The Airfield Circuits of Great Britain & Northern Ireland
The Tracks, Ouston to Winfield
Aerial photos and details of Ouston, Pembrey, Rufforth, Silloth, Silverstone, Snetterton, St. Angelo, Thornaby, Thruxton and Winfield airfields and tracks.
Ouston, Northumberland | Track Length: 1.50 miles 2.41 km | Track Used: 1959-64
RAF Ouston opened in 1941 as a fighter station, and was later used as a base for air-sea rescue, and coastal convoy patrol. After the war, the airfield continued in various auxiliary roles, until 1970, when it was transferred to the Army and renamed Albemarle Barracks.
Racing at Ouston supposedly began in 1959. I can find no evidence of this, but that's not to say it didn't happen. However, there were certainly confirmed race meetings between 1962 and 1964, organised by the Newcastle & District Motor Club.
Pembrey, Carmarthenshire | Track Length: 1.46 miles 2.34 km | Direction: Clockwise | Track Used: 1984-Present
RAF Pembrey was opened in 1939, and in 1940 became an RAF Fighter Command base, and was also used as an air gunners school. The airfield continued in military use until 1957, and despite much of the site being repurposed over the years, Pembrey Airport was officially opened in 1997 as a civil airfield, using a single runway of the old airfield.
Pembrey has been used as a race track since the early 1980s, and the venue has hosted British Formula 3, British Touring Cars, European Rallycross, and British Superbikes.
Because of it's layout of fast sweeping corners and tight hairpins, Pembrey has also been popular as a test track, with McLaren, Arrows, Benetton, Jordan, Williams, and BAR Formula 1 teams having used the circuit.
Official lap records can only be set during races, but the fastest lap ever at Pembrey was supposedly set by Ayrton Senna in testing at 44.43 seconds.
Rufforth, North Yorkshire | Track Length: 2.1 miles 3.38 km, 1959 - 1.70 miles 2.74 km, 1960-78 | Direction: Clockwise | Track Used: 1959-78
RAF Rufforth was opened in 1942 and was used primarily as a Bomber Command training station. After the war the airfield became a glider base, until 1959, when it was closed under care and maintenance.
The RAF withdrew from the airfield completely in 1974, and the site was sold off by the Ministry of Defence in 1981.
Whilst still an RAF installation, the airfield was used as racing circuit from 1959 until 1978, hosting sports car, Formula 2 and Formula Junior races. There were two layouts of the circuit, the first used in 1959 being the longer of the two, and thereafter the shorter version being preferred.
In 1982, ITV used the airfield to film the nine episode TV drama 'Airline'. Set after the end of World War 2, it was a story about a demobbed RAF transport pilot who tried to set up his own airline.
Silloth, Cumbria | Track Length: 1.10 miles 1.77 km | Track Used: 1965-82
Opened in 1939, RAF Silloth was used as a maintenance base, and a Coastal Command training base. The airfield closed in 1960 and is now an industrial estate.
The airfield was used motorcycle racing from 1965, but was closed in 1982 after Gerry Hislop was killed racing a 350cc Yamaha at the track. The airfield was used by the Silloth Autograss Club from 2002, who use a field at the other end of the site, and supposedly have their pits located on part of the old track.
Silverstone, Northamptonshire | Track Length: 3.66 miles 5.891 km | Direction: Clockwise | Track Used: 1951-54
RAF Silverstone was opened as an operational bomber training base in 1943, using Vickers Wellington bombers, and closed in 1947.
However Silverstone's brief time as an airfield is overshadowed by it's much longer history as a racing circuit.
Racing began in a very unofficial capacity in 1947, when local enthusiasts used the perimeter track. But in 1948 the Royal Automobile Club chose Silverstone to host a Grand Prix. The first course was laid out with oil barrels and straw bales, spectators were held back from the track by ropes, and competitors found themselves heading towards each other at top speed down the two runways.
The event was a success, and the next year a new course was laid out, using the perimeter roads of the airfield, establishing a layout which was used, almost unchanged for nearly 30 years. It held the first ever F1 race in 1950, the only time that the Queen attended the British GP, and went on to become the home of the British Racing Driver's Club, as well as establishing itself as the single most important racing circuit in the country.
The track has undergone numerous alterations over the years, most notably introducing the Priory/Luffield complex, and altering Maggots/Becketts in 1991, and the introduction of the Arena complex in 2010. But the underlying structure of the old airfield still holds it all together and is still clearly visible.
Snetterton, Norfolk | Track Length: 2.97 miles 4.78km | Direction: Clockwise | Track Used: 1953-Present
RAF Snetterton Heath was constructed in 1942 and was initially intended for Royal Air Force use. However the airfield was re-allocated for USAAF use, and the 96th Bombardment Group (Heavy) arrived in 1943. The group flew Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses as part of the Eighth Air Force's strategic bombing campaign until the end of the war. The airfield was then used as a base for an RAF maintenance unit until it was closed in 1948.
The airfield was sold in 1952 and Snetterton Circuit was established, mainly using the perimeter roads. The first motor cycle meeting was held in 1953 and the first motor races the following year. An interesting feature of the circuit was that one of the corners was named after Jim Russell who had established the world's first racing driver school at the circuit in the late 1950s. He was later involved in the making of the film "Grand Prix" and is the source of the photographs we've published in our Grand Prix section.
In the the mid 1970s an alternative, shorter circuit was introduced, and in 1980 the longer track was abandoned.
In 2011 the circuit was extensively altered, and now includes three different configurations, one of which is the the second longest race track in the country. The Norfolk circuit remains a popular venue for top level national racing, with headline events for the BTCC, British Superbikes and British GT/F3 each year.
Trory, County Fermanagh | Track Length: 1.20 miles 1.93 km | Direction: Clockwise |
Opened in 1941, RAF St. Angelo is believed to have been named after the nearby Bishop's house, which was commandeered during the war as the Station Commander's residence. The station was a fighter station, but was also one of three bases which operated sea planes from nearby Lough Erne. After the war St. Angelo served as a storage and dismantling depot, and later became a centre of helicopter operations over Northern Ireland.
Details of racing at St. Angelo are few and far between, but the circuit is definitely still used for motorcycle racing.
St. Angelo Aerial
Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire | Track Length: 1959 - 1.90 miles 3.058 km, 1960 - 1.45 miles 2.33 km | Track Used: 1959-60
RAF Thornaby was opened in 1929 and was used as a fighter, bomber, and coastal command station. It was probably best known for its air sea rescue work and the development of the Thornaby Bag, an emergency bag dropped to downed aircrew at sea containing essentials such as food, drink, and cigarettes. The airfield closed in 1958 and the site was sold to the county council in 1962. The airfield is now covered in housing, retail and industrial buildings.
Thornaby was used just four times as a race track, in 1959 and 1960. Two different layouts were used, but little remains of either the airfield or the circuit. There is an old aerial photo of the airfield which has made accurate mapping of the circuits possible. Unfortunately it is protected by coyright, so I can't publish it here.
Thruxton, Hampshire | Track Length: 2.36 miles 3.79 km | Direction: Clockwise | Track Used: 1950-Present
Opened in 1942, RAF Thruxton was used by both the RAF and USAAF. The station was primarily a fighter base, but was also used for paratroop and glider operations, until its closure in 1946.
Motorcycle racing began at Thruxton in 1950, and cars followed in 1952. The circuit has had several configurations, but since 1968, a layout using just the perimeter road of the airfield has been used. The venue hosts a range of motorsports events including British Superbikes, British Touring Cars and Formula 3, though racing is restricted to just 12 days a year because of planning restrictions.
History of Thruxton
Fishwick, Scottish Borders | Track Length: 2.00 miles 3.22 km | Track Used: 1950-51
RAF Winfield was originally known as RFC Horndean, having been built as First World War landing ground. Upgraded in 1942, Winfield was a satellite station of RAF Charterhall. In fact the two stations were built together, manned together and operated as part of the same training programme. After the war the base became home to displaced Polish servicemen who famously brought with them a brown bear nicknamed Wojtek, who was actually officially enlisted as a private in order to provide for his rations and transportation.
Race meetings were held at the airfield circuit in 1950 and 1951, and an international event was even considered. However the site was still owned by the RAF, so the considerable investment required to bring the track up to standard was thought to be too risky. Racing then moved down the road to nearby Charterhall.