Crystal Palace circuit
|Location||Crystal Palace Park, London, United Kingdom|
|Major events||Formula One (Non-championship)
London Grand Prix (motorsport)
British Formula Three
Sports car racing
|Length||3 km (2 mi)|
|Lap record||at 103.39 mph (Mike Hailwood, , 1972)|
Crystal Palace circuit is a former motor racing circuit in Crystal Palace Park in the Crystal Palace area of south London, England. The route of the track is still largely extant today but the roads are now mainly used for access to the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre located in the park, and to events within the upper parts of Crystal Palace Park. Some parts of the track are closed off and part is used for an annual Sprint Meeting, on the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.
The circuit opened in 1927 and the first race, for motorcycles, was on 21 May 1927. The circuit was 1-mile (1.6 km) long, and ran on pre-existing paths through the park, including an infield loop past the lake. The surface had tarmac-covered bends, but the straights only had hard-packed gravel.
Improvements begun in December 1936 increased the circuit to 2 miles (3 km), and tarmac covered the entire length. 20 cars entered the first London Grand Prix on 17 July 1937, a race eventually won by Prince Bira in his ERA R2B Romulus at an average speed of 56.5 mph (90.9 km/h). Later that year, during the International Imperial Trophy meeting also won by Bira, the BBC broadcast the first ever televised motor racing.
With the outbreak of World War II, the park was taken over by the Ministry of Defence, and it would not be until 1953 that race meetings could take place again. The circuit had been reduced in length to 1.39 miles (2.2 km), bypassing the loop past the lake, and pressure from the local residents led to an injunction which reduced motor sport events in the park to only five days per year. A variety of races took place, including sports cars, Formula Three, the London Trophy for Formula Two, and non-championship Formula One races.
Average speeds continued to rise over the years, with the first 100 mph (161 km/h) lap average set in 1970 by that year's Formula One world champion, Jochen Rindt. Also in 1970, the injunction limiting race days expired and racing was increased to 14 days a year. However, driver safety was coming into focus in the early seventies and it became clear that racing around a park at 100 mph (161 km/h) was not safe. Expensive improvements were undertaken, but it was not enough to save the circuit. The last International meeting was in May 1972, the final lap record going to Mike Hailwood at an average speed of 103.39 mph (166.39 km/h).
The final meeting was held on 23 September 1972, but club events still continued until the circuit's final closure in 1974.
The circuit's location within Greater London made it a popular venue for both film and television settings, The Italian Job filmed on the startline at Crystal Palace for the scene showing initial testing of the Mini Cooper getaway cars and in the paddock area for the scene where a security van is "blown-up". The Crystal Palace transmitter tower can be seen in the background of this scene. The circuit was also used in Ron Howard's film Rush, to recreate the last corner accident between James Hunt and Dave Morgan, and for parts of the UFO (TV series) episode The Responsibility Seat.
Although the circuit no longer exists (as an actual racing circuit), it can be driven virtually in the Grand Prix Legends historical motor racing computer simulation game, for which it was recreated in detail. It was later converted to several other racing simulation programs, including the popular rFactor.
In 1997, the Sevenoaks & District Motor Club started a series of sprint events. The event was attended by some of the star drivers and cars from the past; Bentleys, Bugattis, Ferraris, Porsches, Jaguars and many Lotuses raced the circuit once more. The latter marque even chose one of these Palace events to reveal its latest sports car. The events lasted three years before being stopped due to park development work. Following discussions with local council and the London Development Agency, sprint racing again started at the park, with the two-day event held 30/31 May 2010. This event was repeated on the same or adjacent weekend in each of the following six years but in 2017, is scheduled for the August Bank Holiday weekend.
- For 1969 circuit plan, and brief history of the circuit
- For circuit plan, and photo tour of circuit
- Detailed history of motor racing at Crystal Palace
- Postwar history of the circuit
- LRCC official web site
- MotorSport at the Palace website