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Brands Hatch warned off Silverstone

MEMBERS of the British Racing Drivers Club told Brands Hatch yesterday that Silverstone, the motor racing track which hosts the British Grand Prix, is not for sale.

The BRDC, which owns Silverstone, has been under pressure to operate the track on a more commercial footing. Brands Hatch Leisure, the quoted company which owns the Kent track as well as three other circuits, is interested in combining Britain's two premier motor racing venues.

However, the 300 members who attended a three-hour meeting at Silverstone on Friday rejected the idea of a sale and the pounds 75,000 windfalls that it would bring to each of them.

One member said: "We are not a building society. We are the custodians of British motor racing and committed to protecting its independence."

The BRDC's membership reads like a Who's Who of British motor racing, ranging from famous drivers of the past like Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart to modern stars including Damon Hill. The club is chaired by Lord Hesketh, the former Conservative minister, and other members include Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor, and motor racing commentator Murray Walker.

While Brands Hatch has been making its approach for Silverstone, BRDC members have been considering proposals to restructure their club by setting up a separate company to run the track.

Members voted on Friday to explore these restructuring plans but it is believed that the vote fell short of the 75 per cent majority necessary to put the plan into immediate action. Members will be given another opportunity to ratify the proposals at an emergency general meeting later this year.

The rejection of the Brands Hatch approach will come as a blow to Nicola Foulston, the chief executive of Brands Hatch Leisure who has been lobbying to convince BRDC members of the merits of a deal.

Many BRDC members were annoyed by an open letter sent to them by Ms Foulston which criticised the restructuring proposals and claimed they would allow an "elite few" to decide the track's future. Members are also believed to have taken offence at a veiled threat that the British Grand Prix, which is Silverstone's main source of revenue, would be moved to Brands Hatch if Ms Foulston's plan were thwarted. Ms Foulston has promised that the race will remain at Silverstone if Brands Hatch Leisure's deal goes ahead.

Friday's meeting was also attended by John Lewis, a former BRDC chairman who is still interested in buying the track. He originally approached the club last year with an offer to buy the circuit for pounds 41m.