Address: Snetterton Circuit, Norwich, Norfolk NR16 2JU, United Kingdom
PH: +44 1953 887303
Circuit type: Permanent road course
Snetterton is another of the post-war generation of ex-airfield circuits, emerging to meet the growing demand for permanent facilities in the 1950s and remaining a staple of the British racing scene ever since.
The airfield itself opened in 1943 as RAF Snetterton Heath, providing a home for the US Army Air Force's 96th Bomb Group and its fleet of B-17 Flying Fortresses. The Americans stayed here longer than at most bases, flying food aid to the Dutch at war's end. This longevity is reflected in the statistics; Snetterton Heath lost more than 900 aircrew and 250 aircraft during World War II. After the Americans left in December 1945, the RAF took over for several years, before it was finally deemed surplus to requirements in 1948.
Sensing the opportunity the abandoned runways presented, in 1951 enthusiasts Oliver Sear and Dudley Corman persuaded Fred Riches, who owned most of the land on which the airfield stood, to allow motor racing on the site. Riches, who was the local churchwarden, agreed on the condition that no practice or racing should take place on Sundays between 10.45am and noon, and everything should come to a halt in time for evensong.
The first circuit made use of the perimeter roads and one of the runways to create a fast 2.71 mile circuit. A signature feature was the almost mile-long Norwich Straight, which ran parallel to the A11 road and culminated in a tight hairpin bend. The course outline was marked by sand-filled oil drums, topped rather eccentrically by Christmas trees. The early meetings featured rather primitive facilities and entry to the circuit infield could only be achieved during breaks in track running, due to there being no bridges or underpasses.
By 1965, the first changes were made to the circuit. Speeds out of the final Paddock Corner were becoming a concern and a chicane was inserted, named after Jim Russell, who had established the world's first racing driver school at the circuit in the late 1950s. Unfortunately, the new corner was far too tight and motorcycle racers in particular found it almost impossible to negotiate, so it was eased in 1967. The revised corner was much quicker; a flat-out-if-you-dare kind of affair, which saw you hit the pit lane wall if you got it wrong – and many did...
Elsewhere on the circuit, a former gunnery mound alongside the pit straight was excavated and used to form the approach banks of a new vehicle bridge across the track at the Esses, and there was a general improvement over the years in facilities.
Snetterton remained a temple to high speed during the 1960s and early 70s and despite this, remained relatively safe for the times. One of the major factors in this was the lack of much to hit – grassy fields surrounded much of the circuit, while other areas featured escape roads formed by the old runways.
By the mid-70s, plans were put forward to shorten the circuit. Exact reasons are lost in the mists of time, but it likely was due to the reduced costs of running and maintaining a shorter layout. In 1974 the new short course was created, turning onto the west-east runway ahead of the original Sears Corner, travelling along its length before rejoining via a left-right kink at the Esses.
The initial new short course layout proved problematic, with the speed into the Esses causing concern, particularly since the abutment for the bailey bridge lay in wait for anyone running off course. Following some monumental crashes and the sad death of Formula Ford/Monoposto racer Jon Thorne, a revised and tighter layout was created mid-season to a design by racer Peter Wardle. The track surface began breaking up during its first use and a temporary chicane was inserted as an emergency measure to allow the use of the original Esses by the F5000 cars. By the following year, the surface had been repaired and the new corner layout became a permanent fixture.
The longer circuit, retaining the Norwich and Home straights was used in parallel for a few years more, mainly for testing and motorcycle racing, before finally being abandoned from 1980. It has since become the venue for a popular Sunday market.
The new shorter Snetterton continued to be a popular national racing venue and achieved a British first in 1980, with the hosting of the country's first 24 hour race. With sponsorship from the vehicle hire firm Willhire, the 24 hours became a popular event for production cars, continuing until 1994.
In 1990 Russell Bend was changed again, this time to a chicane type corner. This was closer to Coram Curve than the original Russell Bend and bore a closer resemblance to the 1965 version of the chicane. In a repeat of history, the revision was felt to be too tight and the corner was eased in 1991 to a layout which remained until the end of 2010.
The circuit has undergone a number of ownership changes over the years. Grovewood Securities purchased Snetterton in the mid-1960s, adding it to its portfolio which also included Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Cadwell Park. In 1986, John Foulston bought out Grovewood, and the circuits passed into the hands of the Interpublic Group in the late 1990s. Then in 2004, former F2 Champion Jonathan Palmer's Motorsport Vision Group purchased all of the former Grovewood circuits, ushering a new period of investment.
Under MSV there has been considerable change. New spectator banks and pit and paddock facilities were added, then in 2011 the most radical changes were unveiled, when a multi-million pound redevelopment project was completed. The main developments to the track include a new one mile infield section after turn 2, re-profiled turns 2 and 13, improved spectator viewing and increased safety.
For the first time, three variations of the circuit can now be used, two of them simultaneously. The new 'Snetterton 300' course is the longest and incorporates most of the the original short course plus the new infield. The Russell Chicane has been replaced with a new right-hander, called Murrays, while Sear Corner is replaced by a hairpin bend modelled on that of the Montreal Formula One course. The infield section can be used on its own as the 'Snetterton 100' course, while the 'Snetterton 200' follows the route of the original course, save for the modifications at Sears and Russell.
MSV is hoping to attract international racing back to Snetterton thanks to its new FIA Grade 2 Licence. To date, this has yet to materialise, but the Norfolk circuit remains a popular venue for top level national racing, with headline events for the BTCC, British Superbikes and British GT/F3 each year.
Snetterton Circuit is located in eastern England, 10 miles north-east of Thetford on the A11 from London to Norwich.The nearest international airport is London's Standsted, approximately 65 miles away. Norwich Airport is closer and offers flights to a range of European and domestic destinations.
By road, Snettetton is straightforward to reach. Coming from the south, leave the M11 at junction 9 and follow the A11. From the north or west, use the M11/A11 and join the A11 after Newmarket. The circuit is directly alongside the A11 road.
By rail, the nearest stations are Eccles Road, Attleborough and Thetford stations are on the main Cambridge to Norwich line. Eccles Road is closest at two miles, and is about 40 minute's walk to the circuit.