Tilke racetracks: how to design a circuit

What makes a great race track? Is it a factor in the design of the circuit, in its integration into the surrounding landscape, or is it an accumulation of testimonies from internationally renowned pilots? Or maybe all three?

To answer these questions, we spoke to Dr Carsten Tilke, Managing Director of Tilke Engineers & Architects, the elite German company tasked with building today’s FIA-certified F1 and MotoGP race tracks. To get some perspective from the driver’s side, we’ve also gathered feedback from 2016 F1 champion Nico Rosberg, as well as former F1 and Le Mans driver Tiff Needell.

Since Carsten’s father, civil engineer and former racing driver Hermann Tilke established the company in 1984, Team Tilke has designed or revised 19 Formula 1 tracks including Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Circuit of the Americas, Fuji , Hockenheim, Istanbul, Korea, Nürburgring, Sepang, Shanghai, Sochi, Valencia and Yas Marina.

“The bulk of requests for F1 track construction come from governments, who still want their circuit to be designed and built within a certain time frame to coincide with their first top international race,” said Carsten Tilke. “On a fixed date, we have to meet their requirements, which may include a request to fit into a certain area or terrain, or a capacity of 70,000 or 100,000 spectators. Tilke says, however, that the design needs to be changed quickly if the customer suddenly wants to run F1 and MotoGP races. “As soon as motorcycle racing is added to the mix, we need to add larger areas of runoff with gravel traps to help slow motorcycles and racers when they go out at high speed. Pure F1 tracks or private track customers are happier to just have asphalt clearance areas that don’t penalize errors.

According to Tilke, customers want great track design and exciting turns, combined with state-of-the-art facilities. When asked what it takes to make an exciting turn, he replies: “Such a turn requires good fluidity and elements that challenge a driver. For example, Eau Rouge at Spa is a full swing for F1 cars, but still requires perfect timing. In contrast, GT3 and production cars and motorcycles must lift and balance their machines through Eau Rouge, which is actually three bends. But what is important is the exit speed of the third corner, because if you don’t maintain your highest speed here, you will be passed at the end of the next straight.

Another turn that Tilke presents as a recipe for creating exciting turns is the high speed turn 8 in Istanbul. This includes four left turns that force drivers to balance their car perfectly in all turns. As Nico Rosberg puts it: “You have to make a direction entry and hold it, so you’re actually creating a radius on four vertices. This allows the car to travel at its highest possible speed.

Tiff Needell adds: “I love the Eau Rouge at Spa and Madgwick at Goodwood, but there is maybe no more difficult circuit than Monte Carlo. If we are talking about a series of turns, I would add the approach to Massenet, as this long left turn takes you to the left of the track – just past the door of the Hotel de Paris – from where you turn. right at a late summit and pull yourself over the ridge and start this epic dive to Mirabeau. Such exciting turn sequences can define a track, and their essence is what track designers strive to incorporate into new designs.

Private sector

“Creating memorable F1 tracks is our main goal, but we also like to make private tracks,” says Tilke.

“Just as my team is excited to design a new F1 track, we also take so much pleasure when we are offered big terrain and interesting topography with ups and downs combined with a frame. Magnificent.

“One private club circuit that we are currently working on is the Magarigawa Club, just southeast of Tokyo, Japan.” Opened in 2022, this private track is 2.17 miles long and has 22 turns with 79 meters of vertical drop.

Magarigawa is built by car dealership Cornes Group Ltd and is not designed for running races, allowing Tilke’s team to look into more extreme aspects, such as those found on the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany. “If you don’t have to comply with F1 FIA regulations and don’t have very high speeds, you can add smoother cornering combinations and asphalt exits that won’t damage the cars if they’re leaving, “he said. said.

While requests for F1 track design are now less, Tilke is receiving more and more invitations to design private tracks such as Magarigawa, Bilster Berg in Germany and Monticello Motor Club near New York. He was fascinated to see the new design of the Escapade skates at Silverstone, but explains that we will see more and more private tracks and special facilities like skates being built for the super rich as it becomes more difficult to ride. supercars on public roads due to increased performance and increased traffic.

“One important aspect is that these facilities have a good business model and are financially viable, so they will certainly thrive,” Tilke adds.

In the same way that more and more people are actively looking for horseback riding sites, Tilke believes that in the near future, when we are surrounded by self-driving cars, there will be more and more people who want to go for a run. tracks, like Bilster Berg and Magarigawa, to drive their cars, as these facilities will be the only places where sporty driving will be possible.

Almost on track

After trying the Magarigawa track planned by Tilke on a simulator for myself in Tokyo, I have to say this circuit tests a pilot, and significantly.

As I pushed a Lamborghini Huracán to the max on the simulator, it was obvious that Tilke’s team had created a difficult technical track. There is a delicate hairpin that requires three changes of direction in less than three seconds, several blind turns uphill where you can only see the sky and trees and, in the spirit of turn 8 in Istanbul, a triple very difficult right.

As former F1 driver Tiff Needell said after seeing a virtual hot lap: “The last sector requires real focus.”

Needell argues that Tilke may include too many wedges in some models. He’s happier with a place like Goodwood, which has six corners. “All are different and stimulating, and they allow overtaking,” he adds.

What’s your favorite race track? Let us know in the comments below …

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