Brooklands Circuit Layout.svg
LocationSurrey, England, United Kingdom
Length2.75 mi

Brooklands was a 2.75-mile (4.43 km) motor racing circuit and aerodrome built near Weybridge in Surrey, England, United Kingdom. It opened in 1907 and was the world's first purpose-built motor racing circuit[n 1] as well as one of Britain's first airfields, which also became Britain's largest aircraft manufacturing centre by 1918, producing military aircraft such as the Wellington and civil airliners like the Viscount and VC-10.[1]

The circuit hosted its last race in August 1939 and today part of it forms the Brooklands Museum, a major aviation and motoring museum, as well as a venue for vintage car, motorcycle and other transport-related events.


Brooklands motor circuit

The Brooklands motor circuit (or race track) was the brainchild of Hugh F. Locke King, and was the first purpose-built banked motor race circuit in the world. Following the Motor Car Act 1903, Britain was subject to a blanket 20 mph (32 km/h) speed limit on public roads: at a time when nearly 50% of the world's new cars were produced in France, there was concern that Britain's infant auto-industry would be hampered by the inability to undertake sustained high-speed testing.[2]

Requirements of speed and spectator visibility led to the Brooklands track being built as a 100 ft (30 m) wide, 2.75 miles (4.43 km) long, banked oval. The banking was nearly 30 feet (9 m) high in places. In addition to the oval, a bisecting "Finishing Straight" was built, increasing the track length to 3.25 miles (5.23 km), of which 1.25 miles (2.01 km) was banked. It could host up to 287,000 spectators in its heyday.[3]

Owing to the complications of laying tarmacadam on banking, and the expense of laying asphalt, the track was built in uncoated concrete. This led in later years to a somewhat bumpy ride, as the surface suffered differential settlement over time.

Along the centre of the track ran a dotted black line, known as the Fifty Foot Line. By driving over the line, a driver could theoretically take the banked corners without having to use the steering wheel.

The track was opened on 17 June 1907 with a luncheon attended by most of Britain's motor manufacturers, followed by an informal inauguration of the track by a procession of 43 cars, one driven by Charles Rolls.[4] The first competitive event was held on 28–29 June, with three cars competing to break the world record for distance covered in 24 hours, and the first race meeting was held on 6 July, attracting over 10,000 spectators.[5]

Apparently drawing inspiration from the development at Brooklands,[6] the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built soon afterwards, and held its inaugural race in August 1909.

The Mountain Circuit

The Brooklands Mountain Circuit was a small section of the track giving a lap 1¼ miles long, running from the Fork to the rear of Members' Hill and back. It was created in 1930 using movable barriers.[7]

Motoring records

24-hour event

On 28–29 June 1907, eleven days after the circuit opened, it played host to the world's first 24-hour motor event, with Selwyn Edge leading three specially converted Napier cars around the circuit. A statement of intent had been made in 1906,[8] and Selwyn Edge entered into a physical training program to prepare for the event. His car, "804" was extensively modified, having a special fuel tank, bodywork removed, and a special windscreen. Over 300 red railway lamps were used to light the track during the night. Flares were used to mark the upper boundary of the track. Edge drove his car for the full duration, with the drivers of the other two cars (Henry C. Tryon/ A. F. Browning and F. Draper/Frank Newton) taking the more familiar shift approach. During the event Edge covered a distance of 1,581.74 mi (2,545.56 km) at an average speed of 65.91 mph (106.07 km/h), comfortably beating the existing record of 1,096.187 mi (1,764.142 km) set at Indianapolis in 1905.[9]

Women were not allowed to compete for several years. Dorothy Levitt, S. F. Edge's leading driver, was refused entry despite having been the 'first English-woman to compete in a motor race' in 1903, and holding the 'Ladies World Land Speed Record'. Edge completed 2,545 km[10] at an average 106.06 km/h, a record which stood for 17 years.[11] The first standard race meeting would be held the next week, on 6 July.[12]

One-hour records

George E. Stanley broke the one-hour record at Brooklands race track on a Singer motorcycle in 1912, becoming the first ever rider of a 350 cc motorcycle to cover over 60 miles (97 km) in an hour.

The world record for the first person to cover 100 miles (160 km) in 1 hour was set by Percy E. Lambert at Brooklands, on 15 February 1913 when driving his 4.5 litre sidevalve Talbot. He actually covered 103 miles, 1470 yards (167.1 km) in 60 minutes. A contemporary film of his exploits on that day can be viewed at the Brooklands Museum.

Distance records

In July and August 1929, Violette Cordery and her younger sister Evelyn drove her 4.5 litre four-seater Invicta for 30,000 miles in less than 30,000 minutes (approximately 20 days, 20 hours), averaging 61.57 mph and earning her second Dewar Trophy from the Royal Automobile Club.[13]

World War One

Brooklands closed to motor racing during World War I, was requisitioned by the War Office and continued its pre-war role as a flying training centre although it was now under military control. Brooklands soon became a major location for the construction, testing and supply of military aeroplanes.

Inter-war years

Count Zborowski with Chitty Bang Bang 1 at Brooklands, 1921.

Motor racing resumed in 1920 after extensive track repairs and Grand Prix motor racing was established at Brooklands in 1926 by Henry Segrave, after his victories in the 1923 French Grand Prix and the San Sebastián Grand Prix (all won on Sunbeam Racing Cars which in various hands had significant success in Brooklands) the following year raised interest in the sport in Britain. This first British Grand Prix was won by Louis Wagner and Robert Sénéchal, sharing the drive in a Delage 155B. The second British Grand Prix was staged there in 1927 and these two events resulted in improved facilities at Brooklands.

In 1930, the Daily Herald offered a trophy for the fastest driver at an event at Brooklands. The first year, Birkin and Kaye Don competed, the former in a Bentley Blower tourer, the latter in the Sunbeam 'Tigress' 4 litre, Don winning with a speed of 137.58 miles per hour (221.41 km/h). In 1932, Birkin won driving his red "Monoposto" Bentley Blower No.1, clocking 137.96 miles per hour (222.03 km/h).[14] The track record stood for two years, before being beaten by John Cobb driving the 24 litre Napier-Railton, which holds the all-time lap record at 143.44 mph (230.84 km/h).

During the late 1930s, Brooklands also hosted massed start cycle racing events organised by the National Cyclists' Union (as the sport's governing body, the NCU banned such events from public roads). In 1939, it was used as a location for the Will Hay film, Ask a Policeman.[15]

When World War II broke out in 1939, motor racing ceased and the site was turned over to war-time production of military aircraft. Some of the track was damaged during this time by enemy bombing and a new access road to the Hawker factory was cut through from Oyster Lane. Other sections were also covered by temporary dispersal hangars.

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