Focus: Apex Circuit Design

In this feature we will be covering the work of Buckinghamshire based company Apex Circuit Design. We spoke to Apex’s Director & Consultant Designer, Ben Willshire, who gave us an insight into the background of the company and what is involved in the circuit design field. Initially setup as a satellite business in 1997, in 2006 Apex was established as a full time business by current Managing Director Clive Bowen. The company designs circuit facilities to FIA, FIM and CIK standards and works with architects, engineering consultants and financial advisors – to ensure they create motorsport circuits with commercial viability in mind.

Motorsport appears to run in the blood of Apex employees, as they all hold MSA FIA racing licenses and the company has its own BMW M3 trackday car. This close contact to the race track is obviously beneficial for the business. MD Clive Bowen raced in national karting championships in the 90s, owned and ran a Formula Ford team and spent six years at West Surrey Racing where he was part of the management team. Ben Willshere was a race engineer for a number of teams and is a British MSA Superkart Champion. Consultant Designer Martin Baerschmidt formerly competed in a Renaultsport Clio Cup car and now competes in the Middle East GT Championship driving an Aston Martin V8 Vantage.

The first circuit designed by Clive Bowen was the Dubai Autodrome, which opened in 2004. At the time, Clive was working as part of the management team at West Surrey Racing team and then established Apex in 2006 to work on the Iceland MotoPark project. In the space of a few short years, Apex has been involved in a number of projects. Each project brings its own challenges as Ben describes:

“Each project has its own challenge whether that be trying to design a circuit within a limited footprint or trying to engineer a circuit on unstable or wet ground conditions. One particular project, the KNA raceway in Norway, is located in the mountainous region of Sokndal. When built, the circuit will be iconic as it lies 900m above sea level and is literally in the mountains, with over 70m deep of fill material required to form the race track surface. Fortunately there is a quarry next to the site, which makes this a viable project since transporting this amount of rock from off site would never be commercially viable.”

The process of circuit design includes a number of stages, on which Apex offer their services.

  1. Vision Plan
    Vision Plan is an initial design for a project site which occurs prior to commercial feasibility modelling. The purpose of a Vision Plan is the client with a tool to prepare a business plan and to generate an estimate of the likely construction costs. Circuit design(s) are developed incorporating the latest sporting safety guidelines with the aim of extracting a material quantities estimate report which are essential for determining the likely construction costs.
  2. Commercial Feasibility
    The process of testing the financial feasibility of an early design proposal, such as a Vision Plan, in order to build a credible business case and a design strategy for the next phases of the project. Apex work with various internationally renowned business consultants, such as KPMG, to prepare financial feasibility studies which calculate potential project return on investment by evaluating the estimated construction costs, project phasing, estimated circuit revenue and facility operational costs.
  3. Master Plan
    The aim of a Master Plan is to provide a comprehensive set of guiding instructions for use by the client to inform potential investors, local or government authorities and other stakeholders of the project elements. It also acts as a blueprint for future work as the project progresses through the detailed design phases.
  4. Homologation Design
    Each circuit that wishes to host national/international events needs to meet circuit safety and function guidelines laid out by parties like the FIA, FIM and CIK. The FIA, FIM and CIK require the submission of a formal drawing dossier for design review  so that conformance checks against the guidelines can be undertaken. It is recommended that a design dossier is prepared and submitted at an early stage via the project’s local regulatory representative for approval by the FIA, FIM or CIK as applicable, thereby eliminating the risk of costly remedial works during the detailed design or construction phases. Apex prepare a dossier to submit which contains a number of drawings specifically required by the motorsport authorities, which makes the assessment process as efficient as possible. Each dossier package includes a detailed 2D circuit plan, a 3D circuit centreline, a circuit long section, track cross sections, runoff areas, barrier locations, marshal post locations, service road layout and motorsport building floor plans. In addition, a design report is provided to support the dossier that describes the design approach, as well as undertaking an in-house 3D analysis to assess marshal and race control sight lines.
  5. Detailed Design
    The objective of this stage is to provide drawings and design documentation suitable to engage a local contractor for constructing the facility.
  6. Project Management
    Apex provide ongoing project support services in the form of regular site visits and remote support to the client, contractor or local engineering team during circuit construction. Site inspections with supporting visit reports are essential to review the circuit and facility infrastructure development against the design proposals and against the motorsport regulatory requirements.
  7. Operational Support
    Apex work with internationally renowned circuit operators, race teams, series promoters, organisers, race drivers and motorsport engineers to develop appropriate circuit operation manuals which outline critical information and operating procedures for new or existing circuit operators.

The FIA set particular parameters when designing Grade 1&2 circuits. A number of the newer F1 circuits are designed by Tilke Engineers & Architects. Neutrals have criticised aspects of those circuits and I asked Ben whether he believed it was a result of the strict parameters put upon potential designers by the FIA.

“Although circuit design revolves around engineering, there is also a lot of subjectivity which surrounds the design and, as a result, it could be expected to recieve both praise and criticism when a new circuit is opened. At Apex, we try to work with as many drivers and stakeholders as possible so that each of our circuits has a different characteristics, whilst maintaining the Apex ethos of using the natural landscape to create an exciting and safe circuit”

A number of circuits return to Apex for additional work to be carried out.

“We maintain good working relationships with our clients, a lot of whom often become good friends. Since it is often the case that motor racing circuits are built in phases, Apex are sometimes engaged to undertake design work in line with this.  For example, the Hampton Downs circuit are now considering their plans to extend the existing 2.7km track to a 3.8km circuit, which was part of the original design proposed by Clive Bowen and we’d hope to be involved with this process. Similarly, we completed a master plan and feasibility study for expanding the Eastern Creek International Raceway in Sydney.  A few years later, the Australian Racing Drivers Club re-approached Apex to investigate the potential for a smaller extension, which we successfully designed and it was subsequently constructed and opened in 2012.  The circuit is now re-branded as the Sydney Motorsport Park”

While the majority of Apex’s work is done overseas, the company has some live projects in the UK. Apex had previous involvement involving master planning and track design consultants for Silverstone and undertaken work for the proposed Circuit of Wales project. The company also has a close relationship with Kent kart circuit Buckmore Park, who they aim to help with their expansion plans.

With improvements in computer technology, Apex use their own in house simulation models using real race car data to validate the design from a race driver and safety perspective by reviewing the speed profiles of various racing cars and reviewing the required run off areas.

“We then use 3D visualisation tools to build circuit models so that clients can see a virtual animation of the proposed circuit, which is often helpful for identifying marketing opportunities and also seeking race driver feedback. Computer software is so powerful and cost effective these days – it has the ability to help visualise a project without spending a single penny on construction”

Apex Circuit Design are an example of the skilled workforce working in the British motorsport industry and with their project work overseas, are an example to other companies.

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