One of the most infamous corners in the UK, Paddock Hill Bend is notorious for its roller coaster-like elevation changes. It’s equally well known for being treacherous to drive and is probably the corner that sees the most spinning cars in the whole of the UK. This article looks at just what makes it so hard to navigate, and what causes so many to end up pointing backwards in the kitty litter.
Paddock Hill spinners
Before we look at why Paddock Hill Bend causes such a problem for so many drivers, let’s check out a few video examples of people getting it wrong.
Most of the videos below will feature FWD cars as these are prime for lift-off oversteer, which will become a common thread here and I will talk about in more detail further down. But RWD and AWD cars are not exempt for the Paddock Hill peril. Go to any Brands Hatch event, race day or trackday, and you’ll see someone get it wrong here.
Turn the sound up for this one, it’s a golden oldy. A classic from some guys in their RX7s in the torrential rain. The one ahead runs too wide in to the corner, lifts off (even gets on the brakes) and looks like ‘he’s gonna lose it’. Sure enough he does, with a nice a pirouette right in front of the camera car. A ‘blinding bit of driving’ by Phil and some equally blinding feet on the dashboard from the passenger keep the two cars from coming in to contact.
The next one is this guy in a Fiesta ST. He enters the corner a little too hot, misses the apex and when he realises his mistake lifts off the throttle. This causes the car to spin and before we know it he’s mowing the Brands Hatch lawn.
This is onboard an old Fiesta in a Stock Hatch race. This driver (who isn’t likely to become the next Max Verstappen any time soon) comes in to Paddock Hill bend normally, and then sees the cars ahead having an incident. This causes him to lift off the throttle right at the apex and sure enough that results in big oversteer. He would have spun completely and ended up on the grass had the guy behind him not collected him and wiped him out.
As a bonus this video is a good example of why you shouldn’t buy cheap fake NOMO steering wheels from Amazon or eBay. Look how much it has bent after the crash! Also, please keep your hands on the wheel at all times, regardless of what shape it is and even if you’ve just been totaled.
And just because I can, this video is from the guy who collects the bloke above. Another Sunday driver who was ill-advised in his decision to take up racing, his sloth-like reactions to the spinning car in front don’t equip him too well for the sport. Hopefully he has realised he is more suited to caravanning than cornering.
So now we’ve seen what can so easily happen, let’s look at why it happens.
Paddock Hill elevation change
First let’s look at the corner itself to understand what makes it so difficult. There is a huge elevation change from the corner entry to the corner exit, over a relatively small distance.
As the elevation map below shows, the corner entry is at 140 metres above sea leave. The corner exit is 11 metres lower at 129 metres above sea level. This might not sound like a lot, and it wouldn’t be if the elevation drop happened over a long distance. However the distance between the high and low points is slightly less than 200m, and at racing speeds that’s only around 4 – 5 seconds.
Once the lowest point is reached at corner exit, the circuit immediately climbs steeply back uphill again to a peak of 141 metres at Druids. The gradient on the way down Paddock Hill is -8% at its steepest and +11% on the way up to Druids. Both steep hills.
The distance between the track going down and back uphill is very short, meaning there’s a severe compression right at the bottom. This slams the car’s suspension on to its bumpstops and makes the steering a lot heavier, resulting in the car feeling reluctant to turn.
Now add in to the mix a fairly fast right-hand corner and things get even spicier.
Paddock Hill Bend is a pretty fast corner. Usually cars will be coming down the main straight in to the braking zone for Paddock Hill at well over 100mph. BTCC cars normally hit the brakes for Paddock at a little over 130mph, and their minimum speed through the apex is about 85mph. So it is definitely a fast corner.
As you are coming along the main straight you are still going uphill. The crest of this hill, before the corner, is somewhere in the braking zone for Paddock. It’s likely that you’ll start braking uphill and continue braking over the crest until the track starts dropping down again.
The apex itself it ever so slightly off-camber, and once you’ve hit the apex the track falls away severely in towards the compression.
the apex kerb
The apex kerb on the inside of the corner at Paddock Hill is big. Unless you’re a BTCC driver or in something with incredibly sophisticated suspension designed to smash big kerbs and make the most of track limits, it is too big to use.
Running this kerb will unsettle a car even more. If it’s already at its grip limit there it could well be the final straw before the tyres are overwhelmed.
Now we know the track, let’s have a very brief vehicle dynamics lesson. Bear with me here…
The videos above are only a few from an absolute heap of pretty much identical clips. Go on YouTube and type in ‘Paddock Hill spin’ and you’ll see what I mean So why do so many people come a cropper at this specific corner? Well it all comes down to weight transfer.
Usually when driving on flat ground in a straight line, the only weight transfer your car will experience would be due to acceleration and braking. This moves weight from the back tyres to the front respectively. Add in to that a corner and the weight shifts from side to side as well. Diagram below courtesy of F1-dictionary.net
Braking whilst turning in to a corner would move weight forwards, away from the rear tyres and off to one side. This is usually the point at which a car is most unsettled on a racetrack, when the rear tyres have the least amount of grip.
But once the braking for a corner is done you would get back on a steady partial throttle through the apex to move weight back to the rear tyres and get more back-end grip. Once you’re through the apex you gradually accelerate up to full throttle on corner exit.
lift-off oversteer videos
Lift-off oversteer occurs when you’re at steady partial throttle through the corner apex, and abruptly lift-off. This lift sends the weight forwards and takes it, and grip, away from the rear tyres. If your rear tyres are already at their limit of grip, removing weight from them will mean they lose traction completely.
Lift-off oversteer is the culprit for 95% of the spins you’ll see at Paddock Hill Bend. Drivers who might be able to get away with lifting-off the throttle mid corner when the track is flat are suddenly shocked when doing it down the hill at Paddock causes them to do a perfect 180.
And the difference is the hill. Going downhill more weight is already transferred to the front of the car away from the rear tyres than usual, meaning they’re closer to their grip limit. Add in to the mix an abrupt lift off the throttle and that will send you past the point of no return.
Often the throttle lift is caused by spotting something kicking off on track ahead. That will cause the driver to lift off and set of a chain reaction of more cars doing the same, just like in the videos below.
In this video from Richard Forrest I count a total of 7 FWD hot hatches all spinning as a result of them lifting off the throttle because they’ve seen drama ahead. Richard has many many Paddock Hill crash & spin videos, there’s a few more below but check them out on his channel here.
Here’s another, once more from the Stock Hatch boys. Carnage again. I gave up trying to count the number of lift-off oversteering hatches here but you can see two end up on their roof in the gravel and at least four of the ones directly in front of the camera car are broadside across the track.
This time it’s Minis, and whilst the first guy is sideways as a result of contact, the rest of them pile in all of thanks to our friend lift-off oversteer.
Here’s a full 4 minute compilation of people spinning at Paddock Hill Bend. FWDs, RWDs, saloon cars and single seaters. No-one is safe.
how to avoid spinning at Paddock Hill Bend
I have two pieces of advice for you wannabe Brands Hatch maestros.
First, build yourself up slowly. Don’t go trying to beat any lap records on your first time out. Gradually increase you speed, brake a little later each time and increase your minimum corner speed incrementally. When you feel the car starting to move around a little beneath you, you know you’re nearing the limits.
Secondly, when you’re at those limits, be smooth. VERY smooth. Especially with the throttle. Do your best not to suddenly lift off the gas mid-way through the corner. If you do, be ready for some oversteer.
If you do find yourself in a slide and are in a FWD car, getting back on the throttle is the best way to get yourself out of it. Just watch Jason Plato do this to perfection in the BTCC.