Looking at Brooklands today, one can’t help but feel the ghosts of past glories. And while there is something to be said for the romance of leaving something historic as-is (imagine the pyramids turned into luxury flats) it is also exciting to hear that Brooklands has secured Heritage Lottery Funding to bring it back to it’s former glory.
The famous banked racing circuit hasn’t been properly used since the beginning 1939 and has since been left to the ravages of the elements.
Brooklands opened in 1909 with the first race being held there in August of that year. The banking takes up about a third of the 3.25-mile long racetrack and the oval layout was designed to allow as many spectators as possible to be packed around the track while still being able to see what was going on. In fact, around 287,000 people could get through the gates in its prime.
The banking is about 30 feet high at the extremes, which made the laying of tarmac almost impossible at the time, hence the infamous concrete – not the smoothest or most absorbing of surfaces.
Brooklands has been awarded a Lottery grant of nearly £4.7 million to restore it and staff at the Brooklands Museum say that their plan is to restore the track to the original look from 1939.
Of course, Brooklands took on a new role during the Second World War and the (now grade 2 listed) aircraft hangar that sits on part of the track was responsible for assembling Wellington bombers to further the British war effort. The hangar will be moved and become The Brooklands Aircraft Factory, championing the design and development of British aviation throughout history.
The whole task is made all the more complex and expensive thanks to the inclusion of the site’s historic importance to aircraft. Indeed, despite the grant, a further £775,000 is still needed to complete this huge undertaking.
Although aviation and motor racing have always been a part of Brooklands – the first public display of powered flight in the UK took place here in 1909 – it’s motor racing that the public will most associate Brooklands with. A few years after this historic occasion, Percy Lambert probably scared himself witless when, in part thanks to the banking, was the first person to travel over 100mph in 1939.
The track – and the banking – has an interesting feature; the black line (known as the Fifty Foot Line) that traverses the track, is a marker. Above this line, a driver can feasibly negotiate around the track without using the steering wheel.
I can relate to this, having driven a racing-tuned Primera round a similarly banked track hands-free at 100mph. Supervised by a professional racing driver (I’m pleased to say), I was told that getting the car to dead on 100mph and above the red line on the track, the car would take care of itself steering-wise. Well, thankfully it worked!
While I quite like the lush green and somewhat overgrown look of Brooklands as it currently is, it is great to see a huge part of our motor racing history getting a bit of a spruce up. The restoration is expected to be completed by summer 2016.
Images: wtf1.co.uk, bbc.co.uk
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