What goes around... comes around!

The banking at Brooklands as it is today

They say there's nothing new in motorsport but it still comes as a surprise to many that Europe's newest motor racing circuits, Rockingham and the Lausitzring, are not the trailblazers for oval racing that they may think.

In many ways, while we describe the USA as being the home of oval racing, its birthplace was actually right here in Europe.

The world's first purpose-built motor racing circuit was an oval - built on a marshy piece of country estate in Weybridge, Surrey, by a wealthy English industrialist who wanted to establish a venue for British cars to be tested and raced.

Brooklands was constructed over the winter of 1906 and opened for racing in June 1907, beating Indianapolis Motor Speedway by two straight years (those who argue the case for the Milwaukee Mile at Wisconsin State Fair Park are quite right in celebrating the start of auto racing there as 1903, but this was on a dirt surface which was only paved as recently as 1954. The venue began life in 1897 as a horse racing track).

Remarkably ahead of its time, Brooklands featured fearsome banking, separate road courses (replete with chicanes!) and a hillside test circuit, all within confines which allowed 'the right crowd and no crowding'.

Map of Brooklands

The brainchild of Hugh Fortescue Locke King, Brooklands went from strength-to-strength, holding numerous speed record attempts, the very first British Grand Prix and a host of 500-mile races.

By the 1930s, however, Brooklands had to share the limelight with Crystal Palace and Donington Park but it was war that finally sounded the death-knell for the circuit. Taken over by the Air Ministry, the circuit found a new role with the establishment of the Vickers and Hawker aircraft factories, which spent the war churning out Hurricanes and Wellington Bombers.

The end for racing came when a section of the Byfleet Banking was removed to allow traffic inside the circuit confines more easily and large sections of the track were disguised from German bombers by planting trees in the concrete.

When hostilities ceased it was clear time had not been kind on the 40-year old concrete. With a hefty repair bill proving insurmountable, the circuit was sold to Vickers Armstrong in 1946 and the Brooklands Owners Club found a new home at Silverstone - ironically itself a wartime airfield.

Further indignities came in the 1980s when areas were reclaimed as car parks and later office space, while the Members Banking now ends sharply, sliced away by a supermarket - although it has at least been done in such a way as to emphasize what little is left.

Today, part of the site - including historic sections of the banking and the one-in-four test hill - is preserved and maintained by the Brooklands Society, which should hopefully keep the developers at bay.

Part 2: The 1920s: heyday for European ovals >>

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