3.220 miles / 5.183 km Grand Prix Circuit with alternative layout2022 onwards
Unknown Intermediate Circuit2022 onwards
Unknown Original GP Circuit2022 onwards
2.534 miles / 4.086 km Original GP Circuit with alternative layout2022 onwards
Unknown Original Circuit Short2022 onwards
The Igora Drive (Russian: Игора Драйв) complex near St Petersburg, is the latest modern circuit facility to spring up in Russia and perhaps its most impressive. Boasting an FIA Grade 1 circuit with multiple layout variations, alongside karting, motocross, rally, ring and winter driving courses and conference facilities, it is a massive undertaking which could transform motorsport in the surrounding area.
Built to impressive specifications to a design by F1 favourite Hermann Tilke, the track has had international aspirations from the outset and was announced as a host to the FTM and W-Series for 2020, only for those plans to be thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic.
It had been set to host Formula One from 2023 onwards, receiving an extension and various other upgrades ahead of time, however the 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia lead to the cancellation of the contract, leaving Igora Drive to host domestic competitions only for the foreseeable future.
Little detail has been released about the project's origins and in its initial operations was relatively unheard of outside of Russia, which is somewhat surprising given its scale. One of the largest investors in the project is billionaire Yury Kovalchuk, the main owner of the Rossiya Bank and a close ally of President Putin. It forms part of a wider sporting complex which includes the Igora Ski Resort, reportedly a favourite winter location for the Russian president.
According to Business Petersburg, the Igora track has cost about 11 billion rubles ($192 million), though it is not known how accurate that figure may be. Nonetheless, it does look set to be a lavish complex, with Hermann Tilke employed to design the whole facility, complete with trademark 'statement' architecture.
The main circuit layout bears more than a little resemblance to Tilke's Motorland Aragon design, though this may be no bad thing, as it is one of his more successful designs which promotes good racing. It does also have a reasonable amount of elevation change - certainly more than the initial aerial photos suggested.
Construction began in 2016 though it wasn't until 2018 that the outline of the circuit really began to emerge from the earthworks, alongside some of the circuit buildings. Sadly, a serious accident occurred during May 2019, when a large concrete beam which formed part of the main grandstand collapsed onto workers below, injuring a number and resulting in a criminal investigation being opened for alleged safety rules violations.
Nevertheless, construction continued apace. The top layer of asphalt was laid in mid-July, with electronic and timekeeping installations to follow alongside completion of the pit and paddock buildings. By September 2019 the circuit was complete, ready for its opening ceremony attended by, among others, the governor of St. Petersburg, Alexander Beglov, and Alexander Drozdenko, governor of the Leningrad region. More than 100 guests, among them many media representatives from Russia and neighbouring Finland, were also present.
Guests of honour were DTM stars including 2019 champion René Rast (Audi) and his colleagues Philipp Eng (BMW) and Daniel Juncadella (Aston Martin). At the ceremony, a deal was unveiled for Igora Drive to host the DTM from 2020 onwards. It was to have marked the return to Russia of the touring car series for the first time since outings at Moscow Raceway between 2013 and 2017. It was also to be the first confirmed international event for the new circuit.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic put paid to these plans, with Russian national series in the meantime the mainstay at the circuit.
That was set to change in 2023 with news that is that the circuit was to take over as host of the Russian Formula One event. While there was speculation that this was on the cards as early as December 2018, when FIA President Jean Todt visited the construction site, it seemed somewhat premature given the relatively modest infrastructure surrounding the circuit at that time. However, in June 2021 it was announced that Sochi's contract to host the race would end three years early, with the promoter switching the event to Igora Drive from 2023.
While the circuit had already been granted an FIA Grade 1 license in 2020 (upgraded from its original Grade 2 certification), track bosses decided an extension was required in order to provide better options for overtaking for the Formula One cars. In summer 2021 work on a 1km extension began, with a new loop added to the end of the lap, extending the two main straights and providing some sweeping corners which head up and down a 12% gradient.
In addition to the track extension, work also increased the venue's pit and paddock facilities, including adding several garages for F1 teams. The renovations brought the circuit length up to 3.220 miles (5.182 km) for use from 2022 season onwards.
Unfortunately for Igora Drive the international political fall-out of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia led to Formula One terminating its contract for the Russian Grand Prix, meaning that the category is unlikely to ever compete on the extension that was created for it. The circuit therefore will have to make do with hosting only Russian domestic racing for the foreseeable future.
Outside of racing, the circuit has a full programme of track day, driver training and manufacturer testing days, while the north circuit wraps itself around a semi-circular car museum, featuring everything from a James Bond Aston Martin DB5 to more home-grown Volga GAS-21.