Monday, 8 June 2015

Enter the gladiators

0800, Sunday 7th June 2015, and Shelsley Walsh awaits the arrival of the gladiators as the early morning sun bathes the world. The hill is still asleep, but is waiting to test itself against today's crop of hopefuls.

From the start,

 up through Kennel Bend and over the Crossing to the approach to the Bottom 'S',

where speeds of over 140mph can be expected, to the Bottom 'S' where the tyres on the outside are waiting to catch the over-exuberant (and there will be some)

and then rushing up the short chute to the top 'S' and disappearing onto the top straight, the hill is the fastest venue in the calendar and, because of that, it poses a greater challenge than many of the others.

While the hill prepares for the onslaught, in the paddock, in a scene that is timeless, the steeds are waiting for their riders

many of whom are returning from their reconnaissance of the conditions that lie in wait.

Meanwhile the keenest of keen spectators grab their favourite positions on the banks above the track

- just a few at the moment, but by the middle of the day the bowl around the Bottom 'S' will be filling up

until later when the competitors will be entering a cauldron of  humanity looking down and watching their every move.

And for some the challenge will be too much and they will retire down the hill for reflection, and maybe to appear again when their car and pride have been mended.

but for others the return will be one of triumph as they glory in a new personal best, class win or even BTD.

Today the hill will resist well and new records will be few - just the one in fact for Ben Tranter in his Formula Ford Vector who eventually takes 0.88second off the old mark. Ironic that a car which was designed by a Dutchman should be setting records for hillclimbing!!

For many people Shelsley is THE place to hillclimb in Britain - its history, the sheer raw challenge that it sets - it is a hill that goes UP all the way - none of this downhill stuff like Gurston or Harewood - this is hillclimbing for the bravest -  and yet for others it is boring - too straight, not twiddly enough, only the big powerful cars have a chance of winning. You will all have your own views and all will have validity and all will be respected. Me - I love the place - the sheer speed as the cars fly up towards Bottom 'S' is surely what motor sport is about - in the same way I don't like the new Silverstone with its contrived 'loops' and twists - give me the old speedbowl any time - one of my favourite memories is of Mike Thackwell throwing the Sauber sportscar throw the old Stowe and Club on a qualifying lap. Goosebump time.

Getting there at 8 o'clock on Sunday was something I especially wanted to do - just to see the place before the crowds arrived, to feel it waking up and to reflect upon its place in British Motor Sport history - and there in front of me were surely some ghosts - or had I been transported back over the years?

This is just so evocative of what Shelsley is all about - the paddock shelters with their numbered plates, the church in the background, even the advert for Bo'Ness. Only the modern fire extinguishers date this photo to 2015 (thanks to Tony Bunker for the suggestion for this shot). 

And yet just across the way was the future?

The hybrid BMW i8 was David Finlay's mount for this event - the third different make for him in the Hillclimb Multi Car Challenge - driving solo this weekend as regular partner Alisdair Suttie was working, he had only collected it at 1 o'clock o Saturday morning from BMW in Farnborough when  it had 380 miles on the clock, so he was hoping that he would be returning it in the same condition 48 hours later. His first practice run was a 37.61 and he then set some pretty consistent times - 35.53, 35.27 and 35.38 to set what I suppose could be considered a new record for cars of that type. And there was not a scratch on it after it was all over. Thanks David for showing us the potential of hybrids and maybe it will encourage others to develop such cars for hillclimbing. Can't wait to see what you turn up with for the rest of the year - personally I look forward to the Perodua Axia!!

On my way to Shelsley I used the route between Banbury and Stratford and about halfway between lies Sunrising Hill, at the top of which is Sunrising House

.and, as all students of Shelsley history know, the Midland Automobile Club organised hillclimbs on this hill in 1903 and 1904 before moving to Shelsley in 1905 while the club's crest is derived from Sunrising, being designed by a Miss Allday in Birmingham Art School.

I walked up and down Sunrising Hill and took a number of photos which will appear in my usual Flickr site. Today of course it is a well surfaced road which cars towing caravans take in their stride, but having walked up it I can vouch that it is quite a haul, the average gradient being about 1 in 9 which the photographs do not show in all its steepness.

To read all about Sunrising Hill and the history of the MAC there is nowhere better than the book produced for the MAC's centenary in 2001 while you should also try and grab the Simon Taylor written history of Shelsley Walsh, both available from the MAC website or on your next visit to the hill.

Now its time for my 3 favourite cars from the weekend. One is obvious - just because it is a Chevron B19 - the immaculate version of Richard and Amanda George - the 2-litre sports cars from Chevron and Lola have always been some of my favourites.

Secondly John Hewett's Lyncar Atlantic,

which instead of a 1.6 Formula Atlantic engine installed has a rather larger 5.0 litre Rover V8!! And it is a lovely colour (and not red or black!!). And finally, and I know it is a re-creation of the original, the Freikaiserwagen is my third choice.

So just a week to go to Loton Park and the next round of what is looking to be quite an open championship this year. Alex Summers is still leading, but he did not win a round at Shelsley and has only won 2 of the rounds so far which may act against him when scores are dropped later in the season. However, the GR61X is still the car to beat as co-driver Scott Moran has also won 5 of the ten rounds. Jos Goodyear had his best weekend of the year so far, winning the first run-off and he was only 0.63 secs behind the winning time in the second one, principally caused by a momentary hesitation as the car left the line.

In the Leaders Championship Ed Hollier did not win his class, for the first time this year, losing out to Eynon Price, while Colin Satchell continued his winning streak and now has a 4 point lead over Alex Summers.

We had Oli Wright's meerkat at Gurston Down on the back of his Caterham and at Shelsley we spotted this little chap helping Alex Brown to steer the Fairley Mercury in the right direction:

Do you think he has been homologated??

And finally a caption competition!!

No comments:

Post a Comment