Friday favourite: The northern gem where qualifying felt “like a blur”

It wasn’t always kind to Peter Kox, but the Dutchman still picks Oulton Park as his favourite track in Autosport’s continued series. The winner of a British Formula 2 race there in 1992, he still has fond memories of the Cheshire circuit in all its forms

Friday favourite: The northern gem where qualifying felt “like a blur”

The rural roads around Oulton Park don’t give away that you’re in close proximity to one of British motorsport’s finest circuits. Approaching its 70th birthday next year, the Cheshire circuit first opened in 1953 is a firm drivers’ favourite with its blend of fast, flowing corners - several of them blind - crests and dips and unforgiving grass-lined exterior. And it’s immediately singled out as the favourite of a driver who has raced it in four different forms.

Sportscar and tin-top racing veteran Peter Kox first encountered Oulton Park in the 1987 British Formula 3 championship, won there in 1992 after the Hislops chicane was installed, and also raced on the shortened Island and Fosters layouts in the British Touring Car Championship.

The Dutchman, who had spells as a factory driver with BMW, Honda and Aston Martin during a long career in which he also developed racing models of the Diablo, Murcielago and Gallardo for Lamborghini partner Reiter Engineering, was instantly taken by the track despite his first visit being dogged by bad luck. He didn’t get further than the first lap of the 1987 British F3 race, when his Mike Rowe Reynard was an innocent casualty as Phil Andrews swerved to avoid debris.

“I immediately liked it,” the 1995 Spa 24 Hours winner says of the circuit today owned by Jonathan Palmer’s MotorSport Vision operation. “Initially I thought: ‘What is this?’ It had everything, and I felt quite at home on it immediately for whatever reason, I don’t know why. It was fast, it was bumpy, you had the elevation. I always liked to drive there, also in the BTCC."

Kox and Andrews were inseparable again in 1988, when the future Le Mans class-winner rejoined the British F3 pack in place of Martin Donnelly in the Cellnet Ralt, finishing line astern in eighth and ninth. A step back to Formula Lotus for 1989 reinvigorated his career as he won the GM Lotus Euroseries, and Kox returned to British F3 in 1990 with the Bowman Ralt team. He finished fifth in the standings, but was once more out of luck at Oulton Park as contact with Christian Fittipaldi again put him out on the first lap after qualifying third.

Kox spent 1991 racing in German F3 with Franz Tost’s Eufra team, where he was a salaried driver in its own Mugen-powered chassis, before returning to the UK once more for 1992 – again in a paid drive – with Weylock Racing’s Reynard in the newly-renamed British F2 championship.

Muller congratulates Kox on his victory in the opening round of the 1992 British F2 championship at Oulton Park

Muller congratulates Kox on his victory in the opening round of the 1992 British F2 championship at Oulton Park

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

In response to Paul Warwick’s death during the British Formula 3000 Gold Cup race, cars were slowed by a chicane before the fast Knickerbrook sweeper for 1992, with lap times for the F3000 machines coming down by around five seconds as a result. But there was no holding back Kox, who beat future BTCC sparring partner Yvan Muller to pole for the season-opener by a full 0.91s. There followed a comfortable victory in the following day’s battle, although Omegaland rival Muller ultimately won the war.

“In a car like that, I can imagine that I then was thinking ‘I don’t know what the hell I was doing,’” he admits. “There was so much chaos going on in a car like that around such a circuit, where it goes so fast and it’s bumpy and everything is like a blur, that it’s hardly understandable what you have been doing. But apparently it was good enough for pole.”

Kox was once more in contention for a podium at Oulton's second British F2 meeting in 1992, until a tangle with Vincenzo Sospiri put both drivers out. In eight more BTCC starts at Oulton with Honda in 1998 (for Prodrive) and 1999 (with West Surrey Racing) he managed a best finish of fifth.

"There was so much chaos going on in a car like that around such a circuit, where it goes so fast and it’s bumpy and everything is like a blur" Peter Kox

Instead of the full International loop that takes in the Shell Oils hairpin, the BTCC alternated between the Island Circuit (with its right-hand hairpin before the so-named left-hand sweeper) and the Fosters layout (where cars continue past Cascades before turning right at Fosters, bypassing the Hislop’s chicane, before taking Knickerbrook).

Kox, who took his only BTCC win at Snetterton, is also a fan of the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit. But, he reckons, unlike the Kent track’s Indy layout, Oulton’s shortened circuits are “still better than a lot of tracks on average”.

“If you do the Indy Circuit on Brands, that’s a weak substitute of the Grand Prix circuit in my opinion,” he says. “But if you do the short version of Oulton, for sure it is not as nice but it’s still okay to do. You still have a lot of elements where you are challenged.”

Kox enjoyed racing on the short Fosters loop at Oulton in the BTCC in 1998-99 with Honda

Kox enjoyed racing on the short Fosters loop at Oulton in the BTCC in 1998-99 with Honda

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

One of the elements Kox praises with Brands is its atmosphere, and that’s a feature he also recognises of Oulton Park – even if crowds were invariably not as large.

“Some tracks already have atmosphere, even if you are there in the wet – you don’t need 100,000 people to get a motor racing atmosphere,” he says. “I think Oulton is also one of these circuits like Brands. Silverstone for example is much more difficult to create the atmosphere.

“You can come to a rainy day at Brands when there is nobody there, and you still taste this racing atmosphere that Oulton also has I think. For me, it was just everything there.”

Racing on the full layout with high-powered single-seaters in 1992 remains a special memory for Kox

Racing on the full layout with high-powered single-seaters in 1992 remains a special memory for Kox

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

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