Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Over the sea to Ireland

With the various rounds of the British Hillclimb Championship coming thick and fast I started writing some of the background for this post before I left for Stansted Airport, to catch the Easyjet flight to Belfast for my first visit to Craigantlet, to make sure I would have time to finish it before next weekend's round at Harewood! My plans for the weekend also involved flying back from Belfast on Saturday evening to enable me to get to Rockingham for the British GT meeting on Sunday and then to Castle Combe on Monday. Thankfully it all went to plan though it was altogether a bit wet at times. One weekend in the year when my family are away and I get to follow my passion for 3 days!

In 2014 they held the Craigantlet event in August and it rained. This year they moved to May - and it rained. Note the big raindrop on my lens in the photo below taken at Mays Cross where the cars cross the Ballymiscaw Road from the right of the picture to the left.

However, it had all looked good on Friday when I arrived at my hotel opposite the gates of Stormont and after checking in I set off for a quick recce. After a good half hour's walk on a pleasant evening (red sky at night)  I found it - the McAleer boys were setting up the timing and the sponsor's posters were going up. The main result from my recce was that I could get a bus a good part of the way from the hotel which would save my legs for the day's to-ing and fro-ing up the Ballymiscaw Road which bisects the bottom part of the hill (where it acts as the paddock) and forms the last hundred yards of the climb and the top holding 'paddock'.

Even a stranger coming upon the Ballymiscaw Road on Saturday would have been able to tell something was happening - there were all these men in orange waving flags and standing by the tools needed to make the event run properly. 

And there were the various gazebos that filled the carriageway and protected the cars from the rain above. Of course, being on a slope, it was never dry under the gazebos as the water just flowed through them!!

I took the opportunity whenever they were empty to try and grab some respite from the constant rain - never torrential but just constant from the start at just after 10 until the finish - and here, dear reader,  I have a confession to make - I never saw the finish! A delayed start and a number of stoppages, plus longer run times in the wet meant that the first competition runs and Top Twelve run-off did not finish until1630. By this time I was pretty wet and I had a flight to catch a few hours later. In order to give me some time to dry out before then I headed for the bus stop before the second runs began!

The Craigantlet round has often attracted a low number of Championship runners for various reasons. In the 1970s the political situation was not conducive to attracting competitors, and indeed in 1972 it was cancelled while in 1973, although it remained in the Championship, there were no participants from the mainland. In 1974 two cars travelled over to join local man Tommy Reid who duly won in his only Championship appearance.The other two cars were the shared Palliser from Scotland of Alex Brown and David Fyfe and Alister Douglas-Osborn in his Brabham BT38. It was even worse in 1975 when only Martyn Griffiths in his McLaren M10B went over to take a rather hollow 10 points although he was second fastest to non-Championship runner Patsy McGarrity . It was Martyn's first season in the Championship which of course he went on to win 5 times.

To diverge for a moment - I am currently reading a book about McLaren's victories across the years since the first one in 1964 and the M10A / M10B is their most successful design with a total of 115 race wins worldwide. In addition the model won 13 British Hillclimb rounds in the hands of Sir Nick Williamson (6), Roy Lane (3), Martyn Griffiths (1), David Good (1) and Richard Thwaites (2) - just a little fact for you to drop into conversation down the motor club one night!!!! If you want to read a history of the M10A / M10B then start here!

There were no entries again in 1976 but ADO and Griffiths returned in 1977 to take first and second ahead of Peter Kaye and Mike MacDowel (sharing Griffiths' car). After that numbers slowly crept up but some of the Championship runners were not as you might expect!! Between 1979 and 1982 Mark Joseland scored points in a pre-war Frazer Nash (as did Chris Cillcott), and we also saw a number of local drivers joining the Championship to score points on their home round, one of the most consistent being Richard Young in the ex-Mike MacDowel Coogar.

 It was 1984 before there was a full 12 car field in the run-off and since then there have been at least 9 Championship runners every year, though there have been some unusual participants (some of them points-scorers) in that time - John Morgan's Escort Mk2 in 1998, William Morgan's Peugeot 205 in 1998 and1999, Michael Beattie's Lancia Fulvia in 2006, Peter Herbert's Westfield in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and his Porsche in 2012  and this year to name a few.

This year there were 14 registered BHC competitors in attendance, and Alex Summers had the Moran Gould all to himself as Scott Moran is not doing the whole Championships this year. There were 13 single-seaters plus Peter Herbert's Porsche 911 and there was a good chance that Peter would in fact qualify for at least one of the run-offs as it was easy to make a mistake in the treacherous conditions. In the end he made both as Dave Uren failed to post a time in the first qualification runs, George Coghill Jnr did not take a second run and Graham Wynn had an off and deranged the front suspension of his Force (below) which put him out of both run-off.

Throughout the day I explored the length of the hill as much as I was able. With no spectator facilities and only fields or private houses on either side there are only a few viewing points for spectators. First the start, where the commentators are also based - it is a good job Jerry has a vivid imagination as his total view of the hill is as follows:

And here is the man himself is his comfortable and 'weather-proof' commentary box:

  The cars turn right shortly after the start

and this is followed by another left and a right which can be seen from the Ballymiscaw Road before they straighten up for the straight run across Mays Cross, though I think Robert Boyce was having difficulty telling his right from his left! Maybe we should have a class for drifting!

Did I say a 'straight' run across Mays Cross - well it was at one time but then the powers-that-be decided to resurface the main road but not the side road and that left a little ramp which was launching cars and so a chicane now slows the cars down before Mays Cross itself even though both roads have been resurfaced and the transition seems to have been smoothed out.

Mays Cross is a good viewing point and I spent most of my time there watching the roads get wetter and wetter

From Mays Cross the cars continue up to and around a long left hander in the distance below

and then emerge on to the Ballymiscaw Road via a right hander for the last short stretch. I walked all the way up to the top in pursuit of some photos for you, and there were a few hardy souls braving the rain and the wind but having seen and photographed one batch of cars, which come from the right in the photo below, I headed back down to the relative calm of the lower reaches.

My hill-climbing anorak got very wet that day but it was still working well enough to collect an interesting fact which might be of interest. Look at the following three cars and work out their connection:

The first one of course is Wallace Menzies, the second one is his wife, Nicola Menzies (nee Coghill) and the third one his his father-in-law George Coghill Snr in the car which George Coghill Jnr (sister of Nicola) also drove. In the first BHC run-off all three of Wallace, Nicola and George Jnr scored points and that sent me wondering if there were any other instances where three close members of a family had all scored points in the same run-off. (All three had also qualified for both run-offs at the June Doune in 2013 but the first time, Wallace failed to score and in the second run-off Nicola failed to score and George did not start.).

My researches did in fact come up with one other instance, also at Craigantlet, in 1998 - Robert Morgan, third in a Pilbeam,  his nephew, William, 9th in Peugeot 205 and his son, John, 10th in a Ford Escort Mk2.

The only other families that I can think of where three members have scored points are Richard, Tom and George Brown, Adam, Justin and Nick Fletcher, Tony, Simon and Peter Marsh,  Jim, James and Tim Thomson and Robert, Robert Jnr and Simon Woodside though I do not believe all of any of them scored points in the same run-off.

With the noise problems at Prescott still fresh in the memory - is this the future of hillclimbing there?

This is Michael Hudson in his Renault Zoe and he was having a ball (sorry!!). His best time was a 72.04 secs which was quicker only than the classic cars and a couple of the more road-going saloons but at least he was quiet about it!!

Having identified three favourite cars at Prescott, I thought I would do the same this time as well.A wide variety from Roger Gage's Maguire Mini (I am a sucker for space frame saloons), to the elegant and swift Daimler SP250 Dart of Richard Parsons and the even more elegant and not so swift Lagonda Sport of Roger Corry. (Again you can see how wet it was from the raindrops on the lens!!).

Overall I enjoyed the experience of Craigantlet, in spite of the weather - yes there are few spectator facilities but that is to be expected on public roads, and obviously there are limited viewing points, but with free access, a range of cars that is different to the mainland events (very few Locaterfields for example but lots of Mark 2 Escorts), and easy access, even without a car, this is an event that is well worth another visit, though I might check the weather forecast first!

The rain followed me to Rockingham and having arrived I had to stay in the car for 15 minutes before venturing out though my luck did change and I then had a whole day of dry racing, while at Castle Combe on Monday it started off with thoughts of  'I should have brought the sun cream' to getting even wetter than Saturday while watching the last couple of races!

Next stop another first for me at Harewood - a quick run up the A1 from Bedford on Sunday morning should do the trick for that one.

Remember to check out my photos on Flickr

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