As reported briefly last month, James Thomson clinched the National Hill Climb Championship before the final round at Mune at the end of September. His final score of 98 points out of a possible maximum of 100 is impressive by any standards, that he should have achieved this in his first year of serious single-seater hill climbing at the tender age of 20 is doubly so: there has been talk of a transfer to track racing for next year, and it will be interesting to see how readily Thomson’s talent makes the transfer from battling against the clock to battling against other competitors.
Thomson’s hill climbing career started in 1978, driving his father’s well known Cherette. He used this car again during 1979, finding himself second to Josh Sadler’s Porsche in the Gaston sponsored BARC Championship. 1980 was not so successful, but then his father, Jim, acquired the ex-Martyn Griffiths Pilbeam MP40 and the scene was set for the 1981 season. With sponsorship from his employers, Guyson International, the Yorkshire based bead and shot blasting equipment manufacturers whose managing director is none other than Jim Thomson, young James started the season with a class win at Lotus Park and FTD at Prescott the following weekend in the Midland Hill Climb Championship, but his first few rounds in the National Championship were rather overshadowed by Alister Douglas Osborn’s performance in the very powerful 3.6-litre Cosworth-engined Pilbeam.
After the fifth round, Thomson had shown his promise, but had apparently thrown his chances away with a couple of excursions off the track in the all important top-ten run-offs, due to trying too hard. By round eight, he had pulled back much of the ground he had lost, making the first sub-40 sec. climb of Doune and making FTD on his home ground at Harewood. The Championship went into round nine, at Bouley Bay, with Douglas Osborn still convincingly in the lead with 70 points, followed by Thomson with 63. By round twelve, Thomson had turned the tables, scoring maximum points at Bouley Bay, Val des Terres and Craigantlett, but being beaten (only lust) by Douglas Osborn with a record-breaking run at Shelsley Walsh. This put the young Yorkshireman well into the lead with 94 points to Douglas Osborn’s 88: to win back his position, the Midlands driver was faced with having to win the remaining four rounds, and this he failed to do for Thomson stole the limelight at Prescott and Donne, leaving Douglas Osborn to win at Gurston Down and Ted Williams to take the honours at Wiscombe. With only the best ten results from the 16 round championship to count, Thomson could not have done much better than to score eight outright wins and two seconds! It is interesting to note that if all 16 rounds had counted, the result would have been the same but closer, with 136 points to Thomson’s credit against Douglas Osborn’s 135.
The 2.5-litre Hart-engined winning Pilbeam has been prepared throughout the season by Peter Kaye, who also looks after the Guyson Chevette, and has undergone one or two alterations since as final outing with Martyn Griffiths at the end of last year — for instance, the full width nose was replaced after a couple of rounds with a slender nose cone and wide wing and this brought about a big improvement in the car’s characteristics in slow corners.
The Gurston Down round, at the end of August, saw a battle for positions between Ted Williams and Richard Fry, who share the same Pilbeam MP41 — Williams qualified fifth, but after the first runs was beaten to seventh spot by Fry, whose first top-ten climb showed a significant improvement. Not to be outdone. Williams replied with a climb which took him to second spot behind Douglas Osborn, until Thomson split these times on his second run. Douglas Osborn’s course record-breaking first run was good enough to assure him maximum points, so when the timing mechanism failed on his second climb, he did not have a re-run.
Round fourteen was at Prescott, and saw the outright hill record lowered four times. Douglas Osborn qualified in first position for the top-ten, beating Chris Cramer’s year-old record and recording the first official sub-40 sec. time for the hill. Thomson was well under Cramer’s old record in second place, and Cramer himself had improved on his previous best to take third spot. In the first top-ten runs, Lane broke the half-shalt on his March at the start and Cramer set a new record, lowering Douglas Osborn’s class time by 0.33 sec., only to lose this honour moments later when Douglas Osborn lowered it again by a Further 0.15 sec. Thomson appeared out of the running failing to break 40 sec. On the second runs, Cramer slowed, but Thomson was back on form, breaking the fresh record by a mere 0.05 sec. Then all eyes were on Douglas Osborn, would he or wouldn’t he? He tried just that little bit too hard, bringing back memories of Thomson earlier in the season, letting the tail get out of line at the top of the hill, climbing a full second outside Thomson’s new record.
The Wiscombe Park round saw Thomson confirmed as Champion, despite the fact that he finished in sixth place in the top-ten, but Douglas Osborn’s fourth place did not give sufficient margin over Thomson to leave him with a chance of winning. Douglas Osborn qualified fastest, but was a full second slower on his first top-ten run, and only managed fourth place on his second. Thomson, having qualified in third place behind Dave Harris, failed on his first top-ten run and caution left him with a relatively poor second run to give him sixth place. Martyn Griffiths had qualified sixth, but moved into third spot after the first runs, a position he maintained with a gentle improvement on his second run. Harris found himself in the lead after the first runs, and it looked as if he might repeat his success at this venue of earlier in the year until Ted Williams, who had finished the first runs in second place. pulled out all the stops to make FTD and to win his first championship round.
The season drew to an exciting, if wet, finale at Mune where under 1,600 c.c. racing cars took the first, third, fourth, eighth and ninth places for the top-ten run-offs on a day when the track never dried completely. Fastest qualifier was Martin Bolsover, who was well ahead of Thomson. Cramer had qualified third, but steering problems put him out of the running for the top-ten and his place was taken by Tom Macmillan, followed closely by David Gould. Douglas Osborn was in fifth spot, the second placed large capacity car, ahead of Griffiths. After the first runs, Thomson was in the lead, with Roy Lane snapping at his heels having come through from seventh qualifying place, and Douglas Osborn was third with Griffiths fourth. Second nix times were generally slower than the first, due to, deteriorating conditions, and the order did not change. Thomson had proved himself a worthy champion. — P.H.J.W.