Published: 06:00, 28 April 2020
| Updated: 09:22, 28 April 2020
With Brands Hatch and Lydden Hill at either end of the county, Kent motorsport fans don't need to travel far for their motorsport fix.
But as the coronavirus pandemic continues, both circuits have sat eerily quiet for weeks, leaving racing enthusiasts pining for some wheel-to-wheel action.
One bike meeting at Brands and a pair of Winter Rallycross rounds at Lydden have provided the only action of 2020 so far - events which are set to be the county's only live motorsport for months.
In March, the sport's governing body in Britain - Motorsport UK - suspended all events until at least June 30, wiping out the early part of the racing season at both history-soaked tracks.
While West Kingsdown's Brands Hatch hosted its last Grand Prix in 1986 - when Nigel Mansell stormed to victory in front of an elated home crowd - the circuit has continued to host scores of high-profile events, maintaining its position as an iconic venue.
Lydden, meanwhile, has recently gained planning permission for a multi-million pound development that will change the look of a circuit which, like Brands, is steeped in history.
Here, we take a look at some photos from the KM's archive, taking in a visit from Prince Charles to Brands in 1968 and some of Lydden's best rallycross action.
Brands Hatch began life in 1926 when grasstrack racing took place on an anti-clockwise layout, with motorcyclists using the natural bowl.
In 1950, the track was surfaced with tarmac and car racers began to use it before the direction of the circuit was switched four years later.
The total track length had been extended to 2.4 miles by 1960 when the Grand Prix loop was completed.
By 1964, Formula 1 had arrived in Kent when Jim Clark won the first British Grand Prix at the circuit.
Mansell's famous victory in 1986 marked the track's last Grand Prix - an event which had alternated between the Kent track and Silverstone for 22 years.
There's much more to motorsport than just F1, though, and Brands has hosted scores of headline events since 1986, with Indycar, the World Superbike Championship, A1 Grand Prix and other championships visiting the circuit, which was taken over by Jonathan Palmer's MSV concern in 2004.
In 2012, the road cycling events of the Paralympic Games were held at the track, with former F1 driver Alex Zanardi claiming an emotional win.
Today, the British Touring Car Championship and British Superbike Championship are staples of the Brands calendar, which also includes the DTM and GT World Challenge Europe.
MSV - as it does each winter - has worked to upgrade the venue during the off-season, moving the barriers back at Clearways and extending the gravel trap in order to make the bend safer, as well as putting in a new raised spectator area at the corner.
In the 1980s and 90s, the split-surface sport of rallycross was a key part of the Brands fixture list, with the prestigious British Rallycross Grand Prix first running at the track in 1982.
The rallycross circuit at Brands was designed and constructed by four-time British champion Trevor Hopkins, from Egerton near Ashford.
The track, which included a loose section at Paddock Hill Bend and fast knife-edge along the southbank, was last used in 2004.
But while the Brands rallycross track now lies redundant, Lydden's is still going strong.
It all started when television producer Robert Reed organised an event at Lydden in February that year which – unlike horse racing – would not fall foul to the winter weather and leave holes in the TV schedule when cancelled.
Vic Elford famously won the first meeting in a borrowed Porsche 911, beating a number of top rally drivers at an event run in an anti-clockwise direction pitting four cars against each other at a time.
The Lydden track itself had come to life in 1955 when Bill Chesson from Sittingbourne bought the land and opened a grass track and stock car racing circuit.
At the time, grasstrack racing was a growing sport and in 1958, Chesson, who died in 1999, organised the country's first international grasstrack meeting at Lydden.
By 1965, a tarmac track had been laid and racing up to Formula 3 level was introduced.
Among the future stars to have competed at Lydden include Barry Sheene, Carl Fogarty, James Hunt and Damon Hill.
Rallycross competitor Tom Bissett snapped up the circuit in 1988 before McLaren bought Bissett out two years later and outline planning permission was given for a replacement circuit, hospitality building, museum and pit complex.
In 1993, McLaren decided not to proceed and concentrated on its new headquarters in Woking.
Four-time British Rallycross champion Pat Doran obtained the lease for the circuit from McLaren in 2008 and later became the owner.
Under his control, top-line rallycross returned in 2009 when the European Rallycross Championship was held at the circuit for the first time in 12 years.
Lydden later hosted the World Rallycross Championship between 2014 and 2017, and still holds two British series events every season, as well as the BTRDA Clubmans championship.
In January, five years after his first attempt, Doran finally gained planning permission for a multi-million pound development of the circuit, which includes new buildings and a new access road.
Veteran driver Rod Birley, who lives just a stone's throw from Brands in West Kingsdown, knows both Kent circuits like the back of his hand and is delighted Lydden has now been given the green light for its plans.
The Ford Escort pilot - who holds the record for the most race wins in British motor racing - says Kent motorsport fans are lucky to have both tracks on their doorstep.
"We are very fortunate in Kent to have two venues that aren't sterile," he said.
"You really have to work to get success at both venues.
"You have to make sure the car handles right and also have the nerve to keep your foot on it around a corner.
"Neither circuit has got wide open expanses like Silverstone."
Birley surpassed saloon car racing legend Gerry Marshall’s 625 triumphs in November 2017 to claim the win record.
He says he enjoys the challenge of racing at both of the county's circuits.
"I have raced at the Nurburgring and Spa and the Brands Grand Prix circuit is right up there with those," Birley added.
"Like Lydden it follows the contours of the land and instead of reshaping the corners and making them easy to drive, the camber goes the wrong way.
"When you are on the GP circuit and coming back into Clearways, it is a bit like popping out into a stadium and it really does make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
"Brands is such an iconic venue."
Birley describes Lydden, which is the UK's shortest circuit at just one mile in length, as a "challenging little track".
He said: "The banks are close and it's a bit like a street circuit - it concentrates the mind.
"It is quite narrow and puts a lot of demand on getting the car to handle properly.
"It's not a power circuit and you see quite a lot of giant-killing acts there, which people always love.
"The openness of the paddock also allows you to get close to the drivers which is great.
"You don't need binoculars to see the action and you can sit in your car and watch the racing if you want to."
Yesterday, the organisers of the British Touring Car Championship released a revised calendar, with the second round set to run at Brands on August 8-9 before the finale on the GP circuit on November 14-15.
And last month, the British Rallycross Championship announced its traditional Easter event at Lydden has been rescheduled for November 7-8.
Birley, who did manage to test his Ford Escort at Brands not long before the track closed for the Covid-19 lockdown, says there is a lot to look forward to when racing does resume.
"Both Pat Doran and Jonathan Palmer have a real passion for the sport which is reassuring," he said.
"It is going to be tough for a long time with the coronavirus, but we have got to remember the great circuits we have in Kent.
"We are truly blessed."
More by this authorDan Wright
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