Bedford Autodrome

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Circuit Overview

A paradise for thrill-seekers who want to get the best out of their own vehicles or for those wanting the change to get behind the wheel of some high-powered racing cars, Bedford Autodrome has been carefully crafted with speed and safety in mind.

The impressive facility is spread out across a 384-acre site on a former World War II airfield. With more than five miles of track and multiple different layouts to choose from there's something to suit every car and driver taste.

Whether attending as a guest as part of the PalmerSport events or enjoying a track day, Bedford Autodrome is one of the best places on earth to drive fast cars to the limit.

Circuit History

The brainchild of former Formula One driver Jonathan Palmer, Bedford Autodrome opened in 1999 with the specific aim of providing a safe environment for novices while also giving those with more experience behind the wheel a proper challenge.

After searching for a suitable site to make his dream a reality, Palmer found his ideal spot in the runways and service roads of Thurleigh Airfield, near Bedford. Built as an airfield for Bomer Command in World War II, it was transferred to the United States Army Air Forces on 9 December 1942, who flew Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft out of it for heavy bomber operations against Nazi Germany.

Post-war it was expanded to become the Royal Aircraft Establishment, a research centre for supersonic flight, with several wind tunnels established on the site (and still in use today). Thurleigh led world aviation development in many areas including aircraft control and handling, supersonic transport development (Concorde) and military vertical take-off and landing (Harrier).

It later became part of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency until all operations were consolidated at Boscombe Down in 1997. The site was then split, with the southern portion becoming the Thurleigh Business Park, complete with the main runway which is today used as a storage site for vehicles. 

The northern portion of the site contained a museum to its wartime exploits (worth a visit in its own right), several of the ancillary runways and service roads of the former airfield. Flat and with lots of land available to develop further, it was ideal for Palmer's purposes.

A leasehold deal was struck and work began to build Bedford Autodrome, making use of some of the existing road and runway network but with the latest in track laying techniques to provide a quiet and smooth purpose-built circuit. It was deliberately designed to never hold racing, allowing it to have as few barriers as possible, with large flat areas of grass being the worst the lies in store for an errant car.

As a consequence, the circuit also has no spectator facilities - indeed a very strict no spectator policy is in operation and under-16s are not permitted as there is no viewing area for them.

Otherwise, however, facilities are first class, with well-equipped hospitality areas at each end of the main pit lane. There is a separate briefing room which also houses the restaurant. Around the course there are other hospitality areas and suites, which service the various track layouts; the Williams Suite caters for the East Circuit, the Nardo Suite for the North Circuit, while the Le Mans Suite is available for the South and SEN layouts.

Star of all of the configurations is the 4.2 mile GT or Gran Turismo Circuit layout, which is mainly used for car track days. However, such is the scale of the facility that multiple layouts can be used simultaneously for different activities. The South West configuration is used by the BRDC F4 Championship drivers in testing, while the 2.3 mile SEN layout is Evo magazine's favourite for car testing.

PalmerSport, meanwhile, makes use of the West Circuit for its fleet of F3000 single seaters and Palmer Jaguar JP-LM sports prototypes; the South Circuit for its BMW M2 Competitions; the East Circuit for Caterham 7 Superlights and the North Circuit for its Renault Clio Cup cars.

Over the years there have been various layout tweaks, mainly to the western end of the circuit. The South Circuit was extended slightly in 2003, whereas the West Circuit has had more substantial changes in the Turns 7-8-9 area, first in 2004, then again in 2008 and finally in 2015, which also saw the elimination of a section of armco barrier when the earth bank was moved further away from the track.

The most substantial change has come to the North Circuit, which was extended and fundamentally re-modelled in 2008. All in all, only the East Circuit has remained in exactly the same configuration since the facility opened.

In 2009, Palmer's Motorsport Vision acquired the freehold of not just Bedford Autodrome but a further 415 acres of the former RAE Bedford. This has enabled MSV to develop and operate its own CAA licensed airfield, Bedford Aerodrome, utilising a 1000m concrete runway to accommodate some business jets as well as MSV's own King Air B200 turboprop 9 seater aircraft.

Today, Bedford Autodrome continues to flourish, welcoming over 12,000 PalmerSport guests each year, plus hundreds of car and bike trackday participants. The concept has proved so successful that MSV is now set to repeat the formula at another former military airfield at Laon in northern France.

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Circuit info

Bedford Autodrome, Thurleigh Airfield Business Park, Bedford MK44 2YP
+44 1234 332400
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