Motorcycle Track Guide: Brands Hatch GP

Niall's apex-by-apex guide to arguably the greatest racetrack in the UK. Druids will never be the same again...

It may have lost its World Superbike round but make no mistake, the Brands Hatch GP circuit is still one of the best racetracks in the world. I’ve had the privilege of racing or riding every major circuit on the planet and, as a special riding experience, Brands is up there with the best.

There is nothing quite like diving through Paddock Hill bend or plunging down Pilgrim’s Drop, where you can actually feel the drop in temperature and smell the surrounding woodland. Climbing back up the other side, blind corners add to the excitement before it all opens out again as you enter the ultra-fast section onto the curved start/finish straight.

Special days at Brands for me include clinching my second and third British Superbike titles and passing OCD American John Koscinski on the last lap for a podium place in the 1997 World Superbike event. On race days the busy spectating areas of the Indy circuit give superb viewing while providing a great atmosphere in this natural amphitheatre. Whether you’re there to frazzle your berries or watch the world’s best toast theirs, Brands delivers.

Sector One: Start/Finish to Surtees

Sector One: Start/Finish to Surtees

With standard road gearing on my Yamaha R6 I’ll be in fifth gear over the start/finish line as I head into Paddock Hill bend. Unless your bike is geared specifically, there’s no point bothering with 6th here. The track rises up and this is where you begin braking while shifting down to third gear. Focus on the marshal’s post straight in front of you, which means you can brake harder and later since the bike is upright longer. At first this gives the impression that you’ll miss the apex but, releasing the brake, keep a closed throttle and the inside of the turn comes back nicely.

The good bit is, because you’ve turned-in late, the bike is more upright. Now you can get on the gas earlier and accelerate harder and more safely down the steep drop, before heading up to the slowest corner on the track, the right-hander of Druids. On a good lap I will brake past the 200 metre board, then shift down to second gear, again turning-in quite late but getting off the brake as the track flattens out. Use most of the track on the exit and hold second gear as you head diagonally across to the right and down to Graham Hill bend.
This is a tricky left-hander as it tightens up and it’s off-camber. Sacrificing some entry speed gives a better line through the corner, which allows you to pick the bike up and accelerate safely to a late exit point on the kerb. It can be highside city coming out of this one so no big handfuls of throttle. It’s then up one gear along this short straight then back down again before braking hard (be careful over the bump when the front suspension is loaded) into Surtees.

This one takes a bit of practice but I use a very late apex to give me the best run onto the following straight. You have to be patient keeping a closed throttle to get back to the inside, but as soon as your knee is over the paint, roll it back on, stand the bike up as you climb up and move out to the kerb on the right. From here stay hard on the gas down towards Hawthorn.

Sector Two: Surtees to Westfield

Sector Two: Surtees to Westfield

Your front end will be light coming over the hill so get over the front of the bike to avoid tankslappers before getting tucked in and changing up through the gears down the fastest part of the track, Hawthorn. While it may look for all the world like the gantry over the track’s low enough to take your head off, trust me, there’s no need to duck.

You’ll be doing at least 140mph here but don’t look at the speedo or you’ll clear the trees and end up in Maidstone. The next corner is very deceptive. After you start braking the track heads uphill, so you can get in deeper than you think. Although this is a really fast third gear corner, it does open out so it isn’t the end of the world if you get in too hot.

There are no fancy lines through this one, just a nice wide entry followed by hitting the apex and heading uphill to the painted kerb on the exit, making it easy and very satisfying.

Shift up to fourth then back down to third – this is a good spot for a clean pass if you get a good exit from Hawthorn – for Westfield, a rippled off-camber right that demands a little braking to set the bike up. Try not to be tight to the apex as it’s easy to clip engine cases or bodywork here, which will send you flying into the toolies. I stay around six inches from the apex then allow myself to drift out to the left-hand side of the track as you start to drop downhill again.

Sector Three: Westfield, Sheene and Clark Curve

Sector Three: Westfield, Sheene and Clark Curve

From the exit of Westfield you’re up to fourth gear and into the exciting downhill/uphill Dingle Dell section. You’ll be drawing big black lines with your rear tyre down here, so pass your mate going in and he’ll be well impressed following you out. Initially, pull back towards the right and then, as you go uphill, allow yourself to use the entire track on the left before hitting the right-hand apex at the blind crest of Sheene curve.

Since there’s nothing to see until you’re at the corner, many laps of practice are the only way to master this double-apex, third-gear corner. Keeping your body over the right-hand side of the bike, squeeze the throttle open as you head round the short avenue to the banked second gear left-hander that is Stirlings. I enjoy pushing hard through here as the mini-banking shoves you down to the apex and gives you the confidence to get on the gas much earlier than any flat corner. Be careful though since the surface soon flattens out on the exit.

It’s then up to fourth gear and under the bridge and suddenly everything opens up on the approach to Clearways. Braking on the very left of the track, I shift down to third  and allow myself to come into the first apex, then immediately head into the middle of the track to line myself up for the slingshot onto the straight. Rolling the throttle on and shifting up to fourth, pull back to the second apex at the pitlane barrier and at the same time push hard on both pegs to help control the bike over the undulations on the start/finish straight. Try not to stay too wide too long as the outside of the track can be dirty and, as James Whitham will confirm, unloading here is not recommended.