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Photos of Brands Hatch and Lydden Hill as coronavirus stops motorsport action at Kent race circuits

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.

The World Touring Car field in the sunshine at Brands Hatch in 2009, right, British Rallycross action at Lydden Hill in 2004. Pictures: Peter Still/RallycrossWorld.com
The World Touring Car field in the sunshine at Brands Hatch in 2009, right, British Rallycross action at Lydden Hill in 2004. Pictures: Peter Still/RallycrossWorld.com

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.

Druids is one of the best spectator spots at Brands - and this shot from 1964 shows one single-seater driver getting it wrong
Druids is one of the best spectator spots at Brands - and this shot from 1964 shows one single-seater driver getting it wrong
Minicross drivers - including Ashford's Terry Moore (74) - await the start at Lydden Hill in March 2002. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Minicross drivers - including Ashford's Terry Moore (74) - await the start at Lydden Hill in March 2002. Picture: Kerry Dunlop

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.

Nigel Mansell could really draw a crowd - here the 1992 world champion is testing at Brands Hatch in June 1994 as he prepares for his F1 comeback
Nigel Mansell could really draw a crowd - here the 1992 world champion is testing at Brands Hatch in June 1994 as he prepares for his F1 comeback
Surrounded by tyre smoke, Shane 'Shakey' Byrne performs a doughnut in front of his home fans in 2002. Picture: Andy Payton
Surrounded by tyre smoke, Shane 'Shakey' Byrne performs a doughnut in front of his home fans in 2002. Picture: Andy Payton
The start of a 20-minute race at Brands in 1973 which included a Capri 3000, centre of picture, owned by Prince Michael and driven by Nigel Clarkson
The start of a 20-minute race at Brands in 1973 which included a Capri 3000, centre of picture, owned by Prince Michael and driven by Nigel Clarkson
An aerial view of Brands Hatch from 1992, with part of West Kingsdown in the foreground
An aerial view of Brands Hatch from 1992, with part of West Kingsdown in the foreground

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.

The DTM field exits Druids during the 2009 event at Brands Hatch. Picture: Peter Still
The DTM field exits Druids during the 2009 event at Brands Hatch. Picture: Peter Still
Jonathan Palmer, owner of Brands Hatch, right, with 1980 Formula One world champion and A1 Team Australia seat holder Alan Jones at the last A1GP event in May 2009. Picture: Andy Payton
Jonathan Palmer, owner of Brands Hatch, right, with 1980 Formula One world champion and A1 Team Australia seat holder Alan Jones at the last A1GP event in May 2009. Picture: Andy Payton
One of the world's best spectator spots - Paddock Hill Bend at Brands Hatch in February 1997
One of the world's best spectator spots - Paddock Hill Bend at Brands Hatch in February 1997
Lewis Hamilton signing autographs at the Brands Hatch DTM meeting in 2008.
Picture: Peter Still
Lewis Hamilton signing autographs at the Brands Hatch DTM meeting in 2008. Picture: Peter Still

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.

Will power: Rallycross legend Will Gollop races away from his rivals over Hoppy's Drop in the Supercar final at Brands Hatch in November 2003. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Will power: Rallycross legend Will Gollop races away from his rivals over Hoppy's Drop in the Supercar final at Brands Hatch in November 2003. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Graham Hill fighting it out in the 1969 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch. Picture: MSV
Graham Hill fighting it out in the 1969 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch. Picture: MSV
Neil Hodgson (100) pleases the huge crowd by leading the World Superbike pack into Paddock Hill Bend in 2002. Picture: Andy Payton
Neil Hodgson (100) pleases the huge crowd by leading the World Superbike pack into Paddock Hill Bend in 2002. Picture: Andy Payton
Prince Charles on a visit to Brands Hatch in 1968. Also on the visit were the Duke of Kent and Lord Mountbatten, the chairman of the RAC
Prince Charles on a visit to Brands Hatch in 1968. Also on the visit were the Duke of Kent and Lord Mountbatten, the chairman of the RAC

But while the Brands rallycross track now lies redundant, Lydden's is still going strong.

As the sport's birthplace, the natural amphitheatre just off the A2 between Dover and Canterbury has hosted rallycross events since 1967.

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.

Porsche driver Vic Elford won the first-ever rallycross event at Lydden Hill in 1967. Picture: LAT
Porsche driver Vic Elford won the first-ever rallycross event at Lydden Hill in 1967. Picture: LAT
Follow the leader: World Rallycross action from Lydden's North Bend Hairpin in 2015. Picture: FIAWorldRallycross.com
Follow the leader: World Rallycross action from Lydden's North Bend Hairpin in 2015. Picture: FIAWorldRallycross.com

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.

Single-seater drivers plough into the Devil's Elbow at Lydden Hill in 1969
Single-seater drivers plough into the Devil's Elbow at Lydden Hill in 1969
Will Gollop's legendary bi-turbo MG Metro 6R4 at Lydden Hill in 2016. Picture: Vic Wright
Will Gollop's legendary bi-turbo MG Metro 6R4 at Lydden Hill in 2016. Picture: Vic Wright
Eye in the sky: an aerial view of Lydden Hill - the UK's shortest circuit - in September 1995
Eye in the sky: an aerial view of Lydden Hill - the UK's shortest circuit - in September 1995
Two Legends drivers - Ross Marshall and John Mickel - were lucky to escape from this fiery crash at Lydden Hill in June 2010. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Two Legends drivers - Ross Marshall and John Mickel - were lucky to escape from this fiery crash at Lydden Hill in June 2010. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
A proud Pat Doran alongside his Ford RS200 at Lydden in 2002 - six years later he would become the circuit's leaseholder and later owner. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
A proud Pat Doran alongside his Ford RS200 at Lydden in 2002 - six years later he would become the circuit's leaseholder and later owner. Picture: Kerry Dunlop

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.

Andrew Jordan (77) sends the course markers flying as he sweeps past Pat Doran, while Dermot Carnegie (2) and John McCluskey dispute fourth place in the British Rallycross 'A' final at Lydden in August 2006. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Andrew Jordan (77) sends the course markers flying as he sweeps past Pat Doran, while Dermot Carnegie (2) and John McCluskey dispute fourth place in the British Rallycross 'A' final at Lydden in August 2006. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson filmed a TopGear World Rallycross feature at Lydden Hill in 2015. Picture: Ellis O'Brien/BBC
James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson filmed a TopGear World Rallycross feature at Lydden Hill in 2015. Picture: Ellis O'Brien/BBC
Bernd Hiemer leads the 650 final through the chicane at a Lydden Supermoto meeting in October 2003. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Bernd Hiemer leads the 650 final through the chicane at a Lydden Supermoto meeting in October 2003. Picture: Kerry Dunlop

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.

A computer-generated image of how an updated Lydden Hill could look after circuit bosses finally gained planning permission for new buildings and a new access road
A computer-generated image of how an updated Lydden Hill could look after circuit bosses finally gained planning permission for new buildings and a new access road
A spectacular slide from Liam Doran's Ford RS200 during a clash with Ollie O'Donovan at Chesson's Drift in 2008. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
A spectacular slide from Liam Doran's Ford RS200 during a clash with Ollie O'Donovan at Chesson's Drift in 2008. Picture: Kerry Dunlop

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."

Daniel la Rosa leaves a line of tyre rubber as he exits the pits during the first DTM event at Brands Hatch in July 2006
Daniel la Rosa leaves a line of tyre rubber as he exits the pits during the first DTM event at Brands Hatch in July 2006
West Kingsdown's Rod Birley scored his 626th victory in November 2017 to beat Gerry Marshall's wins record. Picture: Simon Hildrew
West Kingsdown's Rod Birley scored his 626th victory in November 2017 to beat Gerry Marshall's wins record. Picture: Simon Hildrew
Rallycross hero Will Gollop, from Blean near Canterbury, rounds Paddock Bend at Lydden Hill in his iconic Silkolene-backed MG Metro 6R4. Picture: RallycrossWorld.com
Rallycross hero Will Gollop, from Blean near Canterbury, rounds Paddock Bend at Lydden Hill in his iconic Silkolene-backed MG Metro 6R4. Picture: RallycrossWorld.com
Mini engineer and Lydden Hill instructor Bill Richards - pictured here in July 2007 - knows both circuits incredibly well. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Mini engineer and Lydden Hill instructor Bill Richards - pictured here in July 2007 - knows both circuits incredibly well. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Ireland's Adam Carroll leads the A1GP feature race at Brands Hatch in May 2009, while India's Narain Karthikeyan hits the gravel at Paddock Hill Bend in the background. Picture: Andy Payton
Ireland's Adam Carroll leads the A1GP feature race at Brands Hatch in May 2009, while India's Narain Karthikeyan hits the gravel at Paddock Hill Bend in the background. Picture: Andy Payton

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.

Thousands of people attended Lydden Hill's last World Rallycross event in May 2017. Picture: FIAWorldRallycross.com
Thousands of people attended Lydden Hill's last World Rallycross event in May 2017. Picture: FIAWorldRallycross.com
Sportscar action on the fearsome 2.4-mile Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit in 1971
Sportscar action on the fearsome 2.4-mile Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit in 1971
The Brabham Straight at Brands Hatch pictured in February 1997
The Brabham Straight at Brands Hatch pictured in February 1997
MG driver Anthony Reid is forced through the gravel at Paddock Hill Bend in a British Touring Car Championship encounter in April 2002. Picture: Andy Payton
MG driver Anthony Reid is forced through the gravel at Paddock Hill Bend in a British Touring Car Championship encounter in April 2002. Picture: Andy Payton

"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."

82 hot air balloons took off from Lydden Hill and crossed the Channel in April 2017, setting a new Guinness World Record
82 hot air balloons took off from Lydden Hill and crossed the Channel in April 2017, setting a new Guinness World Record
Sebastien Bourdais in action during the London Champ Car Trophy meeting at Brands Hatch in May 2003. Picture: Andy Payton
Sebastien Bourdais in action during the London Champ Car Trophy meeting at Brands Hatch in May 2003. Picture: Andy Payton
July 1968: Prince Charles drove to Brands Hatch in his blue MGC GT car, where he went to the paddock and met some of the top Grand Prix stars including John Surtees, Graham Hill - pictured here - and Denny Hulme
July 1968: Prince Charles drove to Brands Hatch in his blue MGC GT car, where he went to the paddock and met some of the top Grand Prix stars including John Surtees, Graham Hill - pictured here - and Denny Hulme

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.

Lydden isn't just about rallycross - here a huge pack of Ford Fiestas makes its way around Chesson's Drift in October 2009. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Lydden isn't just about rallycross - here a huge pack of Ford Fiestas makes its way around Chesson's Drift in October 2009. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton performing demonstration laps at Brands Hatch in 2008, when he visited the circuit for the British round of the DTM German touring car championship. Picture: David Antony Hunt
Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton performing demonstration laps at Brands Hatch in 2008, when he visited the circuit for the British round of the DTM German touring car championship. Picture: David Antony Hunt
Learning from the best: A fresh-faced Andrew Jordan at Lydden Hill in August 2007 with his dad, Mike, and 1992 European Rallycross champion Will Gollop. Picture: RallycrossWorld.com
Learning from the best: A fresh-faced Andrew Jordan at Lydden Hill in August 2007 with his dad, Mike, and 1992 European Rallycross champion Will Gollop. Picture: RallycrossWorld.com
Shane 'Shakey' Byrne wins the title at the final round of the British Superbikes at Brands Hatch in October 2017. Picture: Peter Still
Shane 'Shakey' Byrne wins the title at the final round of the British Superbikes at Brands Hatch in October 2017. Picture: Peter Still
An MG Metro Cup pack charges along the Cooper Straight at Brands Hatch in September 2002. Picture: Andy Payton
An MG Metro Cup pack charges along the Cooper Straight at Brands Hatch in September 2002. Picture: Andy Payton

"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."

Pat Doran races his Ford Fiesta past part of the enormous crowd at Lydden on August Bank Holiday Monday in 2008. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Pat Doran races his Ford Fiesta past part of the enormous crowd at Lydden on August Bank Holiday Monday in 2008. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
A bird's eye view from 1970 of Brands Hatch, which had held its first Grand Prix six years earlier
A bird's eye view from 1970 of Brands Hatch, which had held its first Grand Prix six years earlier
Elham area residents Nigel Craig (right) and Tony Skelton battle it out at Lydden in 2012. The landmark ‘Y’ roof of the former scrutineering bay can be seen in the background. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
Elham area residents Nigel Craig (right) and Tony Skelton battle it out at Lydden in 2012. The landmark ‘Y’ roof of the former scrutineering bay can be seen in the background. Picture: Kerry Dunlop
The start of the second semi final at Lydden Hill's FIA World Rallycross Championship round in May 2014, with Audi star Robin Larsson leading the pack. Picture: Matt Bristow
The start of the second semi final at Lydden Hill's FIA World Rallycross Championship round in May 2014, with Audi star Robin Larsson leading the pack. Picture: Matt Bristow
Competitors set out on the Women's Individual B Road Race at Brands Hatch during the Paralympics in 2012. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Competitors set out on the Women's Individual B Road Race at Brands Hatch during the Paralympics in 2012. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Mattias Ekstrom won Lydden's 2016 World Rallycross event after a fine drive in the final. Picture: Matt Bristow
Mattias Ekstrom won Lydden's 2016 World Rallycross event after a fine drive in the final. Picture: Matt Bristow
The British Touring Car Championship field heads into Druids at Brands Hatch in April 2006. Picture: Barry Goodwin
The British Touring Car Championship field heads into Druids at Brands Hatch in April 2006. Picture: Barry Goodwin
A packed Lydden Hill during the FIA World Rallycross Championship round in May 2014. Picture: Matt Bristow
A packed Lydden Hill during the FIA World Rallycross Championship round in May 2014. Picture: Matt Bristow

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."

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