GRR

The best British circuits that aren’t Goodwood

29th July 2020
Ben Miles

Goodwood is obviously the greatest race track in the entire world, but there are plenty of other fantastic places to watch motorsport. And that got us thinking, what are the best ones a bit closer to home that aren’t Goodwood?

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Brands Hatch

Let’s start off with one of only four circuits in the UK to ever hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Brands Hatch hasn’t held an F1 race since 1986, when the British GP stopped shifting yearly from Brands to Silverstone and back, but might actually be all the better for it.

The modern circuit, and we’re talking the full GP track here, is up to standards for all but the very highest forms of motorsport, but has been able to retain all of its character even with safety improvements. From the very start (where the grid is on a heavy camber and steeply sloped uphill) Brands Hatch is a product of its setting. If it was flat it probably wouldn’t be that exciting a layout – you could also say that about Spa-Francorchamps – but following the contours of the hills of Kent it becomes a magnificent rollercoaster ride.

Back in the mid-2000s there were plans to bring Brands Hatch up to the standards needed for Formula 1, to move the start finish straight to the main run from Surtees to Hawthorns. This would have straightened the flat-out run, no doubt flattened the steep drop and rise that fills it with character, and made Hawthorns a tighter right hander. It would have both ruined the incredible flow that the GP section has, and slashed away another key feature of Brands – the fact that it remains an old-fashioned blast through woodland (the plans would have seen around 14,000 trees cut down). The circuit is lined with trees for most of its run, and in a world of airfield circuits (ahem) and massive runoffs it helps it stand out. In fact it is all the ways that Brands Hatch has stood still over the last thirty years that keep us coming back for more.

Donington Park, 1937, and the JCC 200 Miles. Prince Bira leads away from the line in his Maserati 8CM.

Donington Park, 1937, and the JCC 200 Miles. Prince Bira leads away from the line in his Maserati 8CM.

Donington Park

Another circuit that has held F1 races in the past, and got perilously close to holding them again, although the redevelopment of Donington wouldn’t have ruined the character in the way that Brands might have seen. Donington was the first permanent park circuit in the UK, and brought Grand Prix racing to the UK in the 1930s. The layout hasn’t differed much in the intervening 90 years.The original circuit may have disappeared off where the Melbourne loop is now and made Redgate a left hander, but that’s pretty much the only difference.

Another example of a circuit following the lay of the land, and being all the better for it, Donington has an almost unmatched flow in the UK, with its sweeping corners being enhanced by changed in elevation that are neither too instantly steep and jarring, or too small to make a difference. The section from Redgate to McLeans would see a circuit make this list on its own as cars and bikes sweep downhill through a series of direction changes before powering back up through two sweeping left handers. The extra Melbourne Loop, added to make Donington long enough for Grand Prix bike racing in the 1980s, is nothing to write home about, but the national circuit is wonderful.

We should all be thankful that it still exists too, as the disastrous plans to make it the home of the British GP from 2010 nearly led to the end of Donington. Like Brands it was to undergo a transformation to bring it to modern F1 standards, adding an interesting new loop section in the infield (which had such steep elevation changes it would probably have been quite good) and relocating the pits to Starkey’s Straight. But in 2009 the company that had bought Donington failed to raise the money needed, and the race was offered back to Silverstone. Work had already begun on the changes, and the circuit was left in a completely unusable state when the company went out of business. We should all be thankful that first the Wheatcroft family, who owned the circuit before, and MotorSport Vision (who own several other circuits) have kept it alive.

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Knockhill

The only Scottish circuit on this list, Knockhill is a little gem, in every sense of the phrase. It’s a brilliant track full of tricky corners and rapid elevation changes, and it’s only two miles long in its longest format. In fact the lap record is a whopping 41 seconds. But that’s just part of the charm, not all race tracks have to be long meandering behemoths. As we’ve seen recently from the Austrian and Styrian F1 Grands Prix, shorter circuits can provide as much, if not more challenge. It’s also another example of what would be described in golf as a links course, following the flow of the land as it goes. In this case to absolute extremes.

Cars plunge, as if over a cliff, down from the start line, through a series of tricky, but fast, corners then hard back up through a compression and over a rise that sends touring cars up onto two wheels. There’s no real passing through this, but it’s followed by two straights with a hairpin in between, so make a mistake through the opening section and those behind you will be snapping at your heels into the hairpin. Because of this relentless nature there’s no real escaping, races tend to be close and run in packs, and seeing a full pack of 30 touring cars all flying onto two wheels over the crest is just magnificent.

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Lydden Hill

Ignore the fact that there is a full tarmac race track at Lydden Hill, it’s just a loop around the outside of the real track. Lydden Hill is the home of Rallycross, and we’re not just talking British Rallycross, the entire sport was invented at Lydden in February 1967. It is a very simple layout, basically two loops around a hillside, but with rallycross being all about short blasts and rhythm, those simple layouts are perfect.

First there’s the big flowing loop off road, perfect for executing the ideal slide, with a joker lap route off to the right, then a long 90-degree left up the steep hill to the hairpin, back down for a heroically fast 90-degree left (complete with banked run off) and rapid chicane back onto the tarmac, and that’s it a lap of Lydden. It doesn’t sound much, but when you see 600PS WRX cars attack it you realise it’s basically the perfect rallycross course. Uncomplicated, flowing and fast. When Lydden lost its round of the World Rallycross Championship to a new venue built on the Stowe circuit at Silverstone, there was much disappointment. Thankfully there seem to be moves afoot to return top level rallycross to its spiritual home.

The 1969 Lincolnshire International Trophy F3 race, with James Hunt 
in his Brabham BT21B ahead of Ronnie Peterson in his March 693.

The 1969 Lincolnshire International Trophy F3 race, with James Hunt in his Brabham BT21B ahead of Ronnie Peterson in his March 693.

Cadwell Park

Cadwell Park is a circuit of very different natures. Nicknamed the “Nürburgring of the North” sections of it so resemble the sweeping nature of the Eifel circuit that it even stood in for it in the filming of Rush. In a car for some hot laps it’s a spellbinding experience, but racing cars there is not ideal, its narrow twisting nature means that they would become processional. Bikes however, are a very different matter. You see it doesn’t really matter if a circuit is narrow if you’re racing bikes, you can probably still fit five or so alongside each other with some room to spare. So the twisting tight nature of Cadwell Park is actually perfect. Cadwell therefore hosts one of the most popular rounds of all on the British Superbike calendar, with spectators afforded one of the very few chances to see racing bikes airborne that the UK offers, and who doesn’t want to see that? The circuit itself has two very distinct sections, the twists before the start line through The Mountain and the Hall Bends, and the more open segments out of the trees through Charlies and Park. Add the two bits together and it is an excellent use of one-and-a-half minutes of your time.

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Snaefell Moutain Course

Can we really include the Mountain Course on the Isle of Man here? For one thing, it’s not really in Britain, for another it’s more a collection of pretty much every road on the Isle of Man. But, we don’t think you can ignore it. The Isle of Man is a British Crown dependency, so we’ll give it a pass for that, and the ‘circuit’ holds one of the most important motorsport events in the world every year. If, somehow, you don’t know anything about the TT course, here’s a brief summary: It’s a bonkers 37.37 miles (60.725km) long, has a lap record of over 16 minutes, 219 corners and somehow an average lap record speed of 135mph. When people say that there are so many corners on the Nordschleife that it’s impossible to learn the whole thing, they haven’t reckoned with the TT.

It’s so long that we can’t even give you a quick summary, safe to say that it takes in an heroically fast pass along the mountainous centre of the island, climbing from sea level to 422m (1,385ft) altitude and plunging back down again, but also sees riders hurtle through some of the small towns that make up the Isle of Man’s population centres, including the capital, Douglas. It’s probably the most dangerous road course in the entire world, with no exaggeration, and the people who are willing to take it on are heroic to the very extreme.

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Oulton Park

I think that Oulton Park is the place that brings together all of the positives about the other tracks on this list into one wonderful place. It has the elevation changes we love, the trees of Brands Hatch, the fast runs through high speed corners of Donington, the open areas of Cadwell and the popularity of Lydden (OK, so there’s not really anything from the Isle of Man here). Oulton manages to be one of the only circuits around where every single layout is as good as the others. Looking for a quiet track day? There’s the short circuit that cuts from Cascades to Knickerbrook. Touring car action that needs short blasts and overtaking options? The Island Circuit with its shorter blast to the Island Hairpin is the one for you. Got some GTs to race that can really stretch their legs? The International Course with the full loop down to Shell Oils Corner is perfect.

Oulton Park is a sweeping and majestic place to watch cars in action, with viewpoints of basically everywhere, and a surprisingly compact nature, which means you can get across to any of the accessible corners in very little time. Oulton Park manages to be excellent for basically every form of motorsport and an enjoyable place to be at the same time, which is a very rare ability.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Motor Circuit

  • List

  • Brands Hatch

  • Donington Park

  • Knockhill

  • Lydden Hill

  • Cadwell Park

  • Snaefell Mountain

  • Isle of Man TT

  • Oulton Park

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