A great puff of grey smoke billows up in the distance. A low grumble is carried by the wind across to my position, far away at Clearways. Soon, the grumble becomes a rumble becomes a howl as the brightly liveried racing trucks torture their tyres through the seemingly never-ending right hand bend. The water-cooled brakes pour with white vapour, bodies lean over at wild angles, the whole thing is a slow motion spectacle worthy of a 1970s Burt Reynolds movie.
Regardless of these attractions it must be pointed out that there are drawbacks to such racing. It is slow. It is very repetitive. It lacks… energy. Despite the joyous power over-steer of one driver celebrating the end of Race 2, the whole thing felt like a distribution centre lacking trailers to haul.
Excitement was provided mostly by the Legends Car Championship. These small cars are ostensibly identical 1250cc motorcycle engined beasts, each brightly coloured to individualise to their owner’s taste. Close racing and plenty of dicing meant these were probably the best entertainment of the day. Certainly I was surprised by the near dodgem-like handling of these little 5/8 scale cars.
Other formulae competed, 1600 and 2000 single seaters from the 1960s to 1990s raced enthusiastically in smaller grids. However…
The shot above illustrates one problem with modern circuits. That was taken with what on an old 35mm camera would be equivalent to a 260mm lens. Run off areas are large, and necessarily so. Brands Hatch actually isn’t the worst affected by these demands for safety but the biggest annoyance for the spectator unwilling to pay frankly ridiculously inflated prices for a grandstand seat isn’t the run-off space but the over-abundance of the catch fencing.
Those keen to see the action must peer through distracting metal mesh to glimpse a distorted view of the action beyond. In the grandstand, they practically need a telescope to get close to the spectacle.
Most people these days carry a camera of some sort and these fences pretty much destroy any chance of getting as half-decent shot unless accredited as media with £10m of public liability insurance. I had to hunt for spots that afforded an unobstructed view. Compare the abundance of clear views at Lydden Hill with the previous few available at Brands Hatch and the attractions of Brands start to wane. My spot at the top of Clearways is acceptable, and there is a small photography window in the netting further round the bend but these really don’t allow the intimacy with racing that, say, Cadwell park affords. It’s almost as if MSV still has ambitions to host the British GP at Brands… This will never happen. We’d almost need to be seated in Essex to comply with their run-offs. One can only get really close to the action at Druids, the hairpin. On the inside the spirit of racing spectating lives on, yet sadly the trees lining the track largely remain un-pruned at eye-level spoiling the view.
I’m not recommending that safety is ignored. I don’t want to lose an eye or limb to flying bodywork. My issue is with over-enthusiastic application of these defences spoiling the enjoyment of the paying public. I believe safety and spectator enjoyment are not mutually exclusive. With a few changes most big circuits could emulate their smaller cousins and provide both.
Eventually, as the day wears on, tiredness and frustration lead me away from the trackside at Brands and back to my car. Walking across the grass I reflect on the openness and accessibility many of the smaller circuits still retain. I find my car, and once settled into the drivers seat pause a moment, fervently hoping the spectator-friendliness of the small circuits is something that will continue for many years to come.