Shelsley Walsh, August 17: another of the planet’s essentials ticked off
It has been operational for 108 years – more than twice as long as I have – but it still took more than half a century before I finally attended a venue that predates Brooklands by two years and Monza by 17. It was worth the wait, mind…
The weather is distinctly grey as the Midland Automobile Club prepares for a round of the MSA British Hillclimb Championship, but the paddock ambience is a colourful contrast. The wooden shelters are packed with machinery of all denominations and ripe with banter. To obtain press accreditation, you have towalk through a gate that forbids entry unless you already have a pass, but nobody bats an eyelid when you proceed. I ask whether a tabard is required but am told not: “Just make sure marshals can see your press pass.” That’s a small piece of white card, measuring perhaps two inches by three. The 1930s are alive and well in the hills close to Worcester.
And, as with many motoring events during the summer of 2013, there is the obligatory Aston Martin centenary display – not that such things are ever tiring to the eye.
The gradient is achingly obvious as you lug camera gear towards the summit, but you are distracted from the downsides of middle age by the pleasingly random nature of the practice runs: a special saloon Mini might be followed by a March 792, a Triumph TR 7 and who knows what next? It’s a perfect antidote to the modern world’s homogenised methods and, with the quickest runs taking less than 25sec, the action is relentless. There’s admirable commitment, too, with some cars almost as wide as the track and not much to contain them should they stray to the left. On the far side of the course, out of bounds to the general public, a solitary buzzard watches with apparent interest. Perhaps 500cc F3 Coopers look like tempting morsels from on high.
Among the competitors is Eurosport MotoGP commentator Toby Moody, sharing an Empire DS1000 with Bill Chaplin – the man behind the company that built it. It’s a busy weekend for Moody, who has clashing studio commitments in London.
That means he is limited to driving only during the morning before scurrying away to attend to his day job. “Of course the hassle is justified,” he says. “It’s Shelsley…”