American auto racing fans are familiar with Formula 1 races, but Great Britain's car racing aficionados also look to Formula 3 racing, with its open-wheel setup, for heart-pounding excitement. Formula 3 is often a stepping stone for young racers hoping to one day compete in the Formula 1 circuit. Greats such as Jackie Stewart, the "Flying Scot" who won three world championships in Formula 1, have gotten their start in Formula 3.
Drivers race purpose-built open-top cars with 2-liter, 4-cylinder engines. The British Formula 3 International Series, which includes events outside Britain, culminates in the British Formula 3 Championship. Five championship venues, which also host a wealth of other motorsports events, are well worth the visit for any UK visitor who identifies as a gearhead. Most also offer "driving experiences" that give amateur drivers time on the track.
Cheshire: Oulton Park Circuit
The 17-turn Oulton Park Circuit is situated on what used to be the grounds of an estate near Little Budworth, between Chester and Winsford and not far from Liverpool and Manchester (the house, Oulton Hall, burned down in 1926). During World War II, the land was used as an Army training camp where U.S. General George Patton once worked with troops. After the war, local car enthusiasts built a track on the gentle hillsides, which now make for excellent spectator viewpoints.
The circuit features about 2.69 miles of track for a variety of car races, including Formula 3 championships events. Races take place on Saturdays and admission is only £13 at the gate. Children under 13 enter free. Gates to the venue open at 7 a.m., and parking is free.
Kent: Brands Hatch
Home to racers in the British Grand Prix, Formulas 2 and 3 and Indy circuits, Brands Hatch, located southeast of London, offers nine turns and 2.61 miles of climbs and slopes. This year, it was also a training ground for Olympic athletes and a competition venue for Paralympic road cycling events. Saturdays are race days, although occasionally weekend events kick off on Fridays. Admission for adults over age 13 is £13 at the gate or £10 online in advance. Arrive by 8 a.m. for a free parking spot.
If you want to go all in for the full racing experience — and perhaps get to know nearby Swanley just a bit better — take advantage of the free onsite camping at Racing Green. Although there are no amenities for travelers, campers may stay gratis from Friday noon to about Monday noon.
Leicestershire: Donington Park
Named for nearby Castle Donington, the motorsport circuit was the first permanent car-racing circuit of its kind in England. Originally built as a motorcycle track in 1931, it became a military vehicle depot during World War II and didn't reopen as a track until the 1970s. This "heart of British motorsport" in the heart of England is a must-visit venue for any staunch racing fan who visits the UK.
Donington Park features 12 turns and many twists on its 2.5 miles of track. Adults over age 15 pay £15 for a one-day ticket or £25 for a weekend ticket. There is another £10 cost for concessions when attending a Formula 3 event.
Norfolk: Snetterton Motor Racing Circuit
A short drive from the town of Snetterton is the eponymously named Snetterton Motor Racing Circuit near Norwich in eastern England. The track was extensively redeveloped and reconfigured in 2011, its 60th anniversary. British Formula 3 racers must navigate 13 turns and 2.97 miles of track. Other racing series use a shorter track with six to eight turns and .98 miles to 2 miles of track. The track is also often used as a test track for developing new racecars.
Adults over 13 years of age enter for £13. Since many races run on Saturdays and Sundays, save money with a with a weekend admission ticket of £16, which is only available online. Gates open at 7:30 a.m., and parking is free.
Northamptonshire: Rockingham Motor Speedway
Enter the Rockingham Motor Speedway via the centrally located borough of Corby. This semi-oval, which bills itself as the fastest banked oval track in Europe, presents racers with four turns and about 1.47 miles of tarmac. One of Britain's most recently completed racing venues, it was finished in 2001, after years of reclaiming the site from its previous use as a steel plant.
Cost of admissions varies, depending on the racing series being featured. Children under age 16 enter for free; adults pay between £10 and £26 per ticket. Check the website in advance to find out who will be racing over the weekend before heading down to the speedway.
by Sylvia Cochran
Top: Harry Tincknell of Great Britain drives the #21 Carlin Dallara F312 Volkswagen during the 2012 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 Championship race at the Brands Hatch Circuit. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)
Right: Fahmi Ilyas of Malaysia drives the #27 Double R Dallara F312 Mercedes ahead of the field at the 2012 British Formula 3 Championship race. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)