Driving the new Snetterton 300 circuit in our E36 M3

Published: 24 May 2011

If you’ve been to Snetterton race track in Norfolk over the last year or so, you’ll have probably noticed a lot of heavy plant machinery milling about. It’s all been part of a multi-million pound development by circuit owners Motorsport Vision to create the Snetterton 300 – essentially an extra infield section to add an extra mile to the circuit’s length, making it 2.99 miles long.

In doing so, MSV has also created three configurations: you can drive the old circuit pretty much as it was (Snetterton 200); you can drive the new section of the circuit on its own (100); or you can combine the pair of them (300).

Our BMW M3 E36 at the new Snetterton 300

The new layout is now open, so I took my E36 M3 along to a trackday to give the 300 layout a try. You drive down the long start-finish straight (Senna) as normal, then turn right at high speed through the adrenaline rush that is Riches. So far, so similar.

But to link onto the new track, the next right-hander becomes a hairpin (Montreal). It’s not as satisfying as the old layout, simply because it’s a much sharper turn, so on your first visit you’re likely to go in too fast and scrub off your speed with frustrating understeer. The satisfaction comes in mastering this tricky corner, rather than any kind of thrill.

Then you’re into the new layout, and you notice that the track width shrinks and the barriers loom larger. The next left-hander (Palmer) is a good one – a little dab on the brakes, then early commitment to carry your speed and place yourself on the kerbing at the exit. The kerbs, incidentally, required a rethink for MSV – they were too short when the layout first opened, and that had just been remedied for our visit.

Pinning the throttle

Then you’re onto a fast, long straight, and seeing how long you dare hold the throttle flat before jumping on the brakes for the tight left-hander (Agostini) that follows is quite a thrill – especially in an ABS-free car like mine! Agostini isn’t quite as frustrating as the hairpin that takes you into the new layout, but it’s still a bit of a trudge and, again, is a question of mastering the technique to get round it as cleanly and quickly as possible rather than deriving any real pleasure from driving it.

From here on in is where the new layout gets interactive for me. A decent straight, a dab on the brakes, then it’s a fast left-hander (Hamilton), one that takes a while to build up the confidence to exit it on the right-hand kerbing – you’ll typically go in at what you feel is a fast lick, but find yourself with a few feet in reserve and curse your pansy lack of commitment. I did, anyway.

Then it’s a fast stop into a slowish right (Oggies), but it’s a far better slow corner than the other two, simply because it opens out after the apex, so you can get back fully on the power as you run to the outside edge of the track to keep the car as straight as possible for the best traction. Then it’s a little dab on the brakes to get the nose hooked in to the fairly fast right-hander (Williams) that takes you back onto the old Bentley Straight.

From here it’s back into the familiar: a long straight into a fairly fast left (Brundle) that tries to trick you into going too fast into the flick right (Nelson) that follows. Keep it neat, then there’s the compression of the fast right (Bomb Hole) that feels great, a short straight and then the tricky and fast Coram. The first section of this corner is the same, but the end has been re-modelled, so instead of feeding into a chicance, it banks round harder to the right, before turning left at the last minute. This new end of Coram is tricky to get right because if you go in too hot, the car – with physics pulling it to the left – wants to fall into oversteer when you jump on the brakes. It’s also very easy to lock the unloaded right-front tyre (well, it was on my road-spec tyres). And when you oversteer or lock your brakes or both, you’ll be in a bit of a flap when you try to make the tight left (Murrays) that follows.

Verdict

The best, most satisfying bits of Snett are still the bits that were there before, and a couple of the new corners introduce an element of frustration that wasn’t there before, but overall the track mods have introduced a new level of variety, and it’s well worth checking out.

>> Click here to view Snetterton’s trackday diary

>>Snetterton 300 map PDF download

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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