at each of his outlets! There is no better definition of that than a motor racing destination, so there is a real synergy between a shopping mall and racing circuit and with the right retail offer you have a way of attracting couples or families to stay much longer than they would otherwise at ‘just’ a track.
Changes and shifts
A few years ago a lot of our work was for developers who already had land which required planning consent for change of use to increase the value of that land and our master planning services were much in demand. We now realise that not all of those developers had the intention of developing for motorsport, though many of them have done so and in recent times we have seen a shift towards construction projects. These can be relatively small like Bushy Park in Barbados, or larger scale like the Zhejiang Racing Circuit in China, but almost all of our projects are similar insofar they include high end residential, retail and commercial land as part of the development proposition.
Another area of growth for us has come from car manufacturers wanting to create their own brand experience centres where they can show off their products. Three years this was a new arena for us, but now we working on a number of new destinations, some of which have since been built. Automotive brands are also looking at improving or building new R&D facilities for new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, automatic parking, lane change and braking and this is a growth market for us.
Technology is changing how we work; for some years we have been simulating what we do, it started as a pure motorsport activity but we recruited a young engineer, coincidentally also an Olympic oarsman. He wrote our first Matlab programme for us and then went on to get Silver at the Beijing Olympics in the men’s eight. He came back to two job offers, one from McLaren and one from us, unfortunately for us he chose McLaren and is now Jenson Button’s performance engineer.
Inside and outside Formula 1
I think the motorsport industry needs to be looked at regionally; I think that South East Asia, India and Latin America are all huge growth markets for our type of work. Russia is a strange one as its motorsport industry develops in fits and starts, at the moment its in a bit of a dip – excluding preparations for Sochi of course – but the sport and industry has every reason to grow in that country. People forget that in Europe motorsport is very evolved and in the UK alone we have 18 recognised race circuit destinations. For comparison, China, Russia and India combined have fewer than the UK, so it is fair to say that is where people should be looking for growth.
There is often a focus on Formula 1 with our clients when we are first contacted, which is fine if you are a developer or promoter with deep pockets and are well connected with the regional tax and marketing infrastructure to allow you to capture the benefits that Formula 1 undeniably brings. Outside of Formula 1 one can bring a more pragmatic lower cost approach to developing the sport and industry. One significant benefit of designing to a lower category is that the regulations for Grade 2 and below have a different requirement for rate of change of grade than for Grade 1 (F1) circuits. This means that you can enhance crests and dips and you introduce more direction change over a shorter distance generally.
The way you sequence corners for a Formula 1 car relates to the speeds involved and means that when everyman drives a lap on a modern F1 circuit he thinks to himself ‘what was so exciting about that?’ Put everyman in the same car around the Nurburgring, Brands Hatch or Oulton Park and he’d be thrilled. We aim to achieve that same excitement from our circuits by introducing relatively complex grade and direction change so a driver feels more G at lower speeds and feels closer to the limit of performance, yet contained within the modern safety infrastructure we all expect today.