Australia’s motorsport mecca is in the midst of a major facelift, with the island’s hallowed 4.445km race circuit being treated this week to a two day, $3 million resurface to create the smoothest, fastest race track in the world.
The Victorian circuit, which already produces the fastest average speed lap in world championship motorcycling, is set to get even faster in 2013 with the new track surface. The resurfacing operation involves over 5000 tonnes of asphalt being mixed on site in a huge batching plant, and transported at a scorching 172 degrees trackside. In June, engineers used a high tech three dimensional laser survey to profile the track to within 3mm and last week, 40 mm was milled off the old surface.
This week (Tuesday/Wednesday) over 35 heavy machines and 70 contractors are involved in a massive logistical operation that sees five metres of track laid every minute.
It is the track’s first resurface in 14 years and Andrew Fox of circuit owners, the Linfox Property Group, believes the circuit will emerge as “smooth as a baby’s bum”.
“There’s nothing better than having the best race track in the world and the drivers and riders racing here with such excitement on their faces,” said Andrew Fox of circuit owners, the Linfox Property Group.
“I can say this very politely. This surface is as smooth as a baby’s bum and I’ve got five kids, so I know it’s as smooth as a baby’s bum!” Fox proclaimed when checking out the new surface.
The asphalt is a “secret” Phillip Island mix, developed by the circuit managing director, Fergus Cameron in conjunction with construction group Downer Australia, to achieve the aim of a hard, durable and smooth surface resistant to the pressures of racing.
Mixing aggregates, sands and binders, the new asphalt is very fine in appearance, but the big change from the previous resurfaces of 1988 and 1998 is the use of a special polymer modified binder and the installation of a massive plant on site to ensure the asphalt is prepared and laid within minutes.
“The asphalt mix will remain our secret Phillip Island recipe,” said Cameron. “All I’ll say, is it is designed to make the cars and bikes go faster.”
The circuit which is used 300 days a year for racing, testing and ride and drive days should have a ten year life span and is designed to satisfy the needs of riders and drivers.
While the likes of world superbike’s Max Biaggi and MotoGP’s Casey Stoner hitting speeds of over 320 kph heading down the island’s iconic Gardner Straight, the V8 Supercars also give the place a serious knock. While the cars clock a top straight speed over 280 kph, they are faster than the bikes through the corners, applying added stresses to the track.
“The track has to be resistant to the pressures of cars, yet maintain the smooth surface that’s imperative for the fastest bike racing in the world,” said Cameron.
Due to the special binder, the circuit has to invest in the installation of a massive batching plant to allow the asphalt to be mixed on site. The plant was shipped to the island last month in nine over-sized low loader trailers and covers the entire TV compound and support paddock.
“If we had to haul the asphalt over a long distance , this binder would settle in the mix. The binder was imperative, so we had to have a plant producing within metres of the track and churning the asphalt out hot, to be laid within minutes,” said Cameron.
“The plant is huge and not normally installed to surface a mere 4.4 km piece of road. But this is no ordinary strip of road, and the investment in the plant and the asphalt mix shows how critical each metre of resurfacing is and how committed we are to getting the perfect surface.
“Safety is number one, and the character of the surface plays a large role.
“And for riders, drivers and fans we want to continue to deliver the world’s fastest racing so this track needs to be the smoothest on the planet.”
The resurfacing is a logistical undertaking of impressive proportions, with the raw materials being deposited into huge hoppers in the batching plant, and then transferred along conveyor belts into the plant’s “mixing bowl”.
The asphalt comes out at 172 degrees, and is taken by truck the 100 metres or so to the track where it is transferred to a shuttle buggy.
From the shuttle buggies, the asphalt is deposited into two giant pavers which lay the material, followed by a steel roller and a rubber paved roller that compress the surface to a perfect finish.
The two pavers work in echelon, only 20 metres apart, to ensure there is no middle join in the circuit. They pave on average five metres a minute starting on Gardner Straight, through each iconic corner including the high speed Doohan Corner, the recently named Stoner Corner, out to Siberia, up through Hay Sheds and over Lukey Heights.
The circuit will be ready for racing for January’s Island Classic for historic bikes and then in February will host the world superbike riders for final pre season testing and the 2013 opening round on February 24.