50 YEARS OF RALLYCROSS AT Lydden Hill
To the north of Kent’s North Downs lies Lydden Hill. A race track and an Area of Outstanding National Beauty may seem like strange bedfellows but to rallycross fans the connection is incredibly appropriate. The Hairy Hill fencing lined with fans on a sunny August Bank Holiday Monday? Few sights in motorsport are as appealing.
Lydden’s one-mile layout is the shortest car-racing circuit in the United Kingdom, but it packs in a massive amount of character. And mixed-surface motorsport at the Kentish amphitheatre is celebrating its half-centenary this year.
Lydden’s been around since 1955 – it was first a grasstrack venue – but it would be a dozen years before it really made its mark. In 1967, on February 4, Lydden introduced the world to rallycross. The made-for-tv event, won by Porsche 911 driver Vic Elford (of Porsche endurance racing fame) struck a chord.
Rallycross didn’t take off immediately, though, because an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease left the circuit out-of- bounds and torpedoed a planned international rallycross event in November of ’67. Still, the world wouldn’t have to wait for long. While the inaugural event was put together with the assistance of the ITV, it was the BBC that secured the rights to broadcast ‘winter series’ racing from Lydden.
As rallycross blossomed, the European Championship came to Lydden for the first time in 1974 – the likes of Franz Wurz (father of Formula 1 driver and Le Mans 24 Hours ace Alexander) and WRC legends Stig Blomqvist and Bjorn
Waldegaard competed. Lydden hosted Britain’s round on the calendar until 1996 (when the UK lost its place).
Many other star names have graced Chesson’s Drift over the years – John Button (2009 F1 world champion Jenson’s dad), Martin Schanche, Matti Alamaki, Will Gollop, Kenneth Hansen, Tanner Foust, Petter Solberg, Sebastien Loeb and more. On a more national level, Lydden and its Bank Holiday meetings have been a staple of the British championship for decades.
This May is Lydden’s ‘farewell tour’ on the world stage – after 2017’s World Rallycross round the UK event will move elsewhere. But nowhere will capture the sensation of topdrawer rallycross like Lydden, so savour it while you can.