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Race ace drives off with Brands Hatch

Brands Hatch, one of the most famous names in motor sport, closed a sorry chapter in its illustrious history yesterday when the American advertising agency that owns the circuit sold it to Jonathan Palmer, the former racing driver turned businessman, for an undisclosed sum.

Racing enthusiasts hope the deal will mark a renaissance for the track, which traces it roots back nearly 80 years. It has undergone a torrid time recently as previous owners have battled local planning authorities in vain to have the circuit upgraded to Formula One standard. The last British F1 Grand Prix was held there in 1986, won by Nigel Mansell.

Interpublic, the US advertising and marketing giant, yesterday said it had sold Brands Hatch, along with the Snetterton, Oulton Park and Cadwell Park racing circuits, which it bought for $190m ($133m) in 1999. It has written off the entire amount bar the value of the circuits' physical assets, thought to be worth up to £30m.

Mr Palmer, a former F1 driver who retired from competitive racing in 1990, said he intended to improve the type of motor sport on offer at the circuits and the facilities for spectators to persuade the crowds to return.

Mr Palmer, who is also a qualified doctor, said: "What's needed is more edge-of-the-seat excitement in motor sport, more overtaking and we've got some pretty good ideas for the development of that."

Interpublic bought Brands Hatch from the Foulston family who controlled Brands Hatch Lesiure, a quoted company. Nicola Foulston, the chief executive, had led a bitter but ultimately fruitless takeover battle for Silverstone before the Interpublic deal. She had also won a 10-year contract to stage the British F1 Grand Prix at Brands Hatch but needed planning permission to proceed.

When this failed, Interpublic was left to sign an expensive lease agreement with Silverstone to continue staging the Grand prix there until at least 2010.

That agreement remains in place, despite the sale of Interpublic's racing circuits.