AT LONG last, the national hill climb championship this year acquired an identity to go with its undoubted appeal. Victor Gauntlett's Pace Petroleum stepped in to fill the breach which had yawned for years, but it unfortunately coincided with the current economic depression which has seen fewer cars and smaller entries at the majority of hillclimbs.
From 1,300 c.c. saloons to full-blown racing cars, the story has been the same, with drivers being unable to travel to all the rounds in the series and frequently "pairing off” to enter just one car at fewer meetings. Next year, this trend shows all the signs of continuing but the situation could get worse if the drivers carry out their threats to leave hillclimbing and go circuit racing instead. The latter problem has been caused by the lack of returns hilIclimbing gives for an investment of several thousand pounds. Racing has already gained the likes of David Franklin and Ted Williams at hillclimbing's expense, and stands to do so again in the near future. But if the uppermost echelon of the sport is going to seed, it will at least give the chance for new growth at the bottom. Nature abhors a vacuum they say, and so it will be with hillclimbing.
1981's "Boy Wonder" was, of course, James Thomson, the youngest driver ever to win the British Hillclimb Championship. Having proved his point, James turned his sights upon Formula Ford 2000 racing, embarking on a season whose ill-founded beginning has led to premature termination and loss of that impetus and respect which the 1981 title gained him. Into his shoes stepped another slightly older but nonetheless gifted driver who has risen through the rather more traditional ranks of clubmans and 1,600 c.c. single-seaters: Martin Bolsover. The best hillclimbers always seem to come from either the Midlands or the South-West and Bolsover is a prime product of the former. His performances last year with his 1.6-litre Pillbeam MP51, which included numerous Top Ten placings and even an outright record at Bouley Bay, Jersey, led him to take the plunge for '82 and enter the over 1,600 c.c. racing car class with a new 2.5-litre Hart engine. The wins were not slow in coming, and Martin scored his first in the British Championship at Prescott on May 2nd. Barbon immediately followed, then Fintray and finally Harewood in July. After that the bubble burst in a big way at Bouley Bay and having courted disaster on several previous occasions, Bolsover really over-stepped the mark. On his second Top Ten run, he glided sideways into a particularly sturdy tree, severely denting both the monocoque and his championship aspirations. Thanks to Jim Thomson, Martin at least took part in the next round at Le Val des Terres with Jim's Pilbeam MP41, but, after a spin on the treacherous Guernsey surface, only gained two championship points. His own car was rebuilt in the few days prior to Craigantlet, but two fourth places since have stunted the growth of his Pace series lead.
Bolsover and Marryn Griffiths went to Shelsley Walsh on August 8th with 87 and 80 points respectively. They left the Worcestershire venue with the same totals but fernery different reasons. Having scored 10 times in the championship already, Bolsover had to drop seven points at Shelsley. Fourth place granted precisely that figure so Bolsover stagnated at the top of the tree. Griffiths, expected to score well at Shelsley, suffered transmission failure on his first class run and took no further part in the proceedings. Marryn has been something of a bundle of surprises this season. Mid-winter rumours suggested that he had retired after a depressing 1981 with a Pilbeam MP42, but then he turned up at Loton Park for the first round in April to share Max Harvey's brand new MP53. Relaxed, with the pressure off, Griffiths now exudes confidence like never before and driving for the pure pleasure of it brought him an excellent win in the second championship round at Wiscombe on April 25th. Consistently high points scores and another win at Doune, one of his favourite courses, sees Martyn in a challenging second place for the title race. So as one Martin attempts to regain his battered confidence, the other Marton will try to bring his own to bear and capitalise on the situation.
Brian Hart's hillclimb take-over bid would be almost complete were it not for one man's refusal to lose faith in the Cosworth DFV. Alister Douglas-Osborn has now been the DFV's most competitive hillclimb exponent for nearly two years, but there have been occasions when even he must have wondered whether that trust has been misplaced. Just about everywhere except Shelsley Walsh, ADO finds himself struggling to stay on terms with the nimbler and easier to handle F2 spec machinery, such as 2.5-litre Pilbeams and Chris Cramer's Toleman. "Alice", as he is known amongst his rivals, has only one twice this year, both times at Shelsley, where the 540 b.h.p. of his 3.6-litre engine can be unleashed both fully and safely. On other occasions this year, all those horses have been a distinct embarrassment and nowhere was this more obvious than Le Val des Terres. The diesel-slicked surface creates a big enough problem for the more tractable cars of Bolsover, Griffiths, Dave Harris and Cramer, but ADO's Pilbeam simply squirmed about unhappily in a stubborn refusal to ascend the course in less than 34.00s. Poor ADO finished a solid last, behind even the 2.0-litre cars of Alan Cox and Graham Priaulx! A spate of driveshaft breakages at Shelsley on August 8th did not miss ADO, who had one snap as he warmed up for his first Top Ten run. His mechanics fitted a replacement in double-quick time but it was still outside the time allowed by the regulations. The time which followed secured both 10 points and a new hill record which the organising MAC fully expected someone to protest. Surprisingly, they underestimated the relationships between drivers, some of whom were genuinely hurt when prompted, unsuccessfully, to protest. ADO kept his points having dropped one for a low score, which put him into third place at the expense of Chris Cramer.
Ever the individualist, Cramer resisted any herding instinct when just about everyone else rushed out to buy Pilbeams, and produced an expensive and unique Toleman TG280 hill climb car at Wiscombe Park last year. Complicated, untried and shod with unsuitable Pirelli radials, Cramer embarked on a typically methodical development programme which showed the first glimmering of hope towards the end of last season. More of Chris' fine tuning this season has brought the Toleman to a fully competitive pitch with hard, F1 standard suspension and, some say, a 2.7-litre Hart engine! On the way, the Stroud architect tried a full-width front wing, which he has only just discarded in favour of a standard nose cone with canard fins. However, it was not until Harewood that the Toleman began to look as if it would reward Cramer's perseverance, where it finished in third place behind the duelling Bolsover and Thompson. Then, in the Channel Islands, the combination really began to gel and, although Chris was beaten by Dave Harris in the run-off, his earlier FTD of 40.18 sec. had already served notice on the rest of his opponents: Cramer was back, and with a vengeance. Finally, nearing 18 months after it had first taken to the hills, the Toleman scored its maiden victory in the British Hill Climb Championship at Val des Testes, where Cramer gambled on grooved rear tyres. Whether they really made any difference or not is hard to tell, it was so slippery on that hill, that Chris was a full .53 sec. quicker than anyone else that afternoon, scoring a conclusive win. One round later, and he had repeated the feat at the daunting Ulster course of Craigantlet, boosting his championship points total to 70, which he increased by five at Shelsley Walsh. It had probably all come together just a few rounds too late for Cramer, but there could hardly be a more popular or respected champion if it could happen.
Dave Harris' season began in sensational fashion with a win at Loton Park in the very first round of the championship. But, as ever, Dave's competitiveness is dictated by the amount of money he has to spend at any given time, and since April, he has taken only one other victory, at Bouley Bay in July. He does not even have sufficient cash to take part in all the rounds, and with his garage business, in these difficult financial times, placing an ever greater demand on his time, Harris can only offer a somewhat diluted challenge. Without doubt, his season's low point was Harewood where he scored a solitary point for last place in the Top Ten run-off. Then, amazingly, he flew to the top of the tree at Bouley Bay! Last one week, first the next, how does the man do it? "On brand new tyres!" was Dave's candid reply. "I bought a set of new Avon qualifiers after Harewood, and here I am. I 'bought' this win didn't I?"
To win a national hillclimb one has to have the very best equipment at one's disposal, and if that means buying new tyres every five meetings, then so be it. However, not everyone can afford to spend £400 more than twice during a season, although one gentleman is reputed to have spent £4,000 on tyres already this season! Some think the British Hiliclimb Championship needs a control tyre, similar to the system which is used in the Marlboro British F3 series.
Roy Lane used to be a staunch V8 fan, having first used a Chevrolet engine and then a 3.0-litre DFV. Roy also, of course, attempted to develop Robin Herd's six-wheel March 240 project for hill climbing, but in 1981 he joined the 2.5 club for the first time, entering a March 802 with Hart power. This season Lane has changed again, for a 2.3-litre BMW unit and the ex-Griffiths Pilbeam MP42, brought up to MP50 specification. Sadly the BMW cannot deliver the same sort of power as the Hart although Lane reckons it has ample torque. Therefore, Lane is yet to fully regain his late 1970s competitiveness, although recent performances in the Channel Islands and at Shelsley Walsh have shown signs of the old sparkle. Booby Bay in particular should have yielded a much better result than fifth, boss late and incorrect tyre change cost Roy those vital few tenths of a second.
Mark Williams, son of the inimitable Ted, made a brilliant debut in the Old Man's Pilbeam MP41 2.5 Hart at Loton Park in April, but since then has scored inconsistently while also exploring the depths of the undergrowth at several venues. Max Harvey, owner of the bright yellow Pilbeam which he shares with Griffiths, improves in leaps and bounds every season, now obviously benefiting from Griffiths' wealth of experience. Richard Fry co-drives Williams' Pilbeam and scored his first single-seater win at Gurston Down last month, in a round of the Guyson Hillclimb Championship. Despite some decent results, Richard has yet to show the same winning form in the Pace series. Richard Jones is still performing his familiar giant-killing acts with a venerable Mallock, but his season may well be adversely affected by a big shunt at Shelsley on August 8th, when the car ended up on its roll-over bar at the Crossing! Richard was thankfully unhurt but it may well be a while before his act regains the same sort of competitiveness it displayed before.
Out of the Top Ten limelight, the competition for the Haynes British Leaders Championship retains its feverish pitch, with David Watson's Maguire Harnvell Imp currently leading the pack with 57 points from clubmans Mallock exponent Charles Wardle. The Skoda special saloon of Brian Walker has enjoyed frequent skirmishes in its class with the incredible turbocharged Morris Minor of Nic Mann, now delivering a reliable 400 b.h.p.! Richard Nayler's Davrian actually matches the speed of the man's mouth and just holds sway, with Josh Sadler's 3.5-litre Porsche 911, at the top of the Midland Hillclimb Championship. Charles Barter, at the wheel of a Delta T824 single-seater for the first time this year, is yet to find his Darrian form of old.
There are now four rounds of the Pace Petroleum British Hillclimb Championship remaining. Gurston Down will have already taken place by the time you read this but should suit ADO's powerful Pilbeam. Prescott and Wiscombe could well become the preserve of either Cramer or Harris while Griffiths will be looking to repeat his earlier success at the Scottish Douse venue. The one man who could put one over all the others though is Bolsover, who has the skill and determination to crown his meteoric rise through the ranks with the Pace title.