Scandinavia is hardly awash with racing tracks – or people for that matter – yet somehow the countries that make up the region produce not only extraordinary race, rally and drift drivers but also know what makes an epic racing track. The Rudskogen Motorsenter, home to the Gatebil festivals, has been Norway’s best-kept secret for some time, but in its new incarnation the track is the equivalent of taking all the best bits of the Nürburgring and compacting them into one perfect 3.2km-long ribbon of tarmac.
The circuit snakes its way through the forests and rocks of the Østfold – a suitably rugged backdrop to such an epic track. In a world increasingly over-run with identikit auto-yawn-a-dromes bereft of identity, Rudskogen stands up there with the best and most interesting circuits there are. It’s no ‘Ring copy though: its sweeping corners, dips and twists have their own very unique characteristics, but what it does do is echo the spirit of the hallowed Eiffel Mountains track. This is a place where man was destined to pit machine against nature.
Perhaps surprisingly, the first track at Rudskogen was only laid down as recently as 1990, with the circuit being officially opened by Belgian Formula 1 driver Thierry Boutsen. Plans for a track in the area went back to the 1970s, but it took almost 20 years for the first asphalt to be laid for the original 1.9km layout.
The track is located to the south-west of Oslo, about an hour and a half away from the Norwegian capital, and nestles amongst the pine forests that cover so much of Norway. It’s very much a track that is in tune with its environment – just like the ‘Ring.
In 2006 the Norwegian government decided to invest in a national motorsport centre, and Rudskogen was eventually selected and heavy investment promised – and delivered. The track would be transformed from a basic facility into a fully functioning motorsport centre, with a major extension to the track and off-roading area planned alongside refurbishment of the existing go-kart track.
Just like the main car track, the go-kart layout is immaculately presented and to international-grade – the Rudskogen circuit itself is now licensed to everything up to F1 testing, and a Red Bull F1 car turned some demo laps for the grand opening of the resurfaced and extended circuit. The original plan envisaged two extensions to make a 4.6km-long layout: a final-corners-of-Barcelona-esque opening loop and then a long outer addition that would utilise some of the existing layout. The former was shelved, but the latter built and is now in full operation.
The surprise is that the extension and renovations were overseen by Formula 1 track designer Hermann Tilke, a man whose company has come in for a great deal of criticism for some of the bland tracks that F1 visits. However, it’s easy to forget that he was also responsible for the fantastic Istanbul and Singapore tracks. Tilke is after all a racing driver himself, and he recognised and efficiently exploited the potential at Rudskogen.
The new 3.2km track only opened this year: it literally cuts through the jagged rocks at the south end of the old circuit, with the new opening corners creating a keyhole-shaped section that mirrors the original final complex: a sharp left into a long parabolic right. Walking the track on my visit back in September, the challenge and complexity of the track quickly became apparent.
Looking at a track map only ever tells you so much: experiencing Rudskogen in its rocky flesh is a completely different thing. I mean, it looks interesting… but in reality it is amazing.
The track has been hammered into and out of the landscape, blasting through rock one minute then following natural contours the next, creating a dizzying big dipper of a circuit.
For such a long track it’s actually quite easy to get round on foot because of that compact layout – which is just as well, as there’s no perimeter road and no way you’d get anything motorised over the lethal rocks are strewn around the outside of the armco.
Rudskogen effortlessly combines the best of all worlds: as a racing track it’s almost peerless with a duality of fast straights and hellishly challenging corner combinations, but somehow it also is the best drift track you can imagine. With most drift layouts using a just couple of corners of an existing race circuit, Rudskogen is on a different level.
It’s like the five best drifting courses in the world linked together by four straights. House of drift? Rudskogen is a temple of drift!
The starting point on the paved pit area is built up above the level of the main straight: there’s a dramatic drop on the other side of the pit-wall fencing, hiding the steep rise to the first corner.
The track’s compact nature is apparent here, where the pit-lane exit runs parallel to the main straight and the complex of corners halfway round the circuit reaches to the other side of the straight’s barriers.
Tracks should have first corners which are challenging: it’s a good way of laying down a marker and reminding drivers just who’s in charge. Like Paddock Hill at Brands Hatch or Tarzan at Zandvoort, Rudskogen’s first corner demands respect.
It comes at the end of the long 640-metre straight: so, plenty of time to build up speed and plan your braking. The question is the method of your entry. As with so many corners at Rudskogen, there’s the chance to link up huge parts of the track in single drifts – but more than a chance of it all going very, very wrong!
Similarly, if you try and take a fast racing line the first corner can catch you out.
The problem is the apex: a super-fast but deceptively tight left-hander after that uphill braking phase, with a big fat kerb backed by the worn-away dirt creating a furrow on the inside.
It’s a sure-fire car catapult. Hook a wheel here and the whole car gets thrown into the air; sometimes a few inches, sometimes a whole lot more seriously.
Anyone taking the racing line risks the wrath of turn one: it’s all too easy to spin out here and a very quick way to end your lap. Then there’s the issue of the looping right of turn two: you need to hold it together to make the inside of the corner or risk leaving yourself wide open to undertaking moves.
The pit-exit feeds in to the left of the track, allowing joining cars to run around the outside of the corner after turn one and hopefully avoiding any of the potential carnage on the inner run-off.
But you can see here the utter joy of Rudskogen’s corners and how they appeal to all kinds of car: turn two keeps going on forever, allowing glorious tyre-shredding drifts to be initiated whilst grip cars desperately try and keep themselves pinned to the racing line.
This is also one of the favoured places for photographers to do a run-of-death across the track: there are no bridges or tunnels, so the only way to get across is to make a run for it. All sanctioned by the officials – as long as you make it…
There is nothing flat about Rudskogen. Every corner arcs up or down, tightens or opens – there are simply no disposable corners! It reminds me of Spa, or the Brands Hatch Grand Prix track and Cadwell Park in the UK, but in even more extreme guise.
As turn two finally reaches its end and opens out, the track continues to rise in front of you.
This is where your first chance to nail the throttle comes in. Drift gone wrong? Never mind, use all those horsepowers underneath the hood to light up the tyres and fire down to the next section. Guaranteed smile-on-face.
This whole new section has been literally carved out of the rock: you can follow the jagged faces parallel to the track, jumping between ledges and looking down on the cars below.
As with the corners, it’s the same with straights. There are straights that are properly straight, but then they’re combined with unholy gradient changes.
Halfway down this one it looks like you’re about to drop off the edge of the world…
The track falls away dramatically, providing the first of many skyline opportunities of cars two and three abreast blasting over the horizon at full chat.
The following corner is another big, long, lazy loop, providing that dual opportunity of massive drifts for the tail-out brigade or challenge of fighting wash-out for those chasing lap-times.
The entrance is heavily downhill and fast, cars hugging the kerb on the left…
…before heeling over to catch the inside apex on the right.
If your name is Kenneth, by this stage your tyres are in tatters and you’ve drifted into Sweden.
The long corner dips in the middle before rising up to the final part of the new extension. Acres of run-off tempt you to run wider and wider…
The track continues to tighten even more to the right, creating a near 270-degree turn. Here you can see the return run back down the hill on the right – the original short track hung a right before the current turn one and ran what is now the uphill section in reverse, chasing downhill before making a diagonal across this image to join the left and right sections.
So this uphill right joins what was part of the original track coming back towards us.
Almost the entire inner complex can be linked up in one enormo-drift by the best of the drivers: the v-shaped cut in the valley spends most of the day wreathed in collected smoke.
The section of Rudksogen resembles the Suzuka Esses in profile, but with the right-left-right-left combination handed the additional challenge of all being uphill and with difficult cambers.
As with many corners, you have to expect to pop over a brow and find someone facing towards you more often than not…
The final uphill left yumps up and over into another long left that drops away quickly to meet the level of the main straight.
It’s easy to get wrong on entry…
…and just as easy to get wrong on the exit.
The track has J-Lo proportions, with extra width in all the right areas. Here the track is doubly-wide, allowing all sorts of lines into the following narrowing funnel.
This is the last part of the new extension, but nothing can ever be simple at Rudskogen. Even as you’re coming through the final part of the left loop…
…you’re having to set the car up for the shallow right that leads into the chute down to the hairpin.
This is the second of three rollercoaster skyline opportunities, with the cars cresting the brow and then hammering down the steep hill.
The speed of entry allows some spectacular angles, though the limited run-off here makes it more risky than in other places. The rescue truck covering this section was doing a brisk trade all weekend.
It’s a great place to spectate though, with three streams of cars visible as they simultaneously smoke it up away, towards and then away from you again.
With the hairpin defining where new rejoins resurfaced old, drivers then punch out of the exit and uphill yet again – there is a 42-metre elevation difference around the track.
Skyline opportunity number three!
The following left is a super-fast curve that tests anti-roll bars to the limit if you’re pushing hard.
Then the car needs to be brought back in line to take a shallow right braking zone for the next challenge.
This 90-degree left opens on exit but is narrow and has, like the new turn one, a vicious kerb to tackle.
The difficult entry makes the lap-time cars unsettled even before they make the corner: four-wheel drive will always help here to get you out of trouble.
The following straight, next to new pit buildings for the well-stocked racing school at Rudskogen, disappears rapidly despite being longer than it appears. It’s the only part of the track where a straight is in any way normal!
This then heralds the finale to the track: the parabolic last turn and the chance to link up insanely long drifts from entrance to exit. It’s also the location for the Breissladd drift competitions.
With spectator banks lining the outside of the track, the smoke collects and settles in this natural amphitheatre.
Then there’s just a final thing to do: plant your foot to the floor and make a frenzied run through the traffic to complete the lap, dropping down with the pit-wall on your left before choosing your braking point for that first turn. A couple of minutes of non-stop driving heaven.
I’ll leave you with a breathless lap around the track in a howling lightweight Shortcar fighting its way round on the grip line. It’s quite a ride!
2 places in my bucket list that will never be out of it: Ebisu and Rudskogen Motorsenter. Period. Nice article.
"he was also responsible for the fantastic Istanbul and Singapore tracks" You meant Malaysia maybe ?
Jonathan, is that shot of the "lethal rocks" a panorama stitch or a single shot? thanks and great write-up.
Im a GT-R fan myself, shame I didnt see any, but that green Supra with the black rims looks insane! great colour combo...
Really great article and pics, of a great track!!! Just one little thing, Rudskogen is located south-east of Oslo, not south-west ;)
this has to be one of the cooles vids of the rudkogen track
Damn, i really miss article like this. About circuit. Hoping to see more in the future! *^*b