On Friday I was in the damp and steamy Rainforest biome at the Eden Project trying to find the partridges they keep there to prey on the insects and on Sunday I was at a damp Wiscombe trying to spot the cars that were reputedly climbing the hill.
I sought them here:
and I sought them there - but it was all very quiet
and then the search was over and the hunter had found the Hunt splashing through the gloom!!
But there was a shortage of cars in a number of the classes on Sunday - of the 73 cars entered in the programme in the Woolbridge Invitation, the DEWS Club and the SBD HSA Championship classes combined only 36 took timed runs, while there were 21 non-starters in the main Championships classes! Some of these were caused by mechanical failures, either in practice or previously, while a number had had timed runs on the Saturday in the sunshine and probably felt that there was no point doing it all again in the wet on the Sunday.
The state of the Wiscombe paddock was also mentioned as a reason for people going away as, based on previous experience, they knew that it could be quite late before they managed to get out if it got really muddy. So from the other side of the valley the paddock did look a bit empty in places
So it was a bit disappointing that there were all these gaps in the running order but one can appreciate the reasons as no-one wants to spend time or money sorting out problems which could be avoided. Even the course car seemed to be anticipating a lot of water if its snorkel exhaust was anything to go by!!
Some tried to get around the problem of grip by going for the "less is more" option!
David Finlay was back, with his multi-car challenge steed this time being a SEAT Leon ST Cupra estate car
in a suitable camouflage grey colour to match the weather! Good job the wheels and mirrors were orange - can you see him below?
So I guess the question must be - when was the last time an estate car competed in a hillclimb? I would imagine it is probably more recent than we might think - any ideas - because I have none!! Although I do have in the back of my mind that somebody sprinted their Audi (?) estate tow car in recent years when their race car failed - can anyone help - was it Steve Miles?
And now having written this I realise I should specify road-going estate car because regular readers will know that Richard Mattosian's Reliant Kitten, seen at Doune, is in theory an estate car body!
David was in Class A(ii) into which Andy Fraser and Tim Painter were moved when they replaced the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup they were entered in in class C(iii) with a 997 Turbo - oh for the luxury of being able to choose which one to use!!
And while I have seen plenty of Porsches competing on the hills, you do not often see an Aston Martin DB7 road car joining in - Mark Chandler is the brave owner of this one. At least John Pick on the left has the right footwear on for the conditions - though there would not be much room in his Mini footwell for those!
The surprise of the day was of course Eynon Price's win in the second run-off. Eynon had only just squeezed into the run-off when he was the only runner in the 1100-1600 class not to improve on his first run time.
His 43.27 to qualify 11th was just 0.14 quicker than his co-driver, Sean Gould, who was the first non-qualifier, but this did mean that he got a run in early before the rain briefly got worse and when he set his time of 40.53 he was just ahead of the first man up, Tom New in the shared drive Gould, who recorded 40.90 which would eventually be the third fastest time (joint with Alex Summers). As the rain got heavier Summers was the only other one to get into the 40 second mark until last man Trevor Willis managed to find a drier line and shot through with a 40.88 to finish second.
For the half hour before the run-off and for the run-off itself I was stood next to 4 youngsters with their father / uncle, some of whom wanted to leave because it was "boring". This was after the big single-seaters had had their qualifying runs and there was only a page of runners to go before the run-off. I persuaded them to stay as there was just a few cars to go and they should really wait for the run-off as that was the most exciting bit of the day. Eventually two of the boys went to play in the woods and the rest watched but as my promised half an hour turned into 40 minutes and beyond I did wonder if we are really doing our best to attract new spectators to the sport.
On my tour around the hills what has struck me is the pretty small size of the audience that we are attracting. Apart from Shelsley, and less so Prescott, it is really only in the hundreds as far as i can tell (and many of those are part of the drivers' team / family - it would be interesting to know from the organisers just how many tickets they sell and also how we can attract the numbers back to the hills. Maybe I am wearing rose-tinted glasses but I can only compare the numbers of cars parked at Doune in 1975 with those parked in 2015 and I would say we are looking at, at most, 20% of the numbers that were there 40 years ago.
I found this photograph of lunch time at Doune back in 1969 or 1970 in my father's collection - I like the tea-cosy - such luxury!! - the car park looks pretty full!
Perhaps like circuit racing the public are more able to bond with cars that they can see in the street every day - the BTCC has shown the way - compare the numbers watching that to those attracted to a meeting headlined by BRDC F4 (whatever that is! - and yes I Do know but does Joe Public?).
So it does worry me that we are becoming a sport where the majority of the cars in the Championship classes are often single seaters - at Wiscombe there were 21 cars in classes A-D, 4 in sports libre and then 40 single seaters - is this the right balance to get more spectators along - how can we get more saloons and sports cars to enter - is the class structure right - after some of the comments on my Bouley Bay blog, I will probably get accused of opening a can of worms which does not exist but all sports need to develop to survive - I just feel that at times hillclimbing is struggling to survive and I do not want to see that happen.
Some of the problems are of course connected to the venues - we have the noise issue at Prescott which looks as though it might make some drivers not bother to enter there; the history of muddy paddocks at Barbon was probably one reason for a really low entry while the issues with Wiscombe are described above - how can we improve conditions for entrants as well as making the sport more attractive for spectators?
For example at Wiscombe is there really no other place for the Paddock to go? The top paddock / car park seemed to be a bit better and if there is an issue with making permanent changes in front of the main house at Wiscombe - why not look at developing a surface in the top paddock and have cars run in convoy down to the start and make arrangements there for them to be in a holding area before taking their runs - There may be no space and I did not examine the details of the hard standing around the house but just thinking laterally......
Colin Satchell continues to lead the Leaders Championship, but now jointly with Alex Summers, after gearbox issues made him and co driver, Paul Drowne, non-starters at Wiscombe. Even if he had started, however, Colin would have only scored a few points as there were no other entrants in the class. Alex has scored in 9 rounds now and so will only add incrementally to his total while Colin has only scored in 8, but if his class continues to have a low turn-out he could win all the remaining rounds in record times and still lose out to Alex who will always have a good number of starters in his class. So Colin will need to score well at the Midland hills where there generally seems to be more entrants in Class C(ii). Ed Hollier is also a threat just one point behind from 7 rounds scored.
Top cars this week - two svelte 1100 single seaters :
Ian Fugett's Empire Force:
Tom Poole / Lloyd Chaplin's Empire 00 Evo
and one of their ancestors - Terry Griffin's Austin 7 Special
I will now go and get my armour on and will see you all at Shelsley in two weeks time!