We take a look at Buckmore Park one of the UK’s best known and most popular karting circuits
50 years ago the army were given a training exercise to create a 400m go-kart track on Bluebell Hill, little did they realise it would become a breeding ground for future Formula One stars
Fast-forward to now and the track celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, and has helped to develop the talents of F1 star Johnny Herbert and the most recent British F1 champions, Jenson Bu on and Lewis Hamilton over years gone by.The track itself has three configurations: Club, National and the 1.2km International variations. The la er takes almost a minute to complete, and is an MSA-approved outdoor track, which is constantly being updated with developments in the pipeline. It can also run day and night 7 days a week due to the floodlighting. The circuit fell into disrepair during the early 1980s, but with new owners coming on board in 1985, it saw new life being breathed into Buckmore. The facility was revamped and the track further extended in 1999, with a £1.23m clubhouse being opened in 2003. I spoke with Buckmore Park’s Chief Operating Officer, Chris Pullman, who joined the venue as the kart club’s manager under club founders Ken Webb and Carol Baines, who are still there to this day. He explained how he got involved with the track on a day-to-day basis: “I was racing Formula Ford at the time, but was made redundant from my main job, which were also my main sponsor. So I decided to look for work in motorsport. “Luckily enough, the club was looking for a manager. Being a racing instructor at Brands Hatch, I decided to go self- employed there and give the job at Buckmore a go. I’ve been there for the last 24 years.” He also likes being the “right-hand man,” doing all the donkeywork, but credits the long-standing team that helps doing the great work year in, year out. But the work doesn’t just take place there: “We come up with ideas, which are put into an operational context as to how it is going to work. “We also built the temporary circuit in the Brands Hatch paddock this year, as well as having an exhibition stand at the recent South of England and Biggin Air Shows. It all takes planning and budgeting to make it happen.”
The track has seen action such as the Sodi World Series, where Buckmore host the regional and southern finals, as well as Little Green Man racing there just the other weekend. Corners include Damon Hill, Symes Sweep and Sisley Straight, which do test the drivers when it comes to racing and defending around a very fast track in its own right.To get an idea from a driver’s perspective, I spoke with both Ecurie Ecosse GT racer Alexander Sims and Status GP3 driver Nick Yelloly, who gave their views on how to combat the track. Sims, who still currently holds the JICA National lap record of 38.28 seconds, was quick to point out that for the type of track it is, there are a fair share of challenges: “For me, it’s about all the differences on the corners themselves, especially when you have several hairpins in a row. The chamber changes need a different approach to be used when you tackle them head-on. You can use a lot of kerb there, which I don’t remember doing at any of the other tracks that I’ve raced at.”Nick said that his first race at Buckmore was during Junior TKM Super One nationals, where the Brit was quite literally thrown into the deep end: “It wasn’t a particularly good one for me, being only my first event after a few months of karting to national level. I was selected by random to start on pole and survived the first lap, ending up just outside the top five. I was pretty happy, despite my lack of experience.”
I asked Yelloly on what advice he would give any young karters heading to the Kent circuit for the first time: “It pays to stay smooth and try not to scrub speed by sliding through most of the corners. You can lose momentum very easily and pay for those mistakes through lap time. “Coming out of the hairpins at turns 3 and 4, it’s all about getting the best possible exit. The undulations require any exit to be paramount to staying fast and consistent. But in saying that, you can use a lot of kerbs to gain time, which can also allow for the corner radius to be opened up, increasing your speed.”In October, the track also hosts the annual Henry Surtees Foundation Challenge, which gives the stars of tomorrow to compete for some great prizes over a hard-fought day’s racing. This includes donations from teams that are in Formula One, providing experiences that will help drivers towards a brighter future.
The track also caters for the general public, corporate guests, as well as owners and drivers, providing a wide range of activities on top of karting, which includes off-roading and laser warfare. This means that the facility is growing in popularity and will continue to see its numbers swell of the next few years, providing a sound foundation for a great future. But does working at Buckmore Park give Chris Pullman the chance to go at full speed around the track? “Its like working in a sweet shop when it comes to going round the track, but I don’t really have time to go round the track. I’m so busy.”