Editorial

Is Brands Hatch suitable for CART's Champ Cars?
We take a closer look

 by Gary Parravani
July 8, 2002

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Existing 2.6-mile Brands Hatch circuit.  Shorter Indy circuit in blue  is 1.2036-miles (too short for CART)

When the UK champ car fans are asked what road course they would most like to see the turbocharged single seaters run at, the vast majority of them say the same thing, ‘Brands Hatch’.   Indy Cars ran at Brands Hatch once in the 1970's under the USAC banner, but never returned.

Brands Hatch is located very near London, the biggest city in the UK (and one of the biggest in the world). Brands (as it’s affectionately known) resides just outside the south east quadrant of the M25 motorway. For those of you that don’t know, the M25 is a huge circular freeway that surrounds London and approximately 16 million people. In logical terms if you want a huge crowd at a race it makes sense to race where there is a large population!

The only problem is that in the UK its illegal to race on Her Majesty’s Highway (even if the roads are closed off), so there’s no chance of seeing Da Matta and his pals racing along the Thames embankment and around Trafalgar Square (however exciting that may sound!).


Recent changes proposed for the Brands Hatch circuit were never implemented when Silverstone kept the GP rights

The circuit at Brands began in 1926 as a cycle racing venue placed perfectly in the natural bowl of the Kent countryside. In 1950 the circuit was developed into a 1 mile tarmac oval (sound familiar?), but soon after an extension was added to make it into more of a fat ‘L’ shape. The L shaped circuit is still part of the main ‘grand prix’ circuit today and is known as the ‘Indy circuit’. Brands was still a pretty short circuit, so in order to attract a Grand Prix race a huge loop was added which doubled the length of the track. Soon after Brands Hatch became a regular fixture in Grand Prix and Formula one racing.  However, in the early eighties it became obvious that the circuit was too dangerous and had been out grown by the modern high horsepower turbo F1 cars.

From then, until the 90’s, Brands only had a few big races. It hosted some excellent Group C races which saw some huge crowds in attendance, always more than the equivalent races at Silverstone (the UK’s current Grand Prix host). This weekends British Grand Prix saw a weekend attendance of approx 90,000 fans (although the amount of tickets are limited). The current World Superbike events that take place in August at Brands see weekend crowds of 122,000! This goes some way to prove that the circuit itself is big draw for the fans.

Motosport fans love Brands Hatch! If you’ve ever been there you will know why. The main arena is set in a natural bowl, you can nearly see half the Grand Prix circuit (and all the Indy circuit). The cars leave the starting grid and immediately turn right down a steep hill, when they hit the bottom sparks fly as they climb back up hill to a right hand hair pin.


Aerial view of Brands Hatch.  Note smaller Indy Circuit, and larger F1 circuit, which is where CART would race.

The gradient and drivers view of paddock hill bend make it a great place for an overtaking maneuver, and if you get the line right you are placed perfectly for a dive down the inside of Druids. As soon as the cars are out of Druids they are diving down hill to Graham Hill bend, yet another passing opportunity! One of the secrets of Brands being such a good circuit for overtaking is that a lot of the corners do not have constant radii, i.e. the circuit obviously wasn’t designed with a compass and a ruler! The variable radius corners (and indeed straights!) mean you can take more than one different line and still be as quick.

After the Cooper Straight (which isn’t straight!) the cars turn very sharp left and up hill ready for the main straight. The main straight is pretty narrow and not as easy to overtake as you might think (Johnny Herbert had his huge accident there in F3000). Next corner is a fast right hander called Hawthorn bend, leading into Derek Minter straight and the double apex right handed Westfield. Neither of these two corners are easy for overtaking (mainly because the circuit is narrow).

Following Westfield is a superb sweep down and then steeply back up hill to Dingle Dell. Dingle Dell is an odd and spectacular corner indeed! Its on the blind brow of a hill and is basically a right hander with a chicane in the middle of it. The fastest cars can use the brow of the hill to actually leap over the chicane! Imagine seeing Paul Tracy flying over that one!


Standing on the pit straight.  That's Druids Bend in the background

Once the car has landed back on earth, it’s a short chute to a slightly banked right hander called Sterlings (just the name of the corners is enough to evoke passion in even the most hardened racing fan). Once you leave Sterlings you are onto the straight, under the bridge and back into the arena with a big cheer from the fans sitting at Clark curve. Once through Clark curve you are back onto the start finish straight (which also isn’t straight) and getting ready for the fantastic dive back down paddock hill again.

Lets have a look at some of the main Pros and Cons of the CART Champ Cars coming to Brands.

Pros

Everyone loves brands! Motorsport fans in the UK love Brands Hatch! It doesn’t matter what is racing there, people just go to see the circuit, and anything else is a bonus! If you get stopped by a copper for speeding, they are likely to say ‘where do you think you are? Brands Hatch?’

The corners (and curved straights) at Brands just invite you to overtake! Its almost hard not to! The different lines make it easy to make moves on the car in front even if they are taking all the air of your front wing.

Brands is right next to one of the biggest metropolis in the world! How about ‘The London Grand Prix of Brands Hatch’? The circuit is in a good position to draw in crowds from London, and tourists too.

The viewing areas at Brands Hatch are fantastic, the natural bowl means you can see half the circuit (and most of the overtaking places).

Cons


Turn 1 at Brands in June 2001

The circuit is placed close to residential areas. The south end of the circuit is within meters of a housing estate. So there are potential problems with complaints about noise pollution.  However, the turbocharged Champ cars are not any louder than other race cars, if anything less, and far quieter than a screaming F1 car.

One of the reasons F1 cars never came back is that the paddock is very cramped. There isn’t too much room for the trucks, but CART would only fly the minimum entourage to the ‘foreign races’.

The circuit is very narrow in places. Probably only as narrow as Road America or Laguna Seca, but this could cause problems with overtaking.

With regards to safety, Brands doesn’t have the huge run off areas that you see at modern F1 circuits. This could be a major issue with the super fast Champ Cars.  Upgrades would be required, but Champ Cars will be down to 750 HP next year, so that would help.

If there is a conclusion, I think it could be answered with a simple question. Could anyone afford to miss Champ Cars at Brands Hatch?  I know I would be there!!.

The authors can be contacted at dogbolter@cwcom.net

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