Among them, and billed as the fastest track in the country, is Thruxton, the former WWII airfield turned motor racing war zone; a fearsome series of flat-out sweepers tempered only by the hazardous ‘complex’ and triple-apex chicane that completes the lap.
For thrilling racing and high-speed spills they don’t come much better, but questions have quite rightly been raised regarding the safety of the circuit following a series of increasingly extraordinary crashes at one of its most daunting turns.
In a single day touring car aces Nick Foster, Ollie Jackson and Simon Belcher each experienced the danger of ‘Church’, the right hand kink taken with only the slightest feather of the brakes before pitching the car toward its apex, hoping to see corner exit through the windscreen rather the passenger side window.
Foster was sent to Church by Rob Austin’s Audi – any over-taking manoeuvre into Church is optimistic – and after sailing across the expanse of grass surrounding the circuit found his BMW atop a shambolic tyre wall, inches shy of a small wood; birds and marshals scattered accordingly.
Simon Belcher’s experience of Church was perhaps more visually spectacular; something broke on his Toyota Avensis and on making contact with Foster’s former resting place, launched into a violent barrel role before disappearing into the tree tops roof first! That he emerged relatively unscathed is testament to the current-spec touring car’s rigidity.
Worse still was the incident that befell Ollie Jackson and his Proton. Like Belcher’s Toyota, something within the workings of the Proton failed under the unique stresses of Thruxton’s layout and off to Church he went, coming to a frighteningly abrupt 12.5g stop form 95mph. It was a tree trunk that ultimately halted the Proton before snapping in two and collapsing…one less tree for the others to hit.
In modern-day circuit racing a car colliding with a tree is unacceptable. Freak accidents aside, it’s hard to imagine this sort of incident happening at any other circuit in the UK. Pressure is on Thruxton therefore, to adapt.
An investigation is already under-way and it will be to nobody’s surprise if modifications to the circuit’s safety features are made, particularly at Church. I sincerely hope however, that those changes aren’t born from a knee-jerk reaction, that nothing drastic is done to dilute the unique challenge presented by Thruxton; to condemn Church and insert a featureless chicane for example, or indeed anything other that knife-edge, would be an act of pure sacrilege. A simple gravel trap would suffice, one without trees in it preferably.