I never knew gravel was so interesting as a topic for deep discussion. But at Silverstone on Saturday evening, after the screaming 580-horsepower supercars had been silenced, stripped down, cleaned and rebuilt ahead of tomorrow’s second day of FIA World Rallycross Championship action, EKS Audi Sport's Mattias Ekström educated me otherwise.
Gravel is important to the Swedish star and his rivals. They spend each race dancing their hugely powerful four-wheel-drive rallycross cars from grippy asphalt sections to loose dirt surfaces and back again, many times over the course of a race. They need to recognise how much grip those little particles of stone, sand and dirt are going to offer.
“The gravel here at Silverstone is not like Swedish gravel,” says Ekström. “British gravel is like a clay and concrete mixture, rather than sand. When the Silverstone gravel gets wet it is so slippery, but when it is dry it is very grippy like asphalt. If I was a billionaire, I would give Silverstone a present of some Swedish or Norwegian gravel.
“There is a huge difference in the gravel at the WRX circuits. At the moment the German track [Estering] probably has the best gravel sections in the world. There are a lot of small stones. Sap from the trees over the track means it can get a bit greasy, but for drivers, that is the gravel.”
This weekend’s event marks the first time Britain’s round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship has been held at the new ten-turn track at Silverstone. The racing on the 0.6-mile circuit is wrapped up in a festival named Speedmachine, which features music acts, circuit hot laps, E-Sports, retro car exhibitions and a collision of smokey, spicy smells from the concession stalls, some selling some fairly brutal-looking meat products.