Circuit Overview


"Why the authorities spend millions of pounds trying to turn Silverstone into a great circuit when we have one already in Brands Hatch is a mystery to me."

So says Murray Walker and who would argue? Rated as one of the finest driver's circuits to have graced the motor racing calendar, Brands Hatch is thankfully little changed from its classic format.

Now under the ownership of Jonathan Palmer's MotorSport Vision outfit, today the circuit's headline international event is the GT World Series, while the British Touring Car and British Superbike Championships remain major crowd pullers. A full programme of club racing, testing and promotional days mean that Brands is as busy as ever.


Circuit History


The origins of the circuit lie with a group of cyclists, led by Ron Argent, who paused to stop by a mushroom field on the London-Dover road after a 125-mile tour in 1926. Used for many years for military training, the field belonged to the nearby Brands Hatch Farm. Noticing the bowl-shaped contours of the land, the cyclists asked the farmer if they could use it to practice on. He agreed, and for several years the field became a Mecca for cyclists in the London area, who used the dirt roads carved out by the farm machinery.

For two years, little else happened at Brands Hatch (the name is thought to derive from 'de Brondehach', a Gaelic term: 'Bron' meaning wooded slope; 'hach', literally entrance to the forest). Argent and his friends used it at weekends and a small cafe was set up in a converted army hut for the cyclists and their families to take a well-earned rest in.

The first race proper was an unusual four mile match race between cyclists and cross-country runners in 1926. Rather surprisingly, the runners won, although they did have the advantage of having Australian world champion Jackie Hoobin among their number...

The first motorcycle races proper were still informal affairs, with organisation by the competitors themselves, but gradually grew in sophistication. By 1932 the Bermondsey, Owls, Sidcup and West Kent motorcycle clubs joined forces, hosting their joint meeting in March of that year. The course was laid out on the grass by markers, with a wooden scoring and timing shack providing race control.

From grass track to asphalt

Racing continued in this fashion alongside cycling events throughout the 1930s until the outbreak of war, when the military took over the site as a vehicle park. During the hostilities it was subjected to numerous bombing raids and needed much work to get it back up to scratch.

The finest grass circuit in the country soon sprang up under the supervision of Brands Hatch Stadium Ltd, which was formed in 1947 to run the circuit. It achieved a small slice of history that year when manager Joe Francis persuaded the BBC to televise a race - a first for British broadcasting.

It was car racing, however, that resulted in Brands Hatch becoming an asphalt racing course as we know it today. By late 1940s, the 500cc class of single-seat racing cars (later to become Formula 3) was booming, as it provided an affordable way into motorsport. As an amateur category, it used many of the same venues as motorcycle racing, and, with its close proximity to London, it wasn’t long before the 500 Club identified Brands Hatch as the ideal venue for Britain’s first post-war purpose-built permanent circuit.

They quickly persuaded Joe Francis of the idea and together ploughed in £17,000 to convert the grass track to an asphalt circuit. Work took place in the closed season of 1949/1950, resulting in a course resembling the current Indy circuit, minus the Druids loop. While the cinder-covered grass track had been measured at 0.75 miles in length, the new course was a full mile-long, running anti-clockwise. A demonstration run of 500 cc cars took place in February 1950, resulting in the approval of the Royal Automobile Club for racing. Among those taking part in the demonstration was a young Stirling Moss.

Brands Hatch Circuit staged its inaugural race on 16 April 1950, with the 7,000 curious spectators turning out to watch Don Parker claim his own slice of history, with victory in the first of 10 500cc races that day. Other winners that day were Ken Carter and Bill Whitehouse. Before the year was out, five meetings had been held, with the events running to a similar programme. Stirling Moss proved his early mastery of the course in the June event, winning all five races and setting a new lap record. The August Bank Holiday meeting saw the Daily Telegraph sponsoring the main race, raising the profile of the circuit considerably.

Motorcycle racing also continued, with the first bike race on the new asphalt taking place over the Easter weekend in April 1950. Among the notables taking part were John Surtees in his debut race, Bill Chesson (later to become the owner Lyddon Hill circuit) and, most surprisingly of all, Bernie Ecclestone, who was whetting his motorsport appetite on two wheels. He would later dabble in car racing before concluding his skills were better placed in team ownership and race organisation…

The 500cc class proved the mainstay of the car racing activity in the first few years, although sports cars were tested at the facility in 1950 by the Maidstone & Mid-Kent Motor Club (running clockwise around the course) and in February 1951 by the Aston Martin Owners Club.

Circuit rises in prominence

Brands Hatch quickly became a prominent venue, with crowds flocking to see the races in the natural amphitheatre the terrain provided. In winter 1952 the track was completely resurfaced but it soon became apparent that there was little scope for expansion without further investment and an extension of the circuit. This began in 1954 with the addition of the Druids loop and the switching of racing to a clockwise direction, plus a widening of the course to better allow other categories to race. Pits and further spectator banks were also added at this time.

A racing school set up at Brands Hatch from 1953 onwards, run by the Universal Motor Racing Club and offering laps for five shillings. Among those who were quick to take up the offer was a young Graham Hill, who would graduate to racing the 500c cars, including at the debut race on the lengthened course.

Gradually, Brands Hatch began to emerge as a ‘proper’ race circuit , eschewing its grass track origins. Telephones were installed in the marshals' posts and the central control and a small, well-equipped field hospital was added. Unusually for the times, the circuit also boasted a high-capacity, continental grandstand along the top straight, purchased in 1955 when Northolt racecourse closed.

Towards the middle of the decade, the popularity of 500cc began to wane as larger-capacity formula cars became more common. The first race to be organised by anyone other than the British Racing and Sports Car Club (as the 500 Club had become) was organised in June 1956 by the 750 Motor Club, which had joined forces with Club Lotus to offer a mixture of races. These included the first ever saloon car races at Brands Hatch.

Bigger things were to come in October of that year, when the first race for Formula One cars was held. Works cars from British marque Connaught were pedalled by Stuart Lewis-Evans, Archie Scott Brown, Les Leston and Jack Fairman, while Roy Salvador’s and Bruce Halford were entered in private Maserti 250Fs. Scott Brown won from Lewis-Evans, setting a new lap record in the process at a speed of 75.66 mph (121.76 km/h).

Grand Prix loop added

The circuit began to turn a profit and in 1960, long-held ambitions to create a Grand Prix loop were realised. To get around planning restrictions, the course extension followed tracks that had previously been used by scrambler bikes and, with permission duly granted by Kent County Council, construction began in January and was completed in time for the August Bank Holiday meeting.

The new 2.65-mile track used all of the existing course with the exception of Kidney Bend; South Bank became a long sweeping left-hander out into the wooded countryside beyond. From there, a long straight dipped into and out of a valley before arriving at the high speed Hawthorn Bend. The Portobello Straight followed, leading into another fast right-hander, Westfield, before the dip at Dingle Dell and Dingle Dell Corner. A difficult left-hander - Stirling's - followed, before the course headed back along Clearways and onto the final corner at much greater speed than before.

The new track was completed in June, allowing for testing ahead of the traditional August Bank Holiday meeting. Amid much excitement, the non-championship Silver City Trophy Formula One race would christen the new course with a bumper crop of cars. Works entries were received from BRM, Cooper, Ferrari, and Lotus, bolstered by independents such as Yeoman Credit Racing, Scuderia Eugenio Castellotti and Scuderia Centro Sud.

Jim Clark lead the initial 22 laps of the race until the gearbox of his Lotus-Climax expired, handing eventual victory to Jack Brabham in the works Cooper-Climax, some 4.4 seconds ahead of Graham Hill’s BRM P48. Brabham and Clark shared the new fastest lap in 1min 40.6sec, at a speed of 94.82 mph (152.60 km/h).

The sale of the land in 1961 to property development firm Grovewood Securities in April 1961 really speeded things up. Fears that this would mean the closure of the circuit in favour of housing proved unfounded when Grovewood installed John Webb – previously the circuit press officer – as general manager. A great era at Brands had begun. Further underlining its commitment to the sport, in 1966 Grovewood created a new holding company - Motor Circuit Development Ltd - to manage its portfolio of circuits, which by that time also included Mallory Park, Snetterton and Oulton Park. Cadwell Park would join the group later.

Brands Hatch hits the big time

The burning ambition of Webb was realised in 1964 when the circuit hosted Formula One for the first time, under the courtesy title of the European Grand Prix. Jim Clark was supreme, winning from Graham Hill in the BRM P261 and John Surtees in the V8 Ferrari 158. Thereafter the race alternated with Silverstone and witnessed a number of thrilling battles, with victories from Clark, Brabham, Siffert, Rindt and Fittipaldi. The non-championship Race of Champions, sponsored by the Daily Mail, was created to fill the gap in the gap years, though would go on to become an annual fixture in its own right through to 1983.

Sportscar racing also started to gain traction in the middle of the decade and in 1966 a non-championship race was held over a distance of 500 miles. David Piper and Bob Bondurant proved victorious in an AC Cobra. The following year, the race was included in the World Sportscar Championship, although now run as a six-hour race. Event sponsor BOAC chose to retain the 500 designation, creating the BOAC 500 Trophy. Mike Spence and Phil Hill took victory for Chaparral in 1967 and the race would go on to become a fixture of the calendar for many years, subsequently as a 1000km race.

Safety had always been an issue at Brands and during the winter of 1965-66, Paddock Hill Bend acquired a fearsome reputation, claiming the lives of George Crossman, Tony Flory and Stuart Duncan. The death of leading Grand Prix driver Jo Siffert in 1971 led to major safety works and new pit buildings and grandstands appeared the following year.

Further changes came in 1976, when Paddock Hill Bend was realigned, with a new stretch of tarmac laid, moving the apex further inside and tightening the corner slightly. The old tarmac was left in-situ as run-off. Bottom Straight was also realigned, making it straighter (if not completely straight) and further Armco barriers were installed around the course. The total cost of the modifications was £100,000.

That year’s race proved controversial; a first lap crash at Paddock Hill bend occurred when the Ferrari of Clay Regazzoni spun after light contact with team mate Niki Lauda. In ensuing melée, the McLaren of James Hunt collected the spinning Ferrari, while the Ligier of Jacques Laffite went off in avoidance. All three cars were damaged, with Hunt and Regazzoni limping to the pits (in Hunts case via an access road from the Cooper Straight), while the Ligier was immobile in the gravel trap. The red flags flew and the race was stopped.

There was a 40 minute delay while race officials tussled with the pit crews as to who was eligible to start in spare cars. Initially, they declared that, as Hunt had not been running when the red flag flew, he would not be able to take part. When news of this broke out around the circuit, the partisan crowd grew visibly angry and began chanting for their British hero to take part. Fearing crowd trouble, the officials relented and Hunt was allowed to join the grid in his back up car.

Lauda led away from Hunt but would have gearbox trouble with just 15 minutes to go, ceding the lead to Hunt. At the chequered flag, McLaren driver took the spoils from Lauda, who nursed his car home in second place. The crowd went wild - but it was a premature celebration. Ferrari, Tyrrell and Fittipaldi appealed the race result and two months later it was decided by the FIA that the original decision of the officials to exclude Hunt was the correct one. He was disqualified and victory was handed instead to Lauda.

Indy course gains its name

Ever keen to diversity and offer something different for the fans, in 1978 John Webb secured the visit of the USAC Champ Car Series from the USA, bringing the high-powered Indianapolis cars to Europe for the first time. Two races, at Silverstone and Brands Hatch, were added to the series schedule, at a cost to the promoter of £500,000.

The Brands race was held on the short course, it being felt more akin to the oval courses the USAC drivers were most familiar with. As a result, the Club Circuit was renamed the Indy Circuit in their honour - an epithet it keeps to this day.

The race was won by Rick Mears for Team Penske, with team-mate and eventual champion Tom Sneva in second. Danny Ongais set a new outright lap record for the short course at 41.4 seconds in his Interscope Racing Parnelli VPJ6B, at an average 104.66 mph (168.43 km/h). It would take until 1991 for the record to be lowered by Bernd Schneider in a Porsche 962 during an Interserie race.

Sadly, the British crowds didn’t take to American style racing and the two races proved a financial loss, so were not repeated the following year. Turmoil in the USA racing scene, with the breakaway of teams to form CART in the following years would likely have meant the event would have come to a natural conclusion in any case.

Another 1970s innovation did bring in the crowds, however. The Transatlantic Challenge races brought together some of the best two-wheeled racers from across the USA and Britain to compete on 750cc production bikes, competing at the Motor Circuit Development tracks. Teams of riders from the UK and US would compete for points for the respective home nations.

Names such as Paul Smart, Phil Reid, Tony Rutter and Peter Williams were the UK stars in the early years, before the likes of Barry Sheen and Mick Grant joined in the mid-1970s boosting home interest even further. For the USA, names such as Gary Nixon, Freddy Spencer and Kenny Roberts were the headline-grabbers. Huge crowds of up to 150,000 were recorded, establishing the races as some of the most important of the season.

New ownership struck by tragedy

Into the 1980s, the future of Brands Hatch seemed uncertain, with rumours of a sale in the offing. By now Motor Circuit Developments was in the ownership of Eagle Star Holdings, which had just been sold to British American Tobacco. Despite the firm’s involvement in motorsport sponsorships, it seemed unlikely they would want to hold onto the portfolio of circuits. So it proved when the for sale signs went up in October 1985.

Fearing for the future, John Webb was instrumental in encouraging racing enthusiast and chair of Atlantic Computers John Foulston to put in a bid. Foulston was a racer, who enjoyed success in Thundersports and historic racing. His bid of £5.25 million proved successful and secured the purchase of Brands Hatch, along with Snetterton and Oulton Park (Mallory Park having been sold in 1982). He renamed the company to Brands Hatch Leisure Group and early in 1987 added Caldwell Park to the circuit portfolio.

Tragically, Foulston did not have long to enjoy his new venture. In September 1987 he suffered a high speed crash while testing his McLaren M15S historic Indycar at Silverstone. A stuck throttle is thought to have caused him to leave the course at Club Corner, with the car burying itself in the outside banking and killing its driver instantly. After the accident the running of the Brands Hatch Leisure Group was taken over first by his widow Mary, then by their daughter Nicola Foulston.

Webb continued in place with the day-to-day running at Brands Hatch itself until 1989, when he retired after 35 years of service to the Kent facility.

Safety fears spark changes

Formula One would continue as usual at Brands Hatch until 1986, when the race was staged for the final time. A start line collision seriously injured Jacques Laffite (fellow driver and eventual Brands owner Jonathan Palmer, a qualified doctor, was among those coming to his aid) and it proved to be the final straw for the authorities, who deemed that the powerful cars had outgrown the facility. The wide-open expanses of Silverstone seemed more appropriate and Formula One departed, seemingly never to return.

Brands continued on after the loss of the Grand Prix, its highest-profile single-seater series thus becoming a round of the F3000 championship. Ahead of the 1988 season, changes were made to Westfield Corner, which was given more room for run off by being effectively squared off; two corners joined by a short straight replaced the sweeping right-hander, though speeds were not notably reduced.

Further around the lap, concerns about the lack of run-off at Dingle Dell Corner were addressed by the insertion of a chicane. It became one of the most spectacular features; blind on entry, cars would fly across the kerbs at barely abated speed. It was questionable whether this solved the problem; Michel Trollé's fearsome crash in practice for the 1988 F3000 event casts considerable doubt on this.

Worse was to come in the race, when a multi-car pile-up following a red flag restart saw the cars of Herbert and Foitek collide, and a chain reaction behind eliminating half of the field. Herbert suffered horrendous injuries to his feet and ankles and ended up sharing a hospital ward with Trollé. Both eventually recovered, though in each case had lost a considerable amount of career momentum.

F3000 races continued at Brands until 1992, which then focussed on becoming the spiritual home of World Superbike racing. Each year attendances were among the highest of any circuit, boosted by the exploits of home grown stars such as Carl Fogarty, Neil Hodgson and James Toseland.

New pits were also added in 1993 along with an impressive corporate hospitality centre. Graham Hill Bend was also re-profiled and slowed, though this did enhance the chances of overtaking.

Formula One aspirations come up short

Under Nicola Foulston’s leadership, Brands Hatch Leisure was turned back into a profitable leisure concern, deriving much of its revenue from corporate entertainment. Bigger plans were being hatched however, with Foulston keen to bring the Formula One Grand Prix back under the group’s control. The original plan was simple; purchase Silverstone and thus secure the promotion of the race by default. The only obstacle to this plan were the 832 members of the British Racing Drivers’ Club (owners of Silverstone) who were less than enamoured by what they saw as a hostile takeover and, led by Ken Terrell, voted overwhelmingly to reject the bid.

Undeterred, Foulston changed approached and instead negotiated directly with Bernie Ecclestone to secure the rights to the race from under Silverstone’s nose. The Formula One chief had long been vocal in his disdain for the facilities at Silverstone and in mid-1999 a deal was announced for the race to transfer to Brands Hatch from 2002 to 2007, with an option for a further five years. At $20 million per year, the fee was approximately double that paid by the BRDC.

Of course, the major obstacle to this announcement was the need to upgrade Brands Hatch to FIA Grade 1 standards. A $50 million plan to revamp of the track to the necessary standards was soon announced, subject to planning approval. However, with the prospect of a Formula One contract boosting the value of the group overall, it wasn’t long before the Foulston family cashed in on their position and, in December 1999, the group was sold for £120million to Octagon Motorsports, a subsidiary of the US-based advertising company Interpublic Group. Nicola Foulston was initially thought set to remain in charge of BHL and become a member of the Octagon board, however it soon emerged that she had resigned and was stepping away from motorsport altogether.

The first problems for Octagon started to appear in early 2000, when the proposals for redevelopment of the track were announced. New pit and paddock facilities were to be built on a realigned straight, between Surtees and Hawthorn Bend and various other changes around the course of the lap. These plans would have required the removal of considerable portions of the woodland which surrounds the circuit, sparking a fierce backlash from local environmentalists.

The Woodland Trust joined forces with the Forestry Commission and the Council for the Protection of Rural England to fight the proposals, although they were ultimately approved by Sevenoaks District Council in summer 2000. However, the development was put on hold when the then planning minister, Nick Raynsford, called in the the application for further approval, saying he was concerned it might conflict with national planning policies on developing the green belt - including possible impact on the adjoining Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - nature conservation and transport.

A planning inquiry to decide the fate the application was scheduled to begin in January 2001.

With the prospect of lengthy negotiations and no prospect of approval in time to host the first event in 2002, Octagon instead chose to waive the white flag and withdrew its application. This left it with a contract to host a race but no venue to hold it at. Instead, it was forced to switch tack and negotiated to lease Silverstone and run the Grand Prix there, at a premium that suited the BRDC very well, funding the upgrades that Ecclestone had demanded.

This somewhat ironic position, which saw Octagon effectively investing in a circuit it didn’t own, while simultaneously struggling to make ends meet at the ones it did, proved unsustainable in the long run. With financial losses mounting, the pressure was on to turn around the balance sheet.

New headline event brought in

Without the Grand Prix, Octagon looked elsewhere for a headline event for Brands Hatch, this time turning to the US-based CART series for salvation. The Champ Cars had hosted two races at the troubled Rockingham Speedway near Corby, but CART was now looking for an alternative venue. A deal was concluded for Brands to take over and host the newly-created London Champ Car Trophy for 2003.

Octagon and CART invested $2 million in enhancing the track's safety standards in early 2003; some 2 miles of spectator fencing was installed on either side of the Indy layout, while the majority of the guard rails were reconstructed. Around 38,000 tyres were brought in to construct new barriers around the course. Meanwhile, changes were also made to the Grand Prix Circuit, with the removal of the Dingle Dell chicane. This had come at the insistence of the FIM, ahead of the visit of the World Superbike Championship in August but would also provide additional run-off should the Champ Cars ever switch to the full course in future. The new corner was quickly named Sheene Curve following the death from cancer of the the British motorbike star.

The CART race was won (almost inevitably!) by the Newman/Haas entry of Sebastian Bourdais but the short Indy course did not prove particularly well-suited to the heavy race cars and overtaking was at a premium. Much like its 1970s predecessor event, the race would prove a one-off affair, this time due to the collapse of CART into bankruptcy at season’s end.

Change of owner brings new vision

With the various difficulties experienced by the Octagon, rumours inevitably persisted that Brands Hatch, along with the other tracks in the group, would be sold off, potentially bringing racing to an end. The for sale signs were put up in late 2003, when parent company Interpublic made it known that it was open to offers for the circuits.

Thankfully, it proved not to be the end for motorsport at the venues. In early 2004, it was announced that a new consortium, headed by ex F1 driver Jonathan Palmer, had taken over ownership for an undisclosed sum. The MotorSport Vision group soon announced a programme of general updates to each of the circuits, bringing an attention to detail that had perhaps been lacking for some time.

In 2006 the circuit's efforts were richly rewarded with new international-standard events as part of the WTCC and DTM calendars. This was soon bolstered by the addition of the new A1 Grand Prix series, which helped to offset the loss of the World Superbikes to Donington Park from 2009, after a dispute of sanctioning fees.

More recently, the circuit has become a mainstay on the SRO organisation’s GT World Challenge calendar and also hosts twin visits of the British Touring Car Championship, which boasts some of its biggest race crowds each year. The British Superbike Championship (which is now promoted by MSV) is another popular event for fans of two-wheeled action.

Efforts to improve the circuit facilities have also continued. In January 2020, work to improve safety in the final part of the lap began, centred around creating enlarged gravel traps at the Clearways and Clark Curve section of the circuit. Armco barriers and debris fencing were also moved further away from the circuit, leaving the gravel trap significantly extended in order to increase its effectiveness. A raised viewing area was also constructed around the outside of the final section of the lap to improve the view.

Updated debris fencing, built to the latest FIA standards, was installed in autumn 2023, while major works were undertaken in the 2023/24 off season to complete a runoff upgrade at Hailwoods Hill on the run up to Druids. The spectator access between Hailwoods to Druids was also improved with a widened walkway in front of the grandstand.

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Brands Hatch Circuit, Fawkham, Longfield, Kent DA3 8NG, United Kingdom
+44 1474 872331
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