CIRCUITS: BRANDS HATCH

Name: Brands Hatch

It was back in 1926 that a group of cyclists on the main road from London to Folkestone noticed a natural amphitheater on land belonging to Brands Hatch farm, near the village of West Kingsdown. After discussions with the local farmer it was agreed that the field could be used for bicycle racing and time trials. Within a couple of years motorcycles had begun to use the dirt track and a three-quarter mile circuit was laid out in the little valley. It remained in operation throughout the 1930s but it was not until after World War II that a proper organization was established. That came with the formation of Brands Hatch Stadium Ltd. in 1947 and later that year the organizers convinced the BBC to film motorcycle races to be transmitted on the new television network.

In April 1950, with a new tarmac surface and extended to a mile, the track opened for car racing with 500cc Formula 3 becoming the mainstay of the racing calendar. In 1953 the Universal Motor Racing Cub was established and a racing school was set up at the circuit. The following year the track was lengthened to 1.24-miles - with the addition of the hairpin at Druids Bend - and widened and the racing changed direction, the track having previously been anti-clockwise. A grandstand, acquired from the Northolt trotting track, was added in 1955. The Le Mans disaster that year was to provide a boost to Brands Hatch as many of the rival postwar tracks were closed down because they were not safe enough.

Brands Hatch managed to keep up with requirements and in 1956 hosted its first Formula 2 race with victory going to Roy Salvadori, who was in considerable pain having broken several ribs in a crash in an earlier sportscar event. There was a second F2 race a month later which was won by Colin Chapman driving one of his own Lotus 11s. A third F2 race at the end of the season established Brands Hatch as a serious racing circuit although it was obviously too short to attract any major international events. As a result the track authorities applied for planning permission to build an extension through the woods behind the track. The Kent County Council agreed and the new track hosted its first major race in August 1960 with victory in the non-championship Silver City Trophy F1 race going to Jack Brabham in a Cooper-Climax.

The following year the circuit's press officer John Webb negotiated the sale of Brands Hatch to Grovewood Securities. He was put in charge of Motor Circuit Developments, the company which took over the management of the track. Major upgrading followed with new facilities added and new circuits acquired by MCD, including Mallory Park (1962), Snetterton (1963) and Oulton Park (1964). In July of that year Brands Hatch hosted its first World Championship F1 race, the RAC having agreed to alternate the British GP between Brands Hatch and Silverstone.

From the earliest days Brands had a number of fatal accidents, but in the winter of 1965-66 Paddock Hill Bend in particular had acquired a dreadful reputation, for within a matter of months George Crossman, Tony Flory and Stuart Duncan were killed there and two others were seriously hurt. The death of Jo Siffert in October 1971 would lead to major safety work in 1972.

In the 1970s Brands Hatch played an important role in the development of Formula Ford and in 1976 took over the running of the Formula Ford Festival. Two years later Brands Hatch hosted a race featuring Indycars, imported for the occasion from the United States of America. Webb's abilities as an organizer even enabled the track to host the 1983 European Grand Prix at 10 weeks notice after the unexpected cancellation of the New York GP.

The last British GP at Brands Hatch was held in 1986 with victory going to Nigel Mansell in a Williams-Honda. That year John Foulston bought Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Snetterton from Grovewood Securities and established a new company called Brands Hatch Leisure. The following year the company bought Cadwell Park but tragedy struck when Foulston was killed while testing a McLaren Indycar at Silverstone. BHL was taken over by his widow Mary Foulston, although John Webb remained in charge until his retirement in 1990. The running of the group was then taken over by Nicola Foulston.

Without a Grand Prix Brands Hatch concentrated on Formula 3000 but a huge multiple accident in 1988 raised questions of safety again and by 1991 the F3000 circus turned its back on the track. Nicola Foulston was unperturbed and continued to develop BHL as a business. In 1996 she floated the company on the London Stock Exchange.

This was a big success and Foulston began to make preparations for a bid for the British Grand Prix. In 1999 she announced that she had acquired the rights to hold the race in 2002. Planning permission was sought for rebuilding work but while this was still being discussed Foulston sold the company to Octagon Motorsports for $195m. Octagon failed to get the planning permission wanted and eventually did a deal to lease Silverstone so as to run the British GP.

Print