Brands Hatch Circuit

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Back in the 1960s, I used to be a young marshal at various south of England race tracks, travelling round without a care, hitching a ride from whoever was willing, including Graham Hill, Guildford garage owner John Coombes, and various other drivers who were well known on the club circuit at the time. I was fortunate to have experienced motor sport in its best period, when gentlemen drivers competed with others just as talented but not so wealthy, and if matters had worked out differently, I could have been a competitor during the 1960s and 1970s as well, but it wasn’t to be – I was too poor. However, I have incredible memories, and so decided to return to Brands Hatch to see how it is done these days, if there is anything different. My day out was the last round of the British Touring Car championship at Brands Hatch. That has not really altered that much, the cars are basically the same, fast saloons, some contact, fiercely competitive, but far fewer private entrants, the front of the grid now dominated by factory prepared cars. That is the main difference between now and then. There is a lot of prestige involved, sponsorship of the saloons prohibiting the casual private owner. In my day, there was still a big variety of cars, usually dominated by big Jaguars Mark ll, being constantly harried by Mini Coopers, but these cars were frequently owned by the driver, who towed it to the track behind maybe a large saloon, sometimes a lorry, and if they were very well-off a converted coach that carried all the necessary spares. But back to now. General admission doesn’t include an allocated grandstand seat, which is in the region of £10 extra. The programmes are £5, the food is plentiful in variety but a lot of people take their own. This particular meeting was on the full-sized course, being shown live on ITV4, so the big screens were in place all around the circuit. There are three races for the saloons at each meeting, with support events for a variety of racing cars, and there is little gap between the races. One quickly follows the next, with a half hour or so lunch break. That didn’t used to occur, a vast improvement in spectator interest. I hadn’t gone on the Saturday for practice and three races for support cars such as Ginetta and single seaters, so was ready for the main Sunday. Get there early, as parking is plentiful but queuing necessary every time, whatever the weather. The first race is early, 10am or so, but it’s up to you if you want to be there for that. I did, and I was, as I wanted to enjoy the whole wet day. If you haven’t been motor racing for some years, then you won’t see a great deal of difference, apart from the prices, and the intensity of the entertainment. The racing is still close, you still have to queue for anything from parking to toilets to food, but they are better geared up to provide a higher standard of entertainment than they used to be. Would I return? Most certainly. As always, it’s far better to experience live than on the television. Oh yes, and don’t just watch the track. As always, watch everyone watching the racing. It’s amazing how when one person points at the track, everyone else’s eyes follow, seeing something they had initially missed. That hasn’t changed either.

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