Tuesday, 18 August 2015

For whom the bell tolls...

St Andrews Church at Shelsley Walsh has a 12th century nave with a 13th century chancel while its 15th century screen is the finest in Worcestershire. For over 800 years, therefore, the stones of the old building have been welcoming worshippers.

And for the last 110 years worshippers of another kind have been gathering just a couple of hundred yards away to watch cars of all shapes and sizes climb up the side of the Teme Valley, and the MAC meeting on 16th August included a celebration of that milestone. From the oldest car in attendance, Hicky Hickling's 1911 Sunbeam 16/20

to the newest,  David Finlay and Alisdair Suttie's massive Audi S8 (of which more later),

through cars of every decade, the history of Shelsley Walsh was portrayed. Oh, and there was also the important business of Rounds 25 and 26 of the Avon Tyres / TTC Group MSA British Hillclimb Championship and rounds of the Avon Tyres / TTC Group MSA Hillclimb Leaders Championship and the BMTR Tyres Midland Hillclimb Championship. With a total of approximately 225 cars and drivers to get safely up the hill, many of them temperamental (the cars and not the drivers.....unless you know differently), it was going to be a challenge to get it all done in a reasonable time. 

So there was an early start to proceedings with Anthony Record leading the way in his Proton Coupe at bang on 0915. He was at the top 39.74 seconds later which was a bit quicker than his 13 hours on the back of a rescue lorry (the car, not Anthony who I am sure was safe in the cab) on the way home from Harewood early in July! Nine hours later and Scott Moran rounded off the day with a 23.14 sec run to win the second of the day's Top 12 Run-offs! In between there had been some evocative runs from cars that define Shelsley's history, some fierce competition in the classes, a couple of collisions with the bank and some records broken.

It was a cool morning - just 6 degrees when I drove into the car park and the racing cars were still mostly asleep under their covers waiting to be stirred into life.

The odd one or two had 'slept' in the open - and some would need a bit of demisting before being brought into action - Colin Satchell certainly cleared his windscreen well as he shot to another class win, fortunately this week with enough entries to enable him to add 9 more points to his Leaders total and thus go back into a one point Championship lead, this time over Ed Hollier who also won his class, while previous co-leader, Alex Summers, only managed second behind his co-driver, Scott Moran.

Alex and Scott of course co-drive the unique Gould GR61X - NME which at the weekend chalked up its 150th (and then 151st) BHC Championship run-off victory - the most successful car in BHC history continues to hold sway over the rest of the field. I am sure most of you know what it looks like these days but just in case you don't, here it is at rest in the Harewood paddock earlier this year.

The 151 victories stretch back to its first season in 2005 when Roger Moran gave it its maiden victory at Craigantlet and then Scott won both run-offs at Prescott in September that year, with Roger second both times. And here we are 10 years later, and it is another double 1-2 with Alex and Scott sharing the spoils. Of the 151 wins Scott is responsible for 130 of them with Roger for 16 and Alex for 5. I don't have to hand the figures for the second most successful car but I would imagine it is the Gould GR55B, which is currently run by Wallace Menzies and Tom New, which gave Martin Groves 4 titles between 2005 and 2010.

And those two cars between were responsible for the ten fastest times on Sunday - Tom at 23.68, Wallace at 23.54, Scott with a 23.35, 23.60, 23.48 and 23.14 and Alex with 23.37, 23.05, 23.60 and 23.19 The only other drive to get into the 23 second bracket was Trevor Willis with a 23.82 and a 23.87 in the run-offs.

And if you have never been to a BHC hillclimb you may not actually know what these drivers look like as we tend to focus on pictures of the cars and so here is a shot taken during the prizegiving on Sunday - unfortunately Alex is speaking next to me but the others are there - from left - holding the baby - Scott Moran; in the middle advertising his company Tillicoultry Quarries, Wallace Menzies; sitting looking coy on the car, Trevor Willis, and on the right, Tom New. The man in the grey shirt, by the way,  is the most important though, as he is Tim Wilson, BHC co-ordinator who, when driving, appeared in 36 BHC run-offs and scored 65 points with a best of 5th at Doune in 2007

So we had no outright records among the top single seaters, with Martin Groves' mark of 22.58 still standing from 2008 but the winning run-off times of 23.05 by Alex and 23.14 by Scott were both within Groves' class record, which can however only be broken in the class runs!

We did however have two new records in the Classic Racing Cars classes - Richard Jones in his Brabham BT29X (pictured below in June) reduced his own pre-72 record (set a year ago) from 29.02 to 28.85

while Stuart Ridge took away Andrew Henson's 2009 record in the 1972-1985 class by just one-hundredth of a second (26.72 to 26.73) in his Pilbeam MP53-01 (below) just one of many representatives of the marque present at the weekend.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the various Pilbeam chassis were the choice of most of the top hillclimbers in the country - between 1977 and 1997 Pilbeam mounted drivers won 17 out of the 21 British Hillclimb Championships in R22, MP40, MP43, MP47, MP50, MP51, MP53, MP58 and MP72 models. Two of the non-Pilbeam championships were won by Chris Cramer  - firstly in a March 782 / 79B but then, in 1985, in the first of David Gould's self-named products - the Gould 84. Unfortunately the only picture I have from that era of the car is this rather fuzzy, and tilted, one taken at Crossing in August 1985

but here was Chris back in the car on Sunday 30 years later

And just for comparison - his best time in August 1985 was 27.99 (though he did a 27.05 at the June meeting) and in 2015, after just a few runs, he was down to 30.63 and I am sure there was more to come in the driver, the car and the tyres with some more time. Those of you interested in motor sport trivia might also like to know that that it is an Andy Priaulx helmet that Chris is about to put on - helped by his sons Marc and Eric who were themselves promising racing drivers in the 1990s, both getting into Formula Renault while Marc also drove a Reliant Kitten on the hills - see my earlier blog here , when it was run by Dave Whitehead.

The other non-Pilbeam champions in that era were Ray Rowan in 1989 in his adapted Toleman which he called a Roman - Ray is currently part of Will Hall's team, and David Franklin in 1978 when he did the unique hillclimb / sprint Championship double in a March 782 - David was also at Shelsley at the weekend driving one of the small number of Jaguar XKSS's that were made - the road going version of the D-Type.

And there was one other class record set at the weekend.In Class A2 for Roadgoing Series Production Cars over 2000cc Roy Standley had been below his existing record of 31.71 with a 31.58 in practice, which of course does not count as a record but, come the day and it was Mark Spencer in his Porsche 996 Turbo who put together what he says was a perfect run to take Roy's record with a fabulous 31.50 time. Mark, pictured here in the Bouley Bay paddock was Midland Hillclimb champion in 1997 in a Ford Escort Cosworth but then took some time out before returning to the hills with this lovely 'Porker'.

In doing some research on Mark I discovered that his business is the production of scale models of tanks - and I do not mean the small Airfix or Tamiya kits you built as a boy (maybe you still do), but instead radio-controlled ones of up to 1/4 scale - see his website - so be careful not to annoy him - you may find yourself at the wrong end of one his products!!!

Maybe that was why the Multi-car Challenge boys turned up in their own version of a tank this weekend -

reputed to be too big to fit into one of the Shelsley 'garages' it was relegated to the Orchard car park along with the rest of the A1 and A2 runners - but what is this - Sunday morning and there is a gap where it should be

Alisdair said that David was away getting it washed and polished to look its best but I reckon he had had a call from the local taxi company to go and collect a fare from Worcester railway station!! And certainly later on in the day he was spotted in the paddock looking for all the World like somebody waiting for a taxi to take him back to the far reaches of the Shelsley estate

and right on time his ride appeared - how much to get to the Orchard, squire?

On the track however the car was fast - David had reckoned that they would get into the 35s with it but  immediately they were doing 34s and at the end of the day the best time was 33.03 - not bad for a road going behemoth - read Alisdair's thoughts on the weekend and enjoy an in-car view of a run here and also check out their facebook page here. Next time out at Gurston it will be a Toyota GT-86.

An interesting facet of the weekend was the sequence of runs celebrating the 110th anniversary - all the runs were timed but a number of the cars were not officially given a time as they were defined as 'demonstration' runs - it seems that if you can run unsilenced if you are just doing 'demonstrations' and so the hill was alive once again with the sound of unsilenced Chevrolet V8s - but you know what - it was actually quite painful to hear them after years of getting accustomed to the silenced versions - in the 1970s I loved the sound of screaming 1600s and rumbling V8s, and maybe that is why I can be a bit deaf at times, but I do not think I could stand a whole day of them now.

For me the stars were the two David Hepworth cars - the basic Cooper-Chevrolet which is as it was when it was last climbed, complete with bashed nose cone

and the 4wd Hepworth FF, one of the stars when I first started watching hillclimbs

David Hepworth set a time of 29.64 seconds in 1971 and his son, Andrew got it down to 35.77 on Sunday afternoon on 42 year old tyres!!! Check out their facebook page here for the sights and sounds of the car doing some tyre-warming.

Other stars of the show were ERA R4D, which was driven to the British title by both Raymond Mays and Ken Wharton -another glorious sounding machine

the Alec Issigonis designed Lightweight Special with just 750cc

and the road-going McLaren M6 GT driven by triple champion, Martin Bolsover, the only man to win it in a sports-racing car, the Pilbeam MP43 (which I believe is the one now owned by Rodney Thorne).

Another aural and visual overload at Shelsley Walsh and the huge crowds once again showed that they must be getting it right. A number of the people at every hillclimb are new to the sport and I love seeing and hearing those people's reactions to some of the things we take for granted over the years but nothing, and I mean nothing, ever prepares them for the sight and more particularly the sound of the Mannic - Beattie. Nic Mann does not bring it out to play very often these days  and so even us old hands get a thrill every time we hear it being charged up at the start and the whine gets higher and higher until they unplug it and Nic gets to the line before taking off like the proverbial bat - consistently under 1.9 secs for the first 64 feet.

Just one example of the ingenuity that is given free rein in hillclimbing, but there is another we must not overlook, one which is running better and better every week it seems and whose 64 feet times were on a par with the Mannic all weekend - Allan MacDonalds Mini Evo - another car which makes jaws drop at its sight and sound - best 64 feet time at the weekend was 1.84 compared to the Mannic's 1.83 - in other words, nothing at all, and his last run of the weekend was 28.93 seconds. Here he is at Barbon Manor last month

And then there was the Aston Martin, driven by Matt Nicoll-Jones - a GT4 Vantage, 

normally seen in the British GT Championships - here it is in the gravel at Rockingham back in May.

The car was at Shelsley because of the Stratstone connection and is not really sorted for the hills and this was reflected in its times - best being a 34.44 - Nicoll-Jones is a fine circuit racer having won Ginetta Championships in the past and also the British GT4 Championship in 2008.

And there was more, much more happening but I think we are probably at the stage where you are crying enough and so it comes to the very difficult task of picking my 3 favourite cars of the weekend. By this stage in the season I have been seeing the same cars week after week and so, while some of those may be favourites, I am going for ones that are not regulars on the BHC tour - so firstly how can you not like a car that is the colour of Kermit - David Connell's VX220

Secondly Roger Jones' March 712 - one of that company's successes and this example is pristine and reminds me of my youth (and I need a lot of reminding about that these days)?

And finally one of the many 500OA cars that were participating - but this is not one of the common Coopers or Starides but the unusual Iota of Stuart Barnes - unusual for a 500 because of the long bonnet.

Next stop Gurston Down as the Championships head toward their conclusion at Loton Park in September. Alex Summers' best weekend since Doune, back in June, when he also scored 19 points, has put him well on the way to the title barring any misfortune but there is a tight battle going on for third place as we have Trevor Willis on 154, Wallace Menzies on 152 and Scott Moran on 151- but Wallace is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to dropped scores as both Scott and Trevor are able to count all the points they score from now on as they have already had 6 zero scores while Wallace at the moment would have to drop 14 points. With Scott not going to Doune it looks as though Trevor may retain his number 2 for next year.

However, as Will Hall can testify after his Shelsley accident, there is nothing as certain as uncertainty. Will's current 5th place is under some threat from Tom New who has outscored him 26-1 over the last two weekends while there is a ding-dong battle going on between Dave Uren and John Bradburn for 8th and 9th where Dave has had the advantage by 28-13 over the last three meetings and is now one point ahead. Jos Goodyear is stuck on the 87 points he had before his accident and may slip from his current 7th place to a season ending 9th unless Alastair Crawford, who has also been scoring less well in recent rounds can find his early season form and average just over 6 points from the remaining 4 weekends when he would sneak above Jos, but if not he should still be safe in 10th as Eynon Price is 26 points behind.

As usual there will be pictures from Shelsley going up on my Flickr page shortly.

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