Up and away!
Grassroots is the new regular feature on motor sport activities which take place the length and breadth of Britain each and every weekend. It will not be a boring and lifeless foray into the minutiae of individual club events, but rather an explanation of why the particular branch of the sport being highlighted is of such importance and interest to those who compete in it, and to those who go and watch it. This month David Abbott, a regular competitor in his Mallock U2, reports on the increasingly popular sport of hill-climbing.
The hills are alive! Certainly the branch of motor sport known as hill-climbing and sprinting is alive, and growing increasingly popular.
Easter weekend saw the 1988 Guyson RAC Hill-Climb National Championship kick off at Loton Park, a country estate near Shrewsbury where the Hagley and District Light Car Club traditionally hosts the first round of this prestigious championship; another event took place at Harewood near Leeds. Such is the interest in this essentially amateur sport that entries are usually oversubscribed.
But what is a hill-climb? It does not involve the ascent of muddy slopes with the aim of reaching the summit – that is trialling. So what does a speed hill-climb involve?
Imagine for a while the sight of a single-track road, often about 12ft wide, usually situated in an attractive setting, either on a country house estate or perhaps on a farm. the track, twisting its way uphill, and sometimes down, over a length of about 1000 yards, often looks no more than a narrow, well-surfaced country lane, winding between trees, embankments, stone walls, ditches and other solid obstacles; indeed, a drive in the family saloon would leave little room for error of judgement. So what is the connection with motorsport?
Picture the same road with a full-blooded state-of-the-art racing car attacking the bends at a frenetic pace, exploring the limits of adhesion and using every inch of the road in order to make it from a standing-start at the bottom to the top in the shortest possible time. With electronic timing to an accuracy of one hundredth of a second, making each decimal point count, there is no quarter given when striving to win.
Speed hill-climbing is probably the most exacting and concentrated form of motor sport: driver and car work together, striving to record a rapid time over a short distance – twenty, thirty, or at the most forty seconds separate the standing start and the finish line.
The clock tells no heroic stories of overtaking on bends or slipstreaming. The best time demands an accurate approach, for the slightest lapse of concentration, the merest hint of too much power causing a slide, costs vital hundredths of a second which can mean the difference between success and failure.
Why do the drivers do it? There is no great financial reward, no great public acclaim. The average hill-climber will invariably be the sort of person who is never totally satisfied with the performance of any task he might undertake, and is always striving to improve his time, be it by modification to the car or a different line through the bends. There can be no perfect run, although each driver aims to be the first to record the 100% perfect climb.
Although there are single-seaters, often ex-Formula Two, at the top of the sport, it remains essentially amateur. Within the structure of hill-climbing there are classes for saloon cars (both roadgoing and modified), sports cars (standard and modified), Clubmans cars (such as the Mallock U2 and the contemporary Vision) and pure single-seater racing cars at various capacity levels from 500cc to unlimited.
There are also many types of events, from the National Championships to small “grass root” events which will in the main cater for club enthusiasts. Many of the latter will be racing their everyday road cars, having driven them to the event.
Hill-climbing is essentially a family sport, and as such has always set out to supply competition for everyone, irrespective of budget or choice of car. Hill-climbers also have a reputation for being the friendliest of competitors, for in the paddock you will see other drivers lending spares, assisting with repairs, or generally swapping banter and advice – not for them the pressures of high finance. Whilst the racing cars at the highest level of the sport do of course cost many thousands of pounds, it is quite possible to compete on a very small budget.
Entry fees are usually restricted to about £25 per meeting, often for a two-day event. Mechanical stresses on high-revving race engines are kept to a minimum, for peak revolutions are reached only for split seconds, torque being a more useful quality of performance. For this reason it is perfectly possible to compete over a full season without incurring the expense of a major engine rebuild; in fact some well-known competitors have been known to manage as many as 40 events between overhauls.
A competition licence is naturally required in order to participate, but not an expensive medical. It is important to join a motor club, preferably one with a recognised background of hill-climbing, but before competing it is worthwhile coming along to spectate or marshal for a couple of meetings. This will feed your enthusiasm and help you choose which class you might like to enter.
There are National Championship events on the weekend of May 7-8 at Prescott near Cheltenham, on May 21 at Barbon Manor near Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria, and on May 28-29 at Gurston Down, near Salisbury. Details of the many other meetings can be obtained from the RAC Motor Sports Association, or contact the Hill-Climb and Sprint Association at 163 Old Bath Road, Cheltenham, Gloucester GL53 7DW. DA