Sometimes the best decisions are those that are made quickly. Whilst we were easing out of lockdown between the first and second waves of the COVID-19 Pandemic in September this year one of our members, Craig Archer, came up with a lovely suggestion to attend an historic pre-1980 racing championship at Lydden Hill Racing Circuit and which, in one series, wholly involved Alfa’s in the form of the HRDC Classic Alfa Challenge ( https://lyddenhill.co.uk/events/hrdc-historic-festival/ ) Most other events had been cancelled. So this represented a golden opportunity for one of the last COVID-19 safe club trips this year that was legally possible due to government restrictions to curb a second wave of a truly wretched virus. Having attended similar events since the easing of lockdown, I more than trusted my fellow club members to up hold the safe distancing and sterile practice that has kept us all safe so far.
At this sort of event there is no organised club stand, although it would be a thought to work on for next year. When you arrive together you show together and this was duly arranged on what turned out to be the perfect R.V together with a negotiated 50% discount to our club members attending. As you know to enable track and trace (in case you are infected) tickets have to be pre-booked. The R.V saw everyone assembled for the drive in and the prime position when we drove in was chosen by Nick Koleszar for the best view in the house. There were a couple of members who could not get the discount code to work on the website but the majority did and for one member attending a refund was arranged from the circuit. I arrived early just to check the R.V was O.K (really that was just an excuse for a sausage sandwich and a cup of tea, or in other words breakfast)
Arriving early and well before the racing (I think I was forgiven for getting everyone out of bed early) and getting the best spectator spot on the track to view the whole event was led by Nick Koleszar. Who I have to say chose the all time best vantage point to park our Alfas for the best viewing pleasure. Nick is a dark horse of hidden past experiences that gave us the best seat in the house for the racing before everyone else turned up.
Attending members were Nick Koleszar in the ever attended to 147, Craig Archer in the S1 Duetto 1968 Spider, Dave Hart in the 916 Zoe yellow spider, Dave and Amanda Norman in their 916 Zoe yellow Spider, the much respected Keith Masters & his son in the twin spark (2 litre) GT 1600 Junior (featured at https://www.arockes.org.uk/pistons-paws-15th-sept-2019/ ) Jack Hodson and his son Lucca in the V6 166 3.2 litre and myself in the S4 2 litre Spider. Not bad for an event set up 48 hours beforehand at the suggestion of a member! …. Oh we also had our much venerated member Graham Duplock in the much adored Porsche 911 (an incredible vehicle in its own right!)
You may ask yourself why you have never heard of this circuit (and it is a famous circuit in its own right) so I think it only fair that we should delve a little bit into the tracks’ history. It’s a unique circuit marked by the fact that at any point you have a continuous 360 degree view of the whole circuit and can follow the race and excitement from where ever you are on the track.
Lydden Hill Race Circuit is approximately 6 miles north of Dover on the A2 Canterbury Road. It is situated in a natural amphitheatre in an Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty and is 1.6093 kilometres or one mile long. It is the U.K’s shortest racing circuit. The track’s history goes back to 1955 when Bill Chesson (1923-1999), from Sittingbourne, bought land on Lydden Hill and formed Autosport Ltd. The name he later sold to Autosport magazine and opened grass-track racing for motorcycles and stock car racing. Around 1962 Chesson did lay a short tarmac track and by 1965 the Lydden tarmac circuit was complete. Both motorcycle and racing up to Formula 3 level took place there and among the future stars competing was motorcycle champion Barry Sheene (1950-2003). In the meantime Bill Chesson paid a visit to the U.S. where he saw the new sport of rally cross in which either production or specially built highly sophisticated rally cars take part in a form of sprint style racing. To rouse interest ,Chesson badgered the then two UK television companies, BBC and ITV for coverage.
Chesson maintained his interest in motorcycle racing and in 1967 organised the country’s first of the annual International Grass Track motorcycle events at Lydden. In 1984, the European Championships were held there. Following its success plans were made for similar events in future, but due to problems with planning permission, potential investors were put off. Nonetheless, big names in speedway, such as Barry Briggs MBE (born 1934), Peter Collins MBE (born 1954), Don Godden (1936 – 2011), Ivan Mauger, OBE, (born 1939) and Ole Olsen (born 1946) all raced at Lydden.
Rally cross had, by 1968, a large following and in August that year Chesson struck a deal with the BBC giving them almost exclusive rights. Within weeks, on the 9th September, an unknown English driver James Hunt (1947-1993) won his first race at Lydden. Less than two years later Hunt returned and notched up his second win to that date. However, on the 3rd September 1972, a leading campaigner in the wearing of compulsory seat belts, John Gott aged 58 and the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police, died after his sports car crashed during a race. The Canterbury coroner recorded a verdict of Accidental death.
From when Chesson first opened the track back in 1955 residents living nearby had complained about the noise from loud speakers, vehicles and crowds as well as traffic chaos on the local road network. The Track came under two separate but adjacent authorities, the Circuit was in the Canterbury area and for that the council there gave planning permission. Much of the remainder of the area and access was in the Dover District Council (DDC) area and they refused to give permanent planning permission.
In June 1986, the application for permanent racing went to Appeal and permission was granted. This was celebrated by a ‘21st celebration of opening’ even though the Track was much older! Albeit, the permission did have restrictions, including limiting the operation of the circuit to 52 days per year and forbidding racing taking place on consecutive days in excess of 12 occasions in any calendar year.
On 6 June 1999, Bill Chesson died aged 76 and that year saw McLaren applying for a planning package that included the production of Mercedes Benz sports cars on the site, providing some 50 to 100 jobs. This gained approval in January 2000 but the associated new circuit for motor racing or the testing of Formula One cars and other non-silenced vehicles, as well existing uses, were blocked. Discussions between Dover District Council and McLaren’s took place with the result that, in 2004, it was decided the Circuit would stay as it was.
In January 2008, the five-time British rally cross champion Pat Doran, His son Liam and daughter Amy signed a five-year lease from track owners McLaren International. Amy Doran age 23 took over the day-to-day running of Lydden Hill Race Circuit Ltd.
In 2014, a further planning application was approved for a major redevelopment of the Circuit that included a new control tower to house timekeepers and officials and a VIP hospitality lounge. Rally cross moved to Silverstone but the track goes on hosting events to suit every racing interest including the HRDC Classic Alfa Challenge which we were there primarily to see and the racing was exciting! To follow are some my amateurish snaps of the racing.
Two of the Alfas that really stood out for me was the Alfa Romeo Giulia GT Junior driven by Richard Merrell which won hands down and featured below…
Most notable and later to be shown at Alfa Romeo Owners club’s Southern Alfa Day the following week was the legendary Jon Dooley’s actual Alfasud being driven by the current owner Chris Whelan.
In short this was one of the better days in our itinerary in this rather restricted year and made all the better by the immediacy of its organization. So, thanks to Craig Archer for the idea, the circuit itself for the 50% discount off the entrance fee and not to mention Nick Koleszar for his knowledge on the best place to display our Alfas. This was an event I think we ought to defiantly attend next year and was very much enjoyed by everyone myself included. Take the opportunity when it “pops up” is what I say as life can be far too short. Having spoken to the circuit after the event they very much liked the spectacle we created and I hope would welcome us back with a display stand.
So what do we have coming up? Well we have the Alfa Romeo Owners club meet in the guise of Southern Alfa Day (Always a spectacular event) and beyond that I envisage something that is in all but name a second lock down ahead of the Winter when all our classics go into hibernation. We are currently working on a virtual quiz night via Zoom hopefully in November and I have reservations whether the post Christmas dinner or bowling will go ahead (Always class events)
So until the next meet, virtual or otherwise, stay safe and let’s see what next Spring brings? As you can imagine the committee will be working hard, in the background, over the Winter in planning for next year. So if anyone has any ideas for different and interesting events please contact any of us. Section Zoom meetings will be a focus due to restrictions and we are all getting used to the technology. So stay tuned to our Facebook page, Jeff Kaby’s e-mails and anything announced by AROC on their Facebook and website at https://www.aroc-uk.com.
Finally, I acknowledge that short’s wearing members of our section have the most awful taste in socks! 🙂