Thruxton is another of the British venues to make use of the post-war surplus of RAF airbases to lay out a course for motor racing, in the process creating one of the fastest circuits in the country.
Little changed in layout terms since the 1960s, the fast sweeping curves and furious flat-out nature of the lap means that races are rarely dull here, with tyre wear an ever-present headache.
Noise restrictions mean the circuit is limited in the number of racedays that can be held, though it remains busy as host to the top national championships on two and four wheels each year.
The Thruxton story begins in 1940, when in a matter of months, the three runway RAF Thruxton was built as a satellite facility to handle the overflow of sorties being carried out by nearby RAF Andover. During the war, it saw action as a home base for such aircraft at Bristol Blenheims, Airspeed Oxfords and also American Lockheed Lightnings when the base was used by the USAAF in 1944. It played a part in D-Day too, with the Whitley bombers used to tow the Horsa and Hotspur gliders being based there.
At the end of the war activities at the station wound down and by 1946 it was surplus to military requirements and was sold into private hands. It soon drew the attention of motorcycle racers and, by 1950, a permit for racing had been issued.
The first race, organised by the Southampton and District Motorcycle Club, took place in April 1950, using a rudimentary course fashioned from the runways and perimeter roads. Despite driving rain and near-gale force winds making conditions treacherous, a large crowd turned out to watch Geoff Duke dominate a majority of the races.
Thruxton soon came to be regarded as southern England's premier motor racing venues and was popular with riders. Despite its airfield origins, the perimeter road sections had a fast flowing rhythm to them, surpassing even some purpose-designed courses, though the runways remained rather rough and drew less favourable comment.
Car racing began in 1952, with a series of races were organised for the August Bank Holiday weekend. In 1953, a revised layout was tried, which made greater use of the perimeter roads. However, it was becoming apparent that the state of the runway sections was deteriorating to such an extent that four-wheeled racing was becoming increasingly difficult and no further races were organised. Motorcycles continued on until 1964, when the last 500-mile race was organised.
That seemed to be the end of Thruxton's motor racing history, but events elsewhere would prove the catalyst for a resurrection. In 1966, Goodwood closed its doors to racing, citing economic issues and concerns over the safety of spectators amid ever-rising speeds. The British Automobile Racing Club needed a new home and nearby Thruxton appeared to be a good prospect.
After raising the necessary funding, a large renovation project was undertaken with the aim of returning Thruxton to racing by the beginning of the 1968 season. This time the crumbling runways would be eschewed, with the course following the perimeter roads in total. A new section of corners – named after pioneers of speed Cambell, Cobb and Seagrave – was inserted ahead of the former Windy Corner and new pit and paddock facilities located on the southern end of the circuit. A chicane slowed the competitors onto the start/finish straight, which was in fact a gentle curve.
It took a mammoth effort, but the club succeeded in reviving the course in time for its first meeting in March 1968. Thruxton quickly established itself once more as popular circuit and the sweeping Church Corner soon gained a fearsome reputation as the quickest corner in Britain (a title it retained until the opening of Rockingham Motor Speedway).
Formula Two made Thruxton an annual pilgrimage each Easter weekend, with international stars racing alongside up-and-comers in the powerful single-seaters. Jochen Rindt was unbeatable here, winning the first race and the follow up editions in 1969 and '70. Following his death, Thruxton created the Jochen Rindt Trophy to be awarded to the F2 victor each year, with recipients including Graham Hill, Ronnie Peterson, Henri Pescarolo and Jacques Laffite. The event continued into the new F3000 era in 1985 but thereafter international racing ceased and Thruxton reverted to forming a calendar from national events only.
Planning wrangles led to Hampshire County Council challenging the circuit's use in 1970. A Public Enquiry finally ruled in 1972 that racing should be restricted to 21 days per year. A small number of local objectors seized the moment to attempt to have further restrictions imposed, and fearing total closure could follow, the BARC settled out of court, agreeing to further limit racing activity to just 12 days each year.
Despite these problems, Thruxton continues to carve out a niche in the national calendar, its headline events now being the annual visits of the British Touring Car Championship and the British Superbike Championship. Outside of motor racing, the circuit offers a driving school for aspiring racing drivers and remains an active airfield, with one of the runways continuing in use for private flights and a flying school.