Circuit Overview

Pembrey has the official title of the Welsh Motor Sports Centre, hosting a diverse range of club racing, testing and track days. Owned by the local council authority, the circuit is operated by the British Automobile Racing Club.

While it has briefly hit the heights of the major national championships on two and four wheels, including British F3 and the British Touring Car Championship, the circuit is now mainly focussed on club racing, track days and general testing.

The circuit is also home to rounds of the British Rallycross Championship and the British Truck Racing Championship.

Circuit History

The circuit owes its existence to the sorry state of motor racing in Wales during the early 1980s. Llandow Circuit had lost its licence at the end of the 1970s, while the Pontypool Park Hillclimb closed in 1980 leaving Welsh racers with nowhere to enjoy their sport. In 1981 the Welsh Race Drivers' Association (WRDA) was formed with the express intention of developing a new race circuit. The hunt was on for a suitable location and the WRDA joined forces with Sports Council for Wales to find a new home.

The solution came – as has often been the case elsewhere in Britain – in the shape of a former wartime airfield. RAF Pembrey was built during World War II to house Spitfire squadrons, and soon became home to many of World War II's flying aces, including Wing Commander Guy Gibson of Dambusters fame. Between 1941 and 1945 Pembrey was host to the RAF's Air Gunnery School, involving Blenheim and Wellington bombers and Spitfire fighter aircraft. An unusual visitor came in 1942 in the shape of a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter plane which had landed there in error after its pilot mistook the Bristol Channel for the English Channel and thought he was landing at a Luftwaffe airfield in Brittany...

At the end of the war RAF Pembrey became an air crew holding unit for those being demobilised. It remained an operation air base for the RAF until 1957. After being decommissioned from military service it was used as a chicken farm for a number of years before effectively becoming dormant. The derelict site, complete with abandoned wooden chicken sheds, was eventually purchased by Llanelli Borough Council (now Carmarthenshire County Council).

Racing begins on part of the airfield

Alerted to the news of the purchase by the Sports Council for Wales, the WRDA was quick to make representations on the use of part of the sprawling site for motor racing. After a series of representations, councillors eventually agreed that a circuit could be built on the southern portion of the former airfield. The northernmost part of the site was retained for use as a civilian airport, while other parts remained in agricultural use.

The new Pembrey Circuit opened in 1989, with the first race meeting held on May 21, Nigel Petch running out the winner of the inaugural race in an MGB. After just under a year of operating the venue and, having achieved their original aim of establishing a new Welsh circuit, the WRDA bowed out of operating Pembrey. Instead, the council agreed a new 50-year lease with the British Automobile Racing Club, which added Pembrey to its portfolio alongside its home track of Thruxton.

Under the BARC Pembrey was soon attracting a number of high-profile series. First to arrive in 1990 was the British Supercup motorcycle championships, forerunner of the British Superbikes, Terry Rymer winning on a Yamaha. Then in 1992 the British Touring Car Championship – then approaching its zenith in the Super Touring era – arrived, Tim Harvey winning the first edition in a Vic Lee-run BMW en-route to the title. The following year saw Joachim Winkelhock take the victory for the works Schnitzer BMW team, also en route to the title, though it would prove the last event at Pembrey for the BTCC.

The same year saw Formula 3 arrive for what would the first of seven consecutive seasons at Pembrey. The top national single-seater championship was then regarded as a stepping stone to F1 and a host of stars won races here early in their careers, including Gil de Ferran, Oliver Gavin, Jan Magnussen and Jenson Button. Argentine driver Brian Smith set the outright lap record during the 1997 F3 race, lapping the course in 50.079 seconds in a Dallara F397 HKS Mitsubishi.

The venue was also a popular testing stop-off for British Formula 1 teams. Ayrton Senna famously lapped here at astonishing speed in 1989 during a McLaren test, while Arrows, Benetton, Jordan and Williams were all regular visitors during the 1990s. The final run-out by an F1 team came in 1998 with the BAR team.

A brief flirtation with short oval racing was begun in 1996 when a new course was added using the top end of the main straight and turns one and two, linked by a new curve. Appetite for this type of racing was limited and the oval track was seldom used beyond its initial year and has now been largely abandoned.

Infrastructure and layout changes boost appeal

For the 2006 season the pit lane was extended down to the final corner, with its entrance relocated to just after the penultimate Woodlands corner. Improvements continued in 2007 with an enlarged and improved paddock area, thanks to a motor sport infrastructure grant from the Welsh Assembly Government. The new facilities were declared open during the official Formula 3 test by Greg and Leo Mansell.

Further investment came in 2017, when the circuit announced plans to add two new circuit variations in order to give additional challenges for novice drivers, giving teams alternative layout options for testing.  Crossing the start/finish line, cars and bikes proceed through Hatchets Hairpin, Spitfires and Dibeni before approaching the new configuration. Heading over the circuit crossing, the first new option allows competitors to continue straight on instead of traditionally turning left, filing into a tight left hander before rejoining the existing layout and building up both speed and momentum.

These changes were accommodated during the winter off-season, with the further plans for changes along the back straight leading to Honda Curve being formalised in early 2017, with construction of the alternate corner sequence coming later in the year. 

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Circuit info

Pembrey Circuit, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire SA16 0HZ, United Kingdom
+44 1554 891 042
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