With the start of the 2018 British GT Championship at Oulton Park this weekend, theRacingLine.net has this guide to help you plan your Easter weekend at one of the UK’s prettiest circuits.
Set in the picturesque grounds of what was once the Oulton Estate in the sleepy village of Little Budworth, Cheshire; Oulton Park is part of Dr Jonathan Palmer’s MotorSport Vision empire. Opening in 1953, Oulton Park is something of a rarity for a post-World War II circuit in that it is not built on a converted airfield, but is a true road circuit. Measuring 2.8mi, it has many steep hills, blind crests and a real mix of corners. It’s a great circuit for fans, with lots of great viewing areas and guaranteed action. If you’re partial to a spot of photography then this is the best track in the UK for indulging; all photos in this article were taken from spectator areas.
Best Areas for:
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- Action: Knickerbrook sees more than its fair share of action over a race weekend. Overly optimistic moves, clipped tyre stacks, cars skating through the gravel, and cars spinning on the exit make it almost a certainty that you’ll see some action.
- Seeing lots of the track: The hill on the infield affords you a view of about a quarter of the circuit. And, if it’s a better attended race, you’ll get a big screen too.
- Photography: If you’re into your photography, the hill at Deer Leap allows you to get the Oulton Park photo with Lodge Hall providing a stunning backdrop to your picture. A little trickier now there’s a big fence in the way, but still very achievable.
- Accessibility: Blue badge holders have access to their own viewing platforms with parking on the infield at Knickerbrook. With views of the Cascades, Lakeside, Hislop’s, Knickerbrook and Clay Hill, it’s in a prime location for seeing the action.
- Getting close to the cars: The paddock tends to be open, though access to the garages themselves is restricted. The support paddock lets you get up close and personal to the cars, drivers and teams.
The Start/Finish straight is anything but. Narrow and curving left, the starts are always tricky. With the pit wall right up against the track on the right, it leaves little space for cars being crowded out to go before the first corner.
Spectators get a fantastic view here with the raised grass bank, no high catch fencing, the short distance to the track, and the pits opposite; this is a rewarding place to watch the action.
There’s also some good burger vans and picnic tables here too, although you might need to look out for the odd photographer standing on those to get a photo over the fence at Deer Leap of the cars exiting Lodge.
Old Hall Corner
A moderately fast right-hander that sweeps downhill, Old Hall has seen many sizable shunts and some fantastic overtaking manoeuvres. It’s a corner that requires commitment to get right. Too much speed and you are onto the bumpy, unforgiving grass and run the risk of being spat back across the track and into the barriers on the inside; too little and you are swallowed by the pack on the run down The Avenue.
Fans get an uncovered grandstand on the outside of the corner. There is standing room there too, although this is limited and (understandably) has a high catch fence. The inside provides a slightly better view without the fencing, but is a little further away from the track owing to the pit lane exit.
Not technically a corner but definitely not a straight, The Avenue is a steep, sweeping right-hander on the run down to Cascades. Expect lots of bumping and grinding, especially in the lower categories, and some great battles in all categories.
On the inside, you have a huge choice of location to view from; right up against the barrier limits your field of view but gets you much closer to the action. Alternatively, you could take a deck chair, sit on the infield hillside and see all the action at the exit of Old Hall, The Avenue, Cascades and watch as the cars disappear up Lakeside, then watch them re-appear at Hilltop and brake hard for Knickerbrook. Larger events, such as the BTCC, will also have a big screen here so you can keep up with the action on the few parts of the track you can’t see.
The outside is home to the main campsite. It offers fair views but you need to be there early at the busier events to bag a good spot. The view is pretty good here and, depending on how far down the hill you are, allows you to see the action at Knickerbrook and Clay Hill too.
A fast and slightly off-camber left, this corner is vital to a good lap time as the long straight at Lakeside follows. Cars go from the left and cross the track as they go over the crest at The Avenue and the track drops down steeply. Due to the camber, cars will fight oversteer on the exit as drivers lay down the power. The large run-off area offers drivers a false sense of security; many a driver’s race has come to grief as their car buries itself up to its axles in the gravel.
The only real option is the infield at the bottom of The Avenue; the shorter Fosters Circuit bisects the gravel trap on the outside of the corner. The spectator area on the outside of the circuit (the inside of Cascades) is closed to spectators as the bottom of the lake is there.
The longest (and straightest) straight on the circuit, leading into the fast left-hander that is Island Bend. With only a short (if any) braking zone, the braver drivers can gain a small advantage before they almost immediately brake hard for the Shell Oils hairpin.
Unfortunately, there is no spectator access from the exit of Cascades until the chicane at Britten’s.
Shell Oils Hairpin
The slowest corner on the track, the Shell Oils hairpin is a right-hander with 11 degrees of banking; the steepest banking in the UK (even Rockingham only has around 8 degrees). The banking enables the cars to corner faster than you would ordinarily expect. The more faith the driver has in their car, the more time there is to be gained. At the exit, there’s a short straight before the track flicks right on the run to Britten’s.
The first of the two chicanes at Oulton, Britten’s is a left-right-left that takes the drivers up towards Hilltop. The shallow entry to the first left means it can be taken fairly quickly, but avoiding the large kerb whilst braking hard for the tight right. A poor exit from the right can cause issues through the shallow left – noses can be slipped up the inside and it’s easy to take a big chunk of grass.
The furthest away from the infield section you can get, it can be a bit of a trek to reach. If you have arrived at the Knickerbrook entrance, it is a bit easier to get to but still entails a fairly long walk uphill on uneven (and often muddy) ground. You can expect to see some good action here and there’s no big catch-fencing, making it a fairly good spot for photographs if you’ve got a longish (>300mm) lens.
There’s not much in the way of amenities this far out – make sure you’ve made your splash-and-dash before you head here.
The second chicane and the spot with the most action on track. A fast right with a big kerb that should be avoided, a tight left (Hislop’s) and a tight right (Knickerbrook) with an inviting kerb that begs to be used. A good exit here is vital as the track rises steeply up Clay Hill.
Tyre stacks on the apexes of Hislop’s and Knickerbrook discourage drivers from taking a too-big a bite of the cherry, ready to damage bumpers and ruin the tracking of those who cut it a bit too close.
One of the best spots at the track to spectate from. It can get packed around here, especially at the more popular events. Plenty of food and drink vendors, toilets and, at the busier events, merchandise stalls too. Expect to see an army of fans with high-end cameras, all jostling for the prime spots. A short (but steep) walk away from a footbridge to take you to the infield.
There is a high catch fence at the entry to the complex, but the high spectator banking negates the need for more a little further round. Alternatively, you could buy tickets for the uncovered grandstand.
On the inside of the circuit, there is a viewing platform for blue badge holders available here.
A power-sapping climb up Clay Hill awaits those who kept it out of the gravel at Knickerbrook. TV and photos don’t do the gradient justice at all. Again, this is not a proper straight; the track curves to the left as the cars crest the hill, then curves left slightly again in the braking zone for Druids.
The foot of Clay Hill on the outside of the circuit presents a great spot for aspiring photographers with a cracking view towards Knickerbrook. You can also see the cars cresting Hilltop and streaming down towards the Hislop’s/Knickerbrook complex.
Staying on the outside of the circuit, there’s a rudimentary set of concrete steps climbing up alongside the track towards a footbridge. This leads you to the infield; spectator access is not possible beyond the footbridge on the outside.
The path rises at a steeper gradient than the track. This provides a unique spectacle among circuits in the UK: cars almost directly below you. There’s very little run off and you are several feet above the circuit.
Infield, there is a raised grass berm that provides some good viewing of cars going past. Expect to see some passes here as a poor exit from Knickerbrook will cost drivers dearly here. An excellent spot to practice panning shots.
There’s usually some food and drink vendors around the footbridge but these may not open at quieter events.
A second viewing platform for blue badge holders is available here.
A medium speed right-hander with some useful camber. The braking zone is made tricky by a left kink on the approach. Most cars will take two apexes here, with the second being on a crest. A short gravel trap does its best to keep wayward cars out of the tyre wall.
The short straight that follows is, once again, not really straight and very bumpy.
A fantastic viewing spot: low fencing, close to the action and surrounded by trees. Only accessible from the infield, either via a walk through the woods or, if it’s not closed off, through the rally track.
The spectating area doesn’t run all the way to Clay Hill (there’s a small wood in the way) but does start at the turn-in point for the first apex. There’s a small raised berm, but this is surplus to requirements as it’s really easy to see over the barrier.
Again, expect many people with cameras here; it’s a brilliant spot for panning shots of cars getting a bit sideways.
There’s no toilets or food stalls here; you will need to leave around 10 or so minutes to get to a toilet block.
A straight-forward right-hander, but with a steep drop down to the apex where the track starts to rise steeply again as it curves left towards the crest at Deer Leap and onto the Start/Finish straight.
A prime spot for overtaking, either through out-braking and going up the inside or getting a better exit or using the extra speed up the hill.
Another brilliant viewing location. There’s a grandstand on the outside and, although there’s a big catch fence, a fair amount of standing room too. You can get round to just outside Lodge Hall, though there is a big tree in the middle which can obstruct views.
In front of the grandstand offers a great photography spot; stand directly under the flag post and you can snap away at cars as they come towards you down the straight from Druids. The fence can make it a bit tricky to get a clean shot, but those of you with longer lenses or larger apertures can negate most of it owing to its proximity.
Staying on the outside, you can work your way up the hill and, if you have the kit, get some spectacular shots of cars with Lodge Hall in the background. Again, the high fences can be a pain, moreso than if you’re shooting up the straight.
The inside is also a good spot and is easy to get to from the outside; there’s a footbridge over the track at Deer Leap. Here, your view is unobstructed by fences.
The infield complex has clean, purpose built toilets, a restaurant, and shops. There will often be merchandise stalls and activities to fill the gaps between races.
The paddock is generally open to the public and gives you a great view of the happenings in the garages. You can also watch the cars being scrutineered post-race and even see the podium ceremonies (though this is usually very busy!).
There’s a large campsite on the outside of Old Hall for events big enough to warrant it being opened and is a really short walk from the track, even if you’re at the far end of it.
Car parking is plentiful on the infield (for those using the main entrance) and at Knickerbrook (if the Knickerbrook entrance is open).
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- Official Oulton Park website: http://www.oultonpark.co.uk/
- MotorSport Vision website: http://www.msv.com/
- Official British GT website: http://www.britishgt.com/
- Oulton Park Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/oultonpark/
- Oulton Park Twitter: https://twitter.com/Oulton_Park
- British GT Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BritishGT/
- British GT Twitter: https://twitter.com/BritishGT