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Brands Hatch retrospective: The GP loop at 60

Wednesday, November 11 2020

Brands Hatch's famed longer layout, the Grand Prix circuit, turned 60 earlier this summer. Indeed, prior to the 1960 season motor racing at the former mushroom farm took place only within the natural amphitheatre of what we now call the Indy circuit.

Planning permission was granted by West Kent County Council in January of that year, enabling the venue to be extended from its shorter layout, measuring at just over a mile, to a thrilling new woodland route almost double in length.

Fortune favoured those working on the developments, with favourable weather ensuring that work was completed in a mere six months. And, even more remarkably, a non-championship F1 fixture was able to take place just eight months after the initial permission was granted on August Bank Holiday. The venue was Brands Hatch Stadium no more - this was now one of the finest road courses in the UK with an exciting international future ahead.

Writing in Motor Sport Magazine at the time, the publication's long-standing editor Bill Boddy estimated that at least 60,000 people attended Brands Hatch that day to watch a full field of F1 cars including antipodean icons Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren in the Cooper Car Company's official cars, and future two-time world champions Jim Clark and Graham Hill.

Local hero John Surtees, whose father Jack had frequently raced motorcycles at Brands Hatch in its grasstrack years, drove a Lotus in one of his early F1 appearances following his switch from two to four wheels, whilst there was plenty of international interest too, with high-profile American drivers including Dan Gurney and Masten Gregory on the grid. There was even a works entry for Scuderia Ferrari, which entered a pair of Ferrari Dino 246s for Phil Hill and Richie Ginther.

Brabham won the 50-lap F1 race, the Silver City Trophy, much more comfortably than his slender 4.4-second victory margin over Graham Hill's BRM would indicate. Early pressure abated when Clark, who ran a close second early on suffered a gearbox failure on lap 21 and this allowed Brabham to nurse an oil surge problem in the remaining laps, coasting home comfortably to take the chequered flag. McLaren completed the podium to seal a double podium for John Cooper's Climax-powered cars.

1960, Silver City Trophy, Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit, result
1, Jack Brabham, Cooper T53-Climax, 50 laps
2, Graham Hill, BRM P48, +4.4s
3, Bruce McLaren, Cooper T53-Climax, +49.4s
4, Phil Hill, Ferrari Dino 246, +1m13.6s
5, Henry Taylor, Cooper T51-Climax, +1 lap
6, John Surtees, Lotus 18-Climax, +1 lap
7, Dan Gurney, Cooper T51-Climax, +1 lap
8, Bruce Halford, Cooper T51-Climax, +1 lap
9, Richie Ginther, Ferrari Dino 246, + 2 laps
10, Ian Burgess, Cooper T51-Maserati, +2 laps

Other races that day included the Wrotham Trophy Race for GT cars, won by Jack Sears in an Aston Martin DB4. As was often the case in those days, many of the drivers raced in many of the classes, including Roy Salvadori who, in addition to contesting the F1 race, won the sports car and saloon races. 

Jim Clark was on double duty too, winning the Formula Junior race in tricky conditions as the track was damp during that part of the day.

Unlike many other circuits of that era, the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit remains largely unchanged since its inauguration. Most notably, Dingle Dell, now Sheene, has been altered multiple times, whilst the old Bottom Bend on the Indy section of the circuit has been reprofiled as Graham Hill Bend.

Aside from those minor changed though, it's fundamentally the same circuit now as when Jim Clark led home a British 1-2-3 at the venue's first World Championship F1 event in 1964, as when James Hunt and Niki Lauda's infamous title battle reached boiling point in the scorching summer of 1976, and when Nigel Mansell claimed his first and the venue's last F1 victories in the mid-1980s.

More recently, the Kent circuit has hosted international action from DTM and GT World Challenge Europe and it remains the gold standard for many competing at the top level domestically, whether on two wheels in the Bennetts British Superike Championship or on four in the British Touring Car Championship. And that's before we even mention track day participants.

Right: A clipping from the time, kindly provided by local community member and racing driver Rod Birley.

This is a preview of the new Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit from 1960, attempting to give readers an impression of what the new corners might look like from a driver's perspective.

The construction work progressed rapidly from this point, and extended the circuit's length by 1.4 miles. 

Brands Hatch was an F1 venue within months.

Even from this old scan, the distinctive undulations of what became the Grand Prix circuit we know and love today are easily discernable.