Brands Hatch Circuit
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- Circuit length:
- 2.623 miles/4.221 km
- Circuit type:
- Permanent road course
"Why the authorities spend millions of pounds trying to turn Silverstone into a great circuit when we have one already in Brands Hatch is a mystery to me."
So says Murray Walker, and who would argue? Rated as one of the finest driver's circuits to have graced the motor racing calendar, Brands Hatch is thankfully little changed from its classic format.
The origins of the circuit lie with a group of cyclists, led by Ron Argent, who paused to stop by a mushroom field on the London-Dover road after a 125-mile tour in 1926. Used for many years for military training, the field belonged to the nearby Brands Hatch Farm. Noticing the bowl-shaped contours of the land, the cyclists asked the farmer if they could use it to practice on. He agreed, and for several years the field became a Mecca for cyclists in the London area, who used the dirt roads carved out by the farm machinery.
For two years, little else happened at Brands Hatch (the name is thought to derive from 'de Brondehach', a Gaelic term: 'Bron' meaning wooded slope; 'hach', literally entrance to the forest). Argent and his friends used it at weekends and a small cafe was set up in a converted army hut for the cyclists and their families to take a well-earned rest in.
The first race proper was an unusual four mile match race between cyclists and cross-country runners in 1928. The runners, perhaps surprisingly, won - although, admittedly, they did have the Australian world champion Jackie Hoobin among their number.
Motorcyclists ventured onto the track occasionally, patiently waiting for the cyclists to finish but it wasn't until the end of hostilities in World War Two that Brands Hatch became serious about its motorsport. Used during the war as a military vehicle park, the circuit was subject to numerous bombing raids and needed much work to get it back up to scratch.
The finest grass circuit in the country, complete with terraced earth spectator banks, soon sprang up under the supervision of Brands Hatch Stadium Ltd, which formed in 1947 to run the circuit. The rise of 500cc F3 cars made surfacing the circuit imperative and this was duly done in 1950, with a course resembling the current Indy circuit, minus the Druids loop.
Gradually, Brands Hatch began to emerge as a real race track. Telephones were installed in the marshals' posts and the central control and a small, well-equipped field hospital was added. Unusually, the circuit also boasted a high-capacity, continental grandstand along the central straight, purchased in the early months when Northolt racecourse closed.
Both motorcycle and car races were now being held, but there was little scope for expansion with further investment and extension of the circuit. This began in 1953 with the addition of the Druids loop and the switching of racing to a clockwise direction. Pits and further spectator banks were added in 1954.
The sale of the land to Grovewood Securities in really speeded things up, under the guiding hand of John Webb, put in charge of Motor Circuit Developments, managers of the track. The circuit began to turn a profit and in 1959, the Grand Prix loop was constructed. The burning ambition of Webb and MCD was realised in 1965 when the circuit hosted the British Grand Prix for the first time. Thereafter the race alternated with Silverstone and witnessed a number of thrilling battles, with victories from Clark, Brabham, Siffert, Rindt and Fittipaldi.
Safety had always been an issue at Brands and during the winter of 1965-66, Paddock Hill Bend acquired a fearsome reputation, claiming the lives of George Crossman, Tony Flory and Stuart Duncan. The death of Jo Siffert in 1971 led to major safety works and new pit buildings and grandstands appeared the following year.
Business continued as usual until 1986, when the F1 GP was staged for the final time. A multiple startline collision seriously injured Jacques Laffite (fellow driver and eventual Brands owner Jonathan Palmer, a qualified doctor, was among those coming to his aid) and the expanses of Silverstone seemed more appropriate to the authorities.
Since then Brands has carved out a reputation in F3000, then as the spiritual home of Superbike racing. Further circuit changes were effected following Johnny Herbert's fearsome crash in 1988, with the chicane at Dingle Dell added and Westfield Bend tightened, a fate that has since befallen Graham Hill Bend. New pits were also added in the late-1990s along with an impressive corporate hospitality centre.
Latterly, upgrades have taken place following the short-lived arrival of Champ Cars, with new spectator fencing added on the Indy circuit. Elsewhere, the chicane at Dingle Dell was removed and a new corner added, named after Barry Sheene.
Having been sold to the Interpublic Group, the Brands Hatch group of circuits (comprising the Kent venue, Cadwell Park, Snetterton and Oulton Park) found themselves under new ownership once more at the end of 2004, when the MotorSport Vision group formed by Jonathan Palmer took over.
A programme of general updates under MotorSport Vision's ownership have meant that Brands has never looked better and were richly rewarded with international-standard events on the WTCC amd DTM calendars in 2006.