Lydden Hill Race Circuit - Birthplace of World's Rallycross
Lydden Hill Race Circuit (previously known as Lydden Circuit) is the race track located in Wootton, Kent, UK. The circuit was opened in 1955 and it became a birthplace of the rallycross racing discipline in 1967.
Since then, the circuit is the venue of the British rallycross championship and became a part of the FIA World Rallycross Championship in 2014. Today, Lydden Hill is more than just a rallycross track, because it is hosts drift championship, bike track day and car track day events.
Lydden Hill race track was opened in 1955
The story about a race track between Kentish cities Canterbury and Dover started in 1955 when Bill Chesson bought a land and built the Lydden Circuit, with the help of the Astra Motor Club. In the next couple of years, stock car and motorcycle races took place at gravel and grass surfaced track.
In 1962, Chesson decided to add a tarmac surface to the circuit. He originally had a plan for a 1-mile tarmac circuit but he didn’t have enough tarmac so he got a shorter tarmac circuit. The full tarmac installation followed in 1965 and the circuit became very popular after that. The circuit also hosted Formula 3 races.
1967 – the year when rallycross was born at Lydden Hill
The historic day for the world of motorsport, was February 4, 1967, when the rallycross was born at Lydden. TV producer Robert Reed, race organizer Bud Smith and a track owner Bill Chesson created an event which was conceived as a TV show.
They invited rally drivers to compete at the 1-mile track which was a combination of gravel and tarmac. The winner of the first rallycross event was Vic Elford, who was driving Porsche 911.
First rallycross championship started at Lydden
After that inaugural event, there were two rallycross test events in March and July. New World of Sport Rallycross Championship started on September 23. The World of Sport was an ITV’s show and rallycross was promoted as a new sport which was attractive for TV viewers. The first championship featured six events (three at Lydden and three at Croft). Tony Chappell, who was driving the Ford Escort Twin Cam, was crowned as the first British Rallycross champion in the final round at Lydden on April 6, 1968.
After one and a half years and several rallycross events at Lydden, the BBC adopted the young sport for its Grandstand programme while ITV dropped it after the British Rallycross Winter Series 1968/69. In 1969, Lydden Circuit and Croft Circuit were joined by another RX venue, Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire.
James Hunt scored his first at Lydden
While rallycross was something new, Lydden Circuit continued to host another racing series in the late 1960s. One of those competitions was Formula Ford, in which F1 champion James Hunt started a career and scored his first victory at Lydden, in September 1968.
In 1973, the Thames Estuary Automobile Club (TEAC) organized the round of the European Rallycross Championship at Lydden Circuit and since then the track was the regular venue of the major international rallycross competition until 1996.
Ownership changes of the Lydden circuit
In the meantime, some ownership changes happened. By 1986, the Royal Automobile Club Motor Sports Association (RAC MSA) was pressurizing Bill Chesson to built Armco barriers at Lydden Circuit, but he refused to do so, telling them that it would be too dangerous for motorcycle racers. When RAC MSA told him that he will not get a permit for circuit racing, he put the track up for sale. Tom Bissett became the new owner.
McLaren Group bought the track in 1991
In March 1991, Bissett family entered into a joint venture with McLaren Group. McLaren subsequently acquired all the shares and became the sole owner. McLaren leased the track to the British Motorcycle Racing Club (BMCRC) from 1993.
BMCRC were based at Lydden until the end of 2007, hosting numerous motorcycle race meetings. The last European Rallycross event was held in 1996. The rallycross returned after Pat Doran became the new leaseholder in 2008. In that period of time, Doran was two-time British rallycross champion (2002 and 2005) and ERX runner-up (1992).
Pat Doran brought back rallycross to Lydden Hill in 2009
Doran’s involvement into rallycross resulted with the return of the European Championship in 2009. It is interesting that the last race winner at the Lydden Hill Race Circuit back in 1996, Kenneth Hansen, became the first winner in the new era in 2009.
From 2009 to 2013, the race at Lydden Hill Race Circuit was an opening round of the European Rallycross Championship. After Kenneth Hansen, who was a Division 1 winner in 2009, the premium class winners in the next four editions were Sverre Isachsen (2010 and 2011) and Tanner Foust (2012 and 2013).
World Rallycross Championship visited Lydden Hill four times
In 2014, the inaugural season of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, Lydden Hill hosted the second round of the championship.The winner was Norway’s Andreas Bakkerud. Another Norwegian, the defending world champion Petter Solberg, has won the race in 2015. Mattias Ekstrom took the victory in the British round of the 2016 World RX championship, eventually becoming the world champion. Solberg was the winner again in 2017, the last season when World RX visited Lydden Hill.
Since 1973, when the first international rallycross event was held at Lydden, some of the world’s famous racers were winning at Kentish 1,400 meters long race track, such as Stig Blomqvist, Petter Solberg or Mattias Ekstrom, but the absolute record holder is a six-time ERX champion Martin Schanche. The Norwegian was victorious at Lydden seven times.
Plenty of events besides rallycross
In recent years, besides hosting rallycross events of the national and international competitions, Lydden Hill Race Circuit was also the venue of the British Drift Championship and King of Europe Drift Series.
In spare time, when there are no races, the circuit is open to everybody who wants to prove his racing skills with motorcycles or cars in the popular track days.
Video : Onboard lap around Lydden Hill
Address: Lydden Hill Race Circuit, Wootton, Canterbury, Kent CT4 6ET
Phone: +44 (0)1304 830 557
Official website: www.lyddenhill.co.uk