Mark Hales - Archives - The Charlies at Cadwell Park

Charlies 1 and 2 are a brilliant challenge. Blind on entry, you use the gradient to slow the car and make it point.

Cadwell Park is one of Britain's oldest circuits, dating back to 1934 when a farmer by the name of Wilkinson laid down a three-quarter mile chalk track on his farm near Louth in the Lincolnshire Wolds and used it for motorcycle racing. It gained an extension to one and a quarter miles and a hard surface in 1952, then it was stretched again to its present near-2.2mile extent in 1961. But while it grew longer, it never grew in width and essentially it remains more suited to the bikes for which it was conceived, but nevertheless, cars of all sizes have been raced there for many years. Until 1984, that included International Formula 3. Barn Corner up at the top of the track has since been moved a few metres to provide a bit more run-off area, but before that the outright lap record for the long track  was 1m 23.4 seconds, an average speed of 93.67mph, set in 1982 by Enrique Mansilla’s Ralt RT1 Formula 3 car. Since 2010 it has been held by a diminutive Honda Fireblade-engined Jedi single seater, driven by Richard Mitcham, and stands at 1m 21.1s, or 97.03mph, although the even smaller 250cc Superkarts come pretty close. Gavin Bennett's 1m22.28s, was also set in 2010.

Lap records are always an interesting barometer of layout as well as car performance, and having said Cadwell is mainly a bike circuit it's interesting to note that the absolute bike record is to Leon Haslam's Ducati 999 Superbike at 1m 26.65s and 90.6mph, a marker which has stood since 2007. Time saved on braking and cornering thanks to four tyres and larger contact patches - and a set of wings - clearly trumps the bike's missile-like acceleration and light weight. It's the elevation though, which adds the extra excitement – in some cases because the crest hides an apex, in others because the gradient or the hump over the summit does surprising things to the car’s handling. Either is always exhilarating because it can feel like a trip into the unknown, even if the track can't have changed since the last time. In Mitcham's case, that was exactly 81.1 seconds earlier.

Cadwell has plenty of hills to choose from so the selection of a great corner offered some choice. Park Corner perhaps, at the end of the undulating back section which can't really be called a straight because it curves gently for most of its length. There's a hump as you brake for Park which unloads the wheels and makes them lock. Makes you think you can do it faster, until you try. I lost a championship there in my Sierra Cosworth... Or maybe The Gooseneck. A confounding, long, tightening downhill right immediately followed by a left which falls just out of sight to plunge down a steep hill. In cars that will allow such things, it calls for braking all the way round the right, then a turn left before you can see the exit, at the same time booting it hard to settle the car's rear over the hump. I crashed a chum's Formula Junior there because I didn't heed my own advice. As I said, some won't let you do that...    

Charlies is two 90 degree bends with one name, linked by a very short piece of straight. Having mentioned that each turns through 90 degrees, it's easy to think of a hairpin but they absolutely aren't. In most cars, they are fourth, or even fifth gear, and some of those with wings can take it flat out, but safe to say that nothing equipped with Dunlop's finest historic rubberwear will fall into that category. The first part of Charlie’s is the continuation of the climb which started through Coppice where you are already travelling mighty fast by but all you can see up ahead is the road climbing towards a horizon with the tops of a line of trees stretching across it. So tempting to wait until you can see a bit more... Otherwise it's like rushing headlong towards a precipice, which nobody in their right minds would do. From the corner of an eye, you glimpse the tyre marks starting black on the tarmac then turning smudgy green as they head straight off the track and across the grass to the left. Makes perfect sense to lift off the gas and wait until you can see a bit more road to the right.

That's too late though... As you crest the rise there's a car's width of space to the left because your clip was too far round the corner. You must force yourself to look round to the right rather than straight ahead but that only reveals yet another crest so you can't see exactly where the next corner starts. You know it's there and you know it turns to the right so better aim for an apex like you should have done last time. Ah… there it is. Now you catch sight of the road turning away, and then turning some more while it dives away out of sight. Just as well you committed then... but what's happening. The road feels as if it's turned again and the car is heading ever wider towards the lumps of concrete on the left that look as if they've been patched and patched again. You see the brown streaks where cars have done exactly the same before you, running wide and hopping over the kerb in a desperate attempt to get round the corner. Nothing for it but to lift off the gas, again. Try and give the front some help to recover the situation you have created.

Damn... the first apex was too late and I squared off the corner too much and didn't use all the road. Then the second one was too soon and I pushed the car wide too early in the corner. And worse still, it happened just where the road was falling away so that made it even worse. Next time, it will have to be next time... And next time someone says Lincolnshire is flat, you can just point them to Cadwell Park.  

Back to archives

Raidillon at Spa-Francorchamps Image
Raidillon at Spa-Francorchamps

Eau Rouge is the corner most people know at Spa, but Raidillon which immediately follows, is the real challenge
Spa-Francorchamps which lies in Belgium's Ardennes forest just over the hills from The Nurburgring, is an absolute favourite with racers the world ove... Read More

The Craner Curves at Donington Park Image
The Craner Curves at Donington Park

What you can't see on a track is always more exciting...
Craner Curves - Donington Park Donington Park is the only circuit in the UK which existed before the second world war and is still operational today,... Read More

Le Mans 24H track, Porsche Curves and Maison Blanche Image
Le Mans 24H track, Porsche Curves and Maison Blanche

Seven apices, nearly all of them hidden on approach...
Le Mans - Porsche Curves and Maison Blanche In 1984, I was offered a drive in a Group C2 car at the Le Mans 24 hours. The day job was on a weekly mot... Read More

Brands Hatch - Paddock Hill Bend Image
Brands Hatch - Paddock Hill Bend

One of the country's more intimidating corners, it looks easy from the grandstand opposite, less so from the cockpit of a car.
Paddock Hill Bend, Brands Hatch Indy Circuit   There's no doubt that Brands Hatch Indy is a great place to drive and it’s a great place fo... Read More

Silverstone Image

Maggots, Becketts and Chapel.
The sequence on Silverstone's Grand Prix track which is Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel has always been exciting because like much of the rest of Silver... Read More