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Circuits of the past

Remember the motor racing circuits of the past!

A lap at Lobethal street circuit

The description of a lap at the former Australian Lobethal street circuit by Ray Bell.

Lobethal street circuit Australia
The first corner after the start

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia
When I spoke to Whiteford, he described a hump-backed bridge followed by a curve, more of a kink, and from the start of the race this was the first little trick in the circuit. On this long, very fast leg of the circuit, roughly parallel to the railway and the Onkaparinga River, it was mostly flat and mostly flat out. Just six or seven gentle sweeps or kinks and the crowd at the hotel in Charleston to keep the drivers interested as the tachos showed top revs for almost three and a half miles.

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia
Now into the village of Charleston

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia
Kayannie Corner

Then carne Kayannie Corner, a sharp intersection with an included angle of about 60 degrees, with a gentle downhill rush across the river then a climb to the brow of the hill overlooking the town. Here it got interesting as a sharp brow led into the esses, downhill esses that were tight enough to claim a lot of cars and provide plenty of spectators with a great view. The straight that led into town came from the last left hander fairly level, but then the road simply dropped away and heavy braking was the order of the day as the T-intersection with the main street was reached.

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia
Looks innocent enough, but you get airborne here...

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia
At the bottom of the hill it looks like the road narrows and goes straight ahead... Not true: There
was a gate there, and this was the driveway into the Onkaparinga Woollen Mills, where the
blankets were made. The gate was left open as an escape road.

Lobethal street circuit Australia
Trough Lobethal town

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia
Gumeracha Corner, the intersection where the road to Gumeracha goes off, this is the entry to the corner, which climbs as it departs from the built-up area.

Lobethal street circuit Australia
The circuit then climbed again, with a dip towards the end of the shopping centre before swinging right and beginning the roller coaster ride that sorted the men from the boys. It’s this section that defies adequate description, the three miles of ups and downs, of blind brows, of fast curves between the dairy farms that made Lobethal a legend. The Charleston section tested the engines, the run to town tested the brakes and handling, but like nowhere else in Australia - and I include McPhillamy Park, the Needle’s Eye, and every other fast corner - this stretch tested the commitment of the drivers.

Lobethal street circuit Australia
Still climbing the hill and heading into the glorious and exciting run towards Mt Torrens.

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia
It staggered me that the lap speeds recorded were possible, so I asked the 1939 AGP winner how they could have done it. "With those comers following so soon after the blind brows," I asked, "you can't turn a corner with your wheels off the ground, and you had to be airborne . . ?" His response defied the capacity of a wheel rim to contain the overstressed wire spokes, the very thought that there was a conscious perception of risk. "We turned the car before we got airborne." Forty years later he still remembered how it was done, but no way could he do it.

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia

Lobethal street circuit Australia
That completes the series, by the way. You have now done a lap of Lobethal... see the green sign? That's the junction where we started coming up.

The photos covering the present day lap of Lobethal were taken by Australian motor racing journalist Ray Bell at the beginning of 2002. Much of the information about this circuit is from Ray's archives and those who have helped him explain to the world just how great a circuit it was.

© Text and pictures: Ray Bel

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