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Classic circuits: Brands Hatch

Submitted by on May 28, 2010

Very few of the world’s modern-day, sanitised, super-safe international race tracks command the sort of respect their tree-lined, blind-summitted, heart-in-the-mouth forbearers once did. Names such as Elkhart Lake (Road America), Mosport, Nurburgring Nordschleife, Rouen and Spa-Francorchamps immediately spring to mind. Add to that list pantheons like Goodwood, Kyalami, Le Mans, Monza, Osterreichring, Suzuka, Watkins Glen and Zandvoort and you’ve already got most fans’ favourite venues.

Another time-warp venue still loved, revered and respected by all who race and spectate there is Brands Hatch. Unspoiled by billion-dollar facilities, massive run-offs and Formula 1-style corporate excess, Brands is an original, big-balls ribbon of bucking, weaving, ducking and diving asphalt in south-east England’s Kent.

In the first video Jack Brabham talks us around a lap of the track. In the second video Nigel Mansell heads for the front row during qualifying in 1986.

The site was first used for military training, before a series of bicycle races was staged on the dirt roads carved out by machinery farming the land in the late 1920s. It wasn’t long before the motorised two-wheeled brigade got wind of the potential to compete, the bikers using a three-quarter mile anti-clockwise loop in the amphitheatrical valley that survives to this day.

Part of the late-1940s post-war improvements to the heavily-bombed site included the paving of the original motorcycle loop in time for car racing to begin in 1950. Thus a British motorsporting institution was born, and it’s a tradition that has endured into the 21st century. Spectators flocked to the new venue, its proximity to London ensuring high-volume and easy access.

The Half-litre Car Club, later to become the British Racing & Sportscar Club, organised all the club-level events (running in a more familiar clockwise direction), but with the 1959 addition of the Grand Prix loop that took cars out into the woods on a plunging and climbing switchback layout, international racers wanted a slice of the action. World championship events for grand prix cars and sports-racers would soon regularly feature Brands on their calendars. Jim Clark’s Lotus 25 won the first world championship F1 race there in ’64 and Phil Hill and Mike Spence took the maiden ‘big enduro’ in their bewinged Chaparral 2F in ’67. There was also the famous 1976 F1 race won by James Hunt and Pedro Rodriguez stunning victory in the wet during the BOAC 1000 of 1970.

Hundreds of exciting encounters in all the key disciplines – single-seaters, sportscars, touring cars, bikes and rallycross – have contributed to Brands Hatch’s rich history. Immerse yourself in Chas Parker’s superb definitive history of the circuit (ISBN: 9781844253340, available at www.haynes.co.uk) for the full experience.

Racing purists like me can’t help but be mesmerised by Brands. The place reeks of history. For almost half a century the biggest legends in two- and four-wheeled racing have tried to tame its fabulous swoops – some successfully, some with tragic consequences. Get there quick if you’ve never been – in case the fun police decide to spoil the place – and you’ll know what I mean.

Henry Hope-Frost

See more Brands Hatch videos: British Grand Prix 1964, British Rally Cross Final 1988, Transatlantic Superbike Race 1987

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Images: 500race.org

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