British Racing Greens

The Airfield Circuits of Great Britain & Northern Ireland

13th November 2003 | BBC Essex

The Grand Prix of Essex

Whilst today's Grand Prix stars battle each other on state of the art tracks all around the world, 60 years ago the luminaries of two and four wheels were racing each other on an airfield in the middle of Essex. Modern day Grand Prix racing takes place on multi-million pound facilities, using highly sophisticated machines, piloted by super rich drivers. So it is easy to forget the sport was once a far simpler affair.

In the years after World War Two, many of Britain's airfields began to be used for the racing of cars and motorbikes, most notably at Silverstone which went on to become one of the most famous sporting venues in the world.

But for other airfield tracks, such as the one at Boreham in the centre of Essex, the smell of burning rubber and sound of revving engines has become a distant footnote in history.

Boreham Airfield Race Circuit opened in the second half of 1949 and held races on its perimeter road until 1952. Approximately three-miles in length, it comprised five corners connected by five straights and at the time was one of the fastest tracks in the country.

The track followed the airfield perimeter road. The circuit was given character with names such as 'Hangar Bend,' 'Tower Bend' and 'Dukes Straight' and attracted drivers of the calibre of Mike Hawthorn, Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Luigi Villoresi and Froilan Gonzalez.

In 1951, the venue was also the location for a young John Surtees to ride in his first solo race. He would go on to become the only man to win titles on both two and four wheels.

Racing ceased at Boreham at the end 1952 due to financial pressures, just a few months after it's 'International Festival of Motorsport' had attracted around 50,000 spectators.

However, the site remained closely involved with motor sport as a research and development base for the Ford Motor Company. It also became the home of the company's rallying team was so successful with their iconic Escorts of the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

But for those few years in the middle of the last century, that three mile strip of tarmac in the centre of Essex was one of the most vibrant and important bases for motor racing anywhere in the country.

You can only imagine what may have happened, had the racing continued beyond that time. The Grand Prix of Essex, anyone?

Boreham

Scalextric track plan of Boreham circuit
Track
C82041
C820516
C82022
C82353
C82069
C82073

Size 3.41 x 2.49m, 11.20 x 8.16ft

29th November 2012 | Daily Mail

The Final Pit Stop

Programme cover for Boreham 1952

Boreham racing circuit started life as a wartime airfield, built for the 394th Bomber Group of the 9th U.S. Army Air Force, and was used from march 1944.

After the war, the local council used the airport for temporary shelter for families awaiting better accommodation, and the converted Nissen huts provided reasonably good short- term housing for around 600 people.

In 1949, West essex car club held a test there following the Chelmsford rally, and the first motorcycles raced there in 1950, with the first car meeting the year afterwards.

Like Silverstone, the circuit consisted of the perimeter roads around the runways and was about three miles long with five corners. it was among the fastest in Britain.

The first meeting, in April 1951, was won by Archie Butterworth in an AJB, a four-wheel-drive single seater he designed himself. There were three further meetings in 1951, and the race in August attracted top British drivers of the day, including Reg Parnell, Roy Salvadori, Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt. The main race was won by Brian Shawe-Taylor in an erA.

In 1952, the season started on may 17 when mike hawthorn won in a Cooper-Bristol, and on June 30 hawthorn raced against Bernie Ecclestone and others.

A crowd of 50,000 attended that year's biggest meeting, the Daily mail- sponsored international Festival of motorsports from July 30 to August 4. The entry list featured Stirling Moss (ERA), Luigi Villoresi (Ferrari), Jose Froilan Gonzales and Ken Wharton (BRM), and Mike Hawthorn (Cooper). Overall victory went to Villoresi with Hawthorn winning the Formula 2 section.

West Essex car club, however, was already running up severe financial losses, and on February 20, 1953, it announced there would be no more racing at Boreham. In 1955, the track was sold to Ford who used it to test trucks before moving its motorsports division there in 1963.

In the seventies and eighties Ford built rally cars at Boreham, but when the circuit was found to be rich in gravel deposits, it was sold in 1996 for gravel extraction.

Gransden Lodge 1946

Scalextric track plan of Gransden Lodge circuit 1946
Track
C820520
C82026
C82001
C82362
C82351
C82062
C82071
C82781

Size 3.90 x 1.77m, 12.80 x 5.82ft

Gransden Lodge 1947

Scalextric track plan of Gransden Lodge circuit 1947
Track
C82045
C820521
C82023
C82001
C82361
C82352
C82062
C82071
C82781

Size 4.24 x 2.13m, 13.90 x 7.00ft

4th September 2003 | Formula One: Made In Britain By Clive Couldwell

Success

The success of Britain's Formula One industry has gone largely unrecognised outside the close knit world of the racing aficionado. Seventy five per cent of the world's single seater racing cars are designed and built in Britain. Thanks to this technical know how, most Grand Prix teams are based in the UK, and many of them have British managers and designers. As a centre of technical excellence for over thirty years, Britain is at the sharp end of the worldwide motor sport industry, and playing ever harder to win.

The well-financed and fully integrated organisations of Ferrari, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Lancia and Daimler Benz subsidised their Grand Prix activity by manufacturing exclusive sports cars for the super rich. But Alfa Romeo and Lancia had to withdraw from the sport in 1952 because of financial difficulties, so you could say that the networked geragistes had the last laugh. Smaller organisations could indeed produce competitive cars for much less money, and with far fewer people.

The process of running club races on smooth airfield runways also created a new and quite different approach to the design and construction of single-seat racing cars - and this, too, was probably unique to Britain. When you had found one, you tended to develop your car around a reliable engine and make it as competitive as possible by tweaking the weight and size of every other component on the car, such as its chassis, suspension, transmission, brakes and wheels.

If you were racing on a smooth surface, you could, for example, win a race with an ultra-light car and by taking advantage of independent rear suspension, even though your engine might be underpowered. This kind of activity didn't exist in Europe, where racing was conducted on bumpy roads. France, Italy and Germany didn't have our concrete airfields to race on, so the teams there had to make their cars of more rugged stuff to withstand the stresses indifferent surfaces exerted upon them. For them, racing-car design and construction was all about engine power: the more you had, the more likely you were to outperform your competitors.

Pembrey

Scalextric track plan of Pembrey circuit
Track
C82042
C820523
C82023
C82361
C82357
C82341
C82066

Size 4.33 x 2.64m, 14.20 x 8.66ft

Winfield

Scalextric track plan of Winfield circuit
Track
C82042
C820519
C82022
C82002
C82361
C82354
C82065
C82073

Size 4.42 x 2.07m, 14.49 x 6.78ft

Bruntingthorpe

Scalextric track plan of Bruntingthorpe circuit
Track
C82042
C820517
C82022
C82001
C82069

Size 3.99 x 1.15m, 13.11 x 3.79ft