DIS­AP­PEAR­ING BROOKLANDS

It was once the home of Bri­tish bike sport and der­ring do, and is still worth a visit to­day

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week in MCN -

It was one of the worldõs fastest cir­cuits, with track 100ft wide and bank­ing that you would­nõt climb with­out a rope; where men pushed ma­chines to the ab­so­lute limit be­tween the two World Wars. So what­ever hap­pened to Brooklands? As much of it slips be­neath the weeds, we look back at one of the UKÕS most amaz­ing race cir­cuits.

Built in 1907, Brooklands was the world’s first pur­pose-built rac­ing cir­cuit as well as be­ing one of Bri­tain’s first air­fields. By 1918 it had also be­come the coun­try’s largest air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing plant. So how did we end up los­ing such a land­mark venue?

Whose idea was it to cre­ate a pur­pose-built race-track? We have to thank a gen­tle­man called Hugh Fortes­cue Locke King who in­her­ited the Brooklands es­tate and spent £150,000 of his own money to build a test track to boost the Bri­tish au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try. In to­day’s money, that would be over £14.5 mil­lion.

Was Brooklands im­pres­sive? Just a bit. Built near Wey­bridge in Sur­rey, south west of Lon­don, the cir­cuit was a 2.75-mile banked con­crete oval and parts of the 30-de­gree bank­ing were 30ft high.

It was wide too – 100ft across to be pre­cise – and played host to up to 30,000 spec­ta­tors at its peak. There were three cir­cuit lay­outs; if the 2.75mile stan­dard cir­cuit used the bi­sect­ing fin­ish­ing straight it be­came a 3.25-mile lap and this was known as the ‘outer cir­cuit.’ The moun­tain cir­cuit used the start/fin­ish line and a small sec­tion of bank­ing to give a 1.25-mile lap, while the Camp­bell cir­cuit was 2.26-miles long and in­cluded an in­field sec­tion.

When was the first race held there? The cir­cuit was com­pleted in 1907 and was of­fi­cially opened on June 17, with com­pet­i­tive car events fol­low­ing in the next few weeks. The first mo­tor­cy­cle race was or­gan­ised by the Bri­tish Mo­tor­cy­cle Rac­ing Club (Bem­see) on April 20, 1908, as a nov­elty break in pro­ceed­ings dur­ing the Easter car race meet­ing. It was only over two laps, fea­tured 22 in­vited rid­ers, lasted 12 min­utes, and had a first prize of 25 guineas (£26.25).

How fast was it? As a banked oval, Brooklands was pretty much flat-out fast all the way. The first time a mo­tor­cy­cle was ever clocked at 100mph in the UK was at Brooklands. That was on April 28, 1921, when Dou­glas David­son achieved the feat on a Har­ley-david­son. In 1935, Eric Ferni­hough set a new mo­tor­cy­cle lap record of 123.58mph on his Brough Su­pe­rior and by the time the cir­cuit was taken over by the mil­i­tary in 1939 the mo­tor­cy­cle lap record was held by Noel Pope at 124.51mph. The high­est of­fi­cial top speed ever recorded by a bike at Brooklands was 143.39mph, set by Ferni­hough on his Brough in 1938.

When was the golden age? Un­ques­tion­ably dur­ing the in­ter­war years, from 1920 (when rac­ing re­sumed af­ter WWI) to 1939. Dur­ing that pe­riod, Bri­tish rac­ing mo­tor­cy­cles were the best in the world and a whole cot­tage in­dus­try sprang up around the cir­cuit with no end of garages and fa­mous rid­ers of the day mak­ing it their home. The most fa­mous mo­tor­cy­cle race to be held reg­u­larly at Brooklands was the Huthcin­son Hun­dred Hand­i­cap which was first held in 1925. The win­ner was pre­sented with the mag­nif­i­cent Me­lanno Tro­phy which, to this day, re­mains the Bem­see club’s most val­ued award. It is now pre­sented to the club’s rider of the year.

When was the last race held there? On Au­gust 7, 1939, the Bri­tish Au­to­mo­bile Rac­ing Club staged what would prove to be the last ever race at Brooklands. The gov­ern­ment req­ui­si­tioned the cir­cuit dur­ing WWII and it be­came a pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity for Hur­ri­cane fight­ers and Welling­ton bombers (the first ever Hur­ri­cane flight took place there in 1935). Han­gars were built on the track it­self, trees were planted as cam­ou­flage, and the cir­cuit was also bombed by the Luft­waffe. Af­ter the war it was clearly go­ing to prove too costly to re­build and re-open the venue as a rac­ing cir­cuit so it was sold to air­craft man­u­fac­turer Vick­ers-arm­strong in 1946. Is Brooklands still there? Parts of the bank­ing sur­vive, though theyõre frag­mented and over­grown. But the lo­ca­tion it­self is thriv­ing and the Brooklands Mu­seum and Mercedes-benz World are both worth a visit. In 2015 it was an­nounced that Brooklands would re­ceive a £7m in­vest­ment as part of the Brooklands Air­craft Fac­tory and Race Track Re­vival Project. The project will re­store and re­lo­cate the fa­mous 1940 Bell­man Hangar and the start/fin­ish line of the orig­i­nal cir­cuit will also be re­stored. The Brooklands Mu­seum is open ev­ery day from 10am-5pm and costs £12.10 for adults. Visit www. brook­landsmu­seum.com

Bikes, side­car out­fits and even a car form up on the start­line in 1938

Brooklands’ bank­ing in the cir­cuit’s hey­day be­tween the wars

The fa­mous bank­ing to­day, as used as a photo lo­ca­tion for an MCN shoot

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