Speed Round 1 Pannala Circuit Sri Lanka, 12-13 February 2011

The Pannala circuit is the only permanent tarmac track in Sri Lanka, and despite a length of just 1.7km it provides excellent racing and a challenge for the best drivers. It was used as a gravel circuit for years and enjoyed continued success when turned into a tarmac circuit in 2001 – Pannala regularly sees close to 17,000 spectators for big events. It’s location in the North Central province of Sri Lanka meant that it was closed during the bloodiest years of the civil war when almost all motor racing stopped, and has recently reopened now that peace has returned to the nation.

The best way to describe Pannala is as a very mini Nurburgring Nordschleiffe. The track is rough and bumpy has wonderful elevation change as it sweeps through the undulating hillsides and is lined by vibrant, green grass. And just like the Nurburgring it demands respect – there are many off-camber corners and circuit safety is not what we’re used to in the Western world. There are places here that you simply wouldn’t want to end up. Having said that, Pannala is a circuit that I would desperately love to race on one day. The biggest difference really is the abundance of palm trees that line the track, the Nurburgring has almost none of these!


This onboard footage of Ashan De Silva in a Formula McLarens should give you a fairly good indication of what the circuit is like.

The event I attended was round 1 of the Speed Racing Championship which featured a wide spectrum of categories, the slowest of which was the Suzuki Maruti cup. Apart from a roll bar these cars are stock standard and the racing, well, happens at a leisurely pace.

Formula McLarens is an exciting new spec series that has come out of India. These open wheelers are all identical and are powered by a 1300cc Suzuki engine. They run road based radials and are all prepared on an arrive and drive basis for their young drivers.

The racing is very close, and a full arrive and drive package with your own personal mechanic is very affordable. Hmm….

The under 1000cc and under 1300cc classes are dominated by first generation Mini’s in varying states of tune. This one was one of the nicest prepared cars of the whole weekend.

The Formula Ford class was strong and consisted of a mixture of late 80’s and early 90’s chassis VanDiemans and Spectrums with a few Indian makes thrown in for good luck. There was a wide speed difference between the fastest and slowest cars, but the racing was still close across the field.

Ashan Silva had a good weekend in his VanDieman.

This guy didn’t have the same luck. Interestingly, the race was still running at this stage. This was actually my photo spot for a lot of the weekend as it gave a good view of the track, had shade and a friendly official to talk to. There was no fence or barrier, and the only thing that limited you was your own sense of self-preservation. I once asked the official if I could go and stand down a little closer to the track behind a tree. His reply was a question – ‘Do you think it’s a safe spot? If so, then go for it!’. It made shooting a lot easier, especially given that we could just walk across the track in between races to get to another location.

This driver had an altercation with another competitor on the last lap and came off second best. This photo was taken when I jumped the fence and walked down the track to have a look at the recovery. An official came up to me and I thought I was in trouble for running down the track. I needn’t have worried though, he was chilled and just wanted to ask me about my camera!

There were a few categories for motorbikes as well, split between road racing and super motard competitions. There were no big bikes competing, as one of the old hangover laws from the war days is a prohibition of any motorbike bigger than 250cc. Rumor has it that there’s a couple of Yamaha R1’s prowling the streets of the capital Colombo, but this is unconfirmed.

It wasnt quite as free and easy for spectators at Pannala as it was at Carlton, but they still get a pretty good view of the action.

Although the flaggies have a much more relaxed time than they do at Mallala!

Access to the actual pit lane is not restricted, and this is the pit entry road from the track. It’s a wild place to watch the last corner from, but everybody needs to be ready to run out of the way if any cars decide to pit. In this photo the blue Mini is in the process of mounting the black one.

A last-minute Saturday afternoon gearbox rebuild is taking place, ready for Sundays race.

The Ford Laser category is split into 1300 and 1600cc classes and provides fiercely competitive racing. A lot of these guys drive these cars to the track – we followed this green car absolutely thrashing it through the suburbs of the capital Colombo at 4am on Saturday morning heading to the race!

There’s a trophy category just for the Nissan March as well. There were only 5 or 6 cars and a lot of them exhibited epic understeer through the last corner if the driver got it wrong, which they frequently did.

The same under 2000cc category that runs on the gravel runs on the tarmac too, and was completely made up of Vtec Honda Civics. Ashan Silva did well to hold the field off over the weekend.

The SL-GT category was once again the headline act, and would be competing for round 1 of both the SLARDAR Tarmac Championship and the SL-GT championship. Dinesh Deheragoda in the Yokohama CIFL Evo X had a perfect weekend, winning both races and coming home with maximum points for the weekend.

I thought this Evo III had a really tough stance and I dug its plain blue race livery. This is the kind of look you’d want for a tough streeter back home, heading in the right direction without spinning backwards of course.

Ashan Silva was a busy man, jumping between his Formula Ford, his Honda Civic and Missaka’s Evo 9. Unfortunately his luck didn’t transfer across to SL-GT when a drive shaft broke on a test start on the warm up lap for the final race.



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