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Published on April 25th, 2013 | by Michael Taylor


Local History: Brands Hatch By Michael Taylor – Crowborough

Superbike rider Shane Byrne steers his motorcycle on to the grass to avoid careering into a fellow rider and, with only three laps to go, James Ellison overtakes to claim the 2013 chequered flag. Thus ends another exciting day of racing at the world famous Brands Hatch.

Thrills and spills such as these have been captivating motor racing fans since 1926, when a Kentish farmer agreed to allow the construction of a race track on his land. Back then, the races were predominantly between motorcycles and on grass; tarmac arrived in April 1950, around the same time that cars made their Brands Hatch debut.

The track was originally a kidney-shaped loop, marked out in a natural dip in the land that makes for good viewing from all angles. In 1953, one of the turns was tightened resulting in the world-famous Druids’ Hairpin that has vexed many a rider and driver over the years. Indeed, to make the racing safer, a ‘no spin’ policy was introduced. This meant that any driver spinning out during a race received instant disqualification in a bid to make the racers take things more slowly.

Brands Hatch was then widened to make car racing more comfortable and, in 1955, a grandstand was built that was Britain’s first ever permanent spectator building at a racetrack. Following a decision to start racing clockwise in 1954, Brands Hatch was beginning to find its feet. However, it needed something more. The track at this stage was 1.24 miles long and had a good reputation but, to really make Brands Hatch a big player on the international stage, it needed to be extended so it could host a full Grand Prix. As a result, a left hand turn was created at the end of the Cooper Straight that scythed a new strip of tarmac through the fields, rejoining the original track at Clark Curve. The original course is still in use and is known as the Brands Hatch Indy track.

The extension saw its first race in 1960 and, at double the length of the Indy circuit, was ready for its inaugural F1 Grand Prix in 1964, with Jim Clark taking first place. For the next 22 years Brands Hatch alternated with Silverstone as Britain’s F1 venue, which added to its already impressive list of past riders and drivers: Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, Ayrton Senna, Graham Hill, Nigel Mansell, Jensen Button and the legendary Barry Sheene have all raced and won at Kent’s favourite race track.

Since Silverstone’s dominance in F1, Brands Hatch has arguably fallen back on to its heritage: motorcycle racing is once again the circuit’s mainstay, but truck racing, NASCAR and historical races all take place during the season.

Regardless of how many wheels the machines have, when the sun shines and the engines growl into life, there really is no better day out in Kent.

For more information, see www.brandshatch.co.uk

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