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Tuesday 24th July 2012


PH BLOG: BRANDS - A WHOLE NEW CIRCUIT

Indy schmindy, Dan's had a taste of 'proper' Brands Hatch and has a new favourite track


Having proven the worth of our VW Transporter/Caterham combo for the long trip to the Alps my journey home included a more regular haunt for a rig like this in the shape of the paddock at Brands Hatch. Road legal or not, many a track day toy will find itself on a trailer rather than getting to the track under its own steam.

More at home here than a French camp site!
More at home here than a French camp site!
And while cars like Caterhams, the new Radical SR3 SL and Ginetta G40R are viable to drive to and from the track as well (point proven by a road-legal G40R that won this weekend's Club MSV Team Trophy at Cadwell) as on it if you're racing, camping or just want to eat up the long motorway miles in comfort slinging your track toy on a trailer isn't a daft idea at all.

Suffice to say, our Transporter was far from the only van in the Brands paddock with a trailer on the back, the racy looking Sportline definitely one of the cooler ones though. But I'm clearly biased.

So much for getting it there though. What about the track?

Tested in the Alps, enjoyed at Brands!
Tested in the Alps, enjoyed at Brands!
Frankly I was a little bit nervy. The Indy is familiar enough but that bit in the woods out the back less so. I've done a photoshoot there so could picture the scene - dips, crests, fast blind corners and very little run-off in a pretty convincing impression of a cut-down Nordschleife, minus the Channel crossing and schlep across Belgium. Lining up in the pitlane all was looking OK. Until it started to rain seconds before the green light came on. Cue some very, very cautious laps, the very real sense there was a lot more speed than I was finding as a whole new Brands Hatch revealed itself.

Crazy weather with, at one point, baking sunshine at Paddock and a raging thunderstorm at Druids (yes, really) added to the fun but after a couple of sessions the speed was really coming, a bootful of brake and fourth gear into Hawthorn eventually becoming a little lift in fifth and idle speculation about whether trying it flat would be a good idea.

Sunny side up - blue skies at Paddock...
Sunny side up - blue skies at Paddock...
I also had a quick back-to-back with the bright green Supersports and it was an interesting comparison, bringing to mind Danny's recent PH Fleet update on his Elise and musing on why, post suspension upgrades, he had less confidence in it. PHer Max Torque offered up a very detailed and plausible possible explanation, centring on the idea that the car had greater grip now but 'felt' more jumpy and less confidence inspiring, meaning Danny felt less comfortable pushing it hard.

I got exactly the same feeling from the Supersports. Sharper, more pointy and much more 'lively' with its stiffer suspension and limited-slip diff I felt a lot more relaxed in the Roadsport. But then we had just spent a week together.

Supersports an interesting contrast
Supersports an interesting contrast
Definitely the Roadsport felt pleasantly confidence inspiring, which is just as well given it only had inertia reel seatbelts and a half cage. Armco a few metres of wet grass beyond the edge of the track in 90mph-plus corners takes on a rather more intimidating air from that point of view. Likewise hot headed race drivers (here's looking at you Fergus Walkinshaw in your Ginetta G55...) forgetting themselves and using the access road before Paddock as the braking zone and orange Caterham now alongside as a turn-in point. Smell it? I was sat in it.

Fear makes you stronger though, right? And it's funny how what was once terrifying quickly becomes a life enhancing thrill, that near-flat run through Hawthorn, dab and flick into Westfield and Dingle Dell and dammit, could've gone quicker there combination of Sheene and Stirling among the finest collection of corners I've been lucky enough to experience anywhere. Clearways is a very different corner from the one I've known from Indy days too. Especially with a fresh sheen of water that wasn't there last lap.

Run down to Hawthorn is scary fast
Run down to Hawthorn is scary fast
Suffice to say, the magic of 'proper' Brands has now very much elevated itself in my memory, up there with Spa, Laguna Seca and that circuit in Germany we mention here on occasion. The only tragedy is that Club MSV only gets to hold 20 or so track days on the full GP loop, split between cars (there's one coming up in August) and bikes. Yes, there's a hearty price premium as a result. And it may well ruin the Indy for you for ever more. But if you ever get a chance to drive (or ride) the GP it's one you shouldn't turn down.

Dan

Author: Dan Trent
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