A Driver’s Circuit: The Challenges Of Knockhill

Rounds 19, 20 and 21 of the 2013 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship sees drivers head to Knockhill circuit in Scotland, a strip of tarmac that has become a personal favourite for many BTCC competitors due to its flowing and challenging nature.

Despite its short 1.2 mile layout, the Fife track has always produced a classic BTCC encounter whenever the cars and drivers take to the circuit each season, providing many overtaking opportunities that entice drivers into a late-braking lunge.

The circuit is a very tight and challenging venue to master, with the undulating sections and blind corners making it a rollercoaster behind the wheel, with many drivers calling Knockhill a personal favourite of theirs due to how much it rewards a good lap.

One of those that appreciates those challenges more than any is reigning champion Gordon Shedden, the Scot having lapped this track many more times than he could ever recall.

“Knockhill is probably the polar opposite to Snetterton in terms of the length of track and the undulations”, says the local man. “It always provides spectacular racing and it’s great for the fans to see the cars bouncing over the kerbs and the drivers really having to work.”

A lap of Knockhill

Already starting on uneven ground over the start/finish straight’s crest, the cars rumble down the narrow stretch of track reaching 120mph in sixth gear heading towards the famous Duffus Dip – now known as Seat Curves – a right-left sequence taken in fourth gear that sees the BTCC machines plunge downhill going through the right-hander, a place made for overtaking also as drivers leap over the kerbing under heavy braking.

The bend has seen some spectacular images such as Tom Chilton almost rolling his miniscule Arena Motorsport Honda Civic through enthusuastic kerb-hopping in 2004, and many an incident as drivers fight back on the flick back left before heading into Scotsman’s, a tight second gear right hander that has seen drivers stick there noses in for a pass more than often.

That chance to overtake has seen even more incident down the years, from the famous roll of Gabriele Tarquini in the 1994 Alfa-dominated year, to Matt Neal and Yvan Muller coming to blows in 2005.

Kerb-hopping is a favourite at Knockhill (Photo: btcc.net)
Kerb-hopping is a favourite at Knockhill (Photo: btcc.net)

Heading downhill briefly the cars thread back uphill into the blind and popular John R Weir chicane, leaping spectacularly over the kerbing in a photographer’s dream scenario as they shortcut the bend as much as they can to gain time.

If they have avoided the gravel trap on the exit of the bend, drivers head off into another right-hander, Clark’s, named after the Scottish racing legend (and former BTCC champion), Jim Clark.

The 90 degree bend goes briefly uphill before your understeer as wide as possible over the kerbs without clipping the gravel trap, the corner a favourite for an overtaking lunge also, although a good exit sets you up for good acceleration down the straight into the tight Real Radio Hairpin to end the lap.

Hammering down the gearbox from sixth to first, the tight 40mph corner sees cars climb uphill on the apex, with traffic jams inevitable as they fight for position, sometimes ending with the consequence of contact and a trip back down the other side of the hill where they have a second crack at it.

A driver’s circuit

The circuit’s famous undulating corners are the character of the track that drivers most remember and enjoy when they visit Knockhill, the most winning driver on the grid himself being a big fan of the Fife strip of tarmac.

“Knockhill is a great circuit because it is undulating and it flows really nicely”, says eight-time Knockhill winner Jason Plato.

“There are crests and lots of blind corners. That means you have to attack the circuit while trying to be as precise as possible to be on the right lines. At some of the turns, if you are slightly off-line at the entry, then it is magnified all the way through and you are in real trouble on the exit.

“That makes it a compromise because you have to be committed and attack, but you also have to think about leaving a little margin for error. That makes it perfect for me. Those elements, plus the fact that the fans can get so close to the action, makes for a really good atmosphere.”

Plato’s Triple Eight boss Ian Harrison also understands the challenges of Knockhill, not forgetting the often chaotic scenarios that mother naturebrings to the table up North, saying: “It is a circuit that can be a bit of a lottery – and that’s not just because of the Scottish weather. It is so tight that the field tends to stay closely grouped together and that can lead to contact. Keeping out of trouble is the first job, and then you can think about attacking the race.”

Ciceley Racing‘s Adam Morgan echoed his fellow BTCC colleagues’ viewpoints, saying: “It’s a real drivers circuit – the car is on the edge quite a lot and you have to keep your wits about you. But it’s one of those tracks where it is really difficult to pass, so we are preparing ourselves in case there is contact between the cars.

“And you never quite know what the weather will do – hopefully it will be one thing or the other, either dry or fully wet, and not something in between which will turn things into a lottery.”

Smith attacks the Knockhill circuit in 2012 (Photo: btcc.net)
Smith attacks the Knockhill circuit in 2012 (Photo: btcc.net)

Aron Smith is another driver who has warmed to the Scottish venue, the Irishman having come a whisker away from what would have been a maiden podium finish here last year, pipped to the line by Shedden.

“Knockhill has quickly become my favourite track on the calendar and being honest, it’s where my season really took off last year”, said Smith.

–  You can keep up with all the news, race reports and general goings on from Knockhill all weekend with us on thecheckeredflag.co.uk, and follow live tweets during the races on our Twitter page @tcfBTCC.