Thursday, 10 September 2015

It is a slippery slope......

It has been a bit hectic for your blogger the past 10 days and so apologies for the delay in reporting from Gurston on Bank Holiday weekend. The day after the event I was off to Heathrow to fly out to Belgrade in Serbia to attend the annual World Curling Congress and then I had to leave there before the final banquet to ensure that I got back in time to get to Prescott on Sunday. So been catching up with myself this week!

Now there may be some of you of course who have still got no idea what curling is all about in spite of the publicity every 4 years when the GB teams strive to get their hands on a medal or two at the Winter Olympics - so here are a few clues:

And that is what I spend my time doing in the winter - but enough - let's get back to the hills.

It might not have been slippery because of  ice at Gurston but conditions were tricky all day with winning class times generally being about 2-3 seconds away from records. The afternoon class runs got the worst of the weather and a number of drivers packed up early as there was no improvement to be had in their time. The two run-offs were won by Scott Moran with times in the low 26secs range compared to his time of 25.37 from last year. Gurston has always been a happy hunting ground for the GR61X and it has only been beaten three times out of the last 24 run-offs held at the Wiltshire hill (by Martin Groves and Tom New in GR55s and Wallace Menzies in the Firestorm).

It was a difficult weekend for the New / Menzies team with Tom having an off at Ashes in the first run-off, fortunately without major damage, but with only 7 cars due to run before it was Wallace's turn. A generous interpretation of the 2 minute rule allowed Wallace to run and, in spite of the steering wheel being at an odd angle, he did enough to finish 8th. He later scraped in to the second run-off in 11th place, as the weather improved for later runners, and then found 2/10ths over his first attempt to pick up 4th place while Tom, having qualified 3rd, slipped back to 7th.

At the end of the day, as the car was packed away ready for Prescott just a week later, there must have been the frustration of another not-quite-there weekend in the air.

Will Hall has decided that there is too much to do to his AER engined Force after his Shelsley accident and is sharing Graham Wynn's Force for the rest of the season but, although he qualified twice, he failed to score a point at Gurston. In the second run-off this was because Graham had damaged the front of the car in his qualifying run,

and now with only 1 point scored in the last 8 run-offs (including Prescott) Will's 5th place in the Championship is under threat from Tom New who has only failed to qualify for one run-off all season (equal best with Alex Summers). However, closing fast on the pair of them is Dave Uren who is picking up his little Force by the scruff of the neck and daring it to go faster. A superb 3rd and 5th at Gurston took him above Jos Goodyear, and left John Bradburn behind too.

It was also a good day for Alastair Crawford who, after a fairly barren spell since Barbon Manor, scored a career-best 4th place in the first run-off and followed it with a solid 6th.

The class of the year for me has been the 600-1100cc racing car class with another tremendous entry of 21 cars at Gurston (of which 18 started). The times were spread slightly more than at other hills but it was Simon Fidoe in the Empire Wraith at the top, taking his 5th class win of the year. He was closely challenged, however, by Tom Poole in the Empire Evo, just 0.14 secs back on the first and only competitive run that was possible. Here he is on the run up to Ashes.

You will notice that the car is for sale (at least it was at the time) and as it was only finished in June this year and has posted some good results I am sure he has had a lot of interest in it.

Third in the class was Simon Andrews in his OMS 28 and then 4th (just 1/10th behind) was Bradley Hobday in the Jedi Mk4. Bradley is competing in the HSA Championships this year (in which he lies 3rd) and also in the British Sprint Championship where he lies 7th, having started the season with 3rd overall at Castle Combe (amazing feat at such a power circuit), though he has has missed the last two double-headers at Knockhill and Kirkistown. The Jedi is now a much rarer beast on the hills these days though of course it was the first mass produced motor-cycle engined car for this class and, initially, the up to 600cc class .

Roger Moran was sharing Lindsay Summers' DJ Firehawk this week and was 9th overall in the middle of a bunch of 6 cars covered by 0.68secs.

A welcome addition to the class was Sam Lester in the Force also driven this year by Martin Jones and Lindsay Summers - a steady run in 33.33 was a fraction slower than her best practice run and was good enough for 13th.

The incredible whooshing Mannic was there again - and it was an interesting perspective to watch it, from further up the hill, coming down from the start. You get an almost overhead view of the shape of the car as it descends and for a brief instance it looked a flying rectangle! The car is so low and flat!

It was also the first time I had seen Chris Cannell and Sue Hayes' Empire Evo sportscar

Compare it to Ed Hollier's Empire Evo single seater

The Empire follows on from their previous twin-engined Force SR8 (seen here in May) and it is always good to see new and innovative cars on the hills.

Colin Satchell took another class win in Class C(ii) but only scored 6 points as there were just 3 starters in the class while Ed Hollier won his class and got a full 9 points which  moved him ahead in the Leaders Championship for the first time this season. Colin has to start dropping points now and this meant that he was actually 6 points behind (though all would change at Prescott).

When the Multi Car Challenge team saw what Toyota had provided for them their initial thought was that maybe they had not understood the term hill-climbing and had decided that a Sherpa (as made by Leyland) was called for and so they sent their nearest equivalent:

In actual fact there was a tiger lurking behind for them this week - a GT86 sporting a rather garish jungle-pattern paint scheme.

I suppose they had the tank at Shelsley and now here was a "Tiger in their tank" - I didn't check for the tail hanging out of the fuel filler (all of you under 40 can ignore the popular culture reference - just us old guys reminiscing!!)

At BHC rounds there are always a number of classes of cars running after the big single-seaters to enable the qualifiers to get ready for the run-off and  I quite often see people leaving the trackside at this time before returning for the Top 12, but there are always some interesting runners in the 'buffer' classes, whether they be one-make classes or, as at Gurston, National B Licence Holders. So a little focus now on these vital contributors to the running of a BHC weekend. With only one class the variety of machinery at Gurston was large with many of the entrants maybe only appearing at Gurston throughout the year.

Fastest overall was Pete Hammock in his OMS CF04 (sorry no picture of him), but second was another of the growing band of Empire Evos, this one driven by Tony Levitt

Third was Martin Watson in his Westfield

 and 4th was Peter Steel in a Mallock Mk20.

At the other end of the calss we had Mazda MX5s, a Tiger Sports, a couple of Minis (Dave Lord's example below)

and the Datsun 240Z of debutant Hannah Stapley, who was sharing with it with her sister Stephanie who was driving it in the Modified Series Production Sports car class (the picture is actually of Stephanie on her run).

and here is the same car driven by Dee Stapley back in 2008

And you do not see many of these Westfield XTR2s around either (this one driven by Craig Russell)

So don't wander off for your burger or a wee after the big single seaters, stay at the fence and enjoy the variety of cars that grace British hillclimbing.

One feature of Gurston, that I think is unique, is the comprehensive timing display at the start - not only showing the running time of up to 2 cars on the hill but also retaining the time of the car just finished until the next one finishes and also, at the bottom, the fastest speed and time of the day. Of course if you watch that all day the you will miss the cars on the hill but for those who have only got time to see how their driver and rivals are doing then it is great.

So - a final look around the paddock and the farmyard before leaving and we see the dance of the gazebo - folders in full swing - note the placement and co-ordination of the participants - you can quickly tell the professionals from their amateur partners! Must say that the spectators don't appear to be too impressed by their efforts!

And then just around the corner there is the BMTR tyre store!!!!

Oh and I forgot - favourite cars of the weekend: Simon Purcell's Lotus Exige is so understated and subtle in its colouring that you forget how fast it is until it goes!

And then two older cars with a lot of history behind them: Adrian Lewis' St Bruno Roughcutter

and Fyrth Crosse's Ensign now resplendent in Mike Wilds' Dempster Developments colour scheme:

And final tips if you are going to Serbia - Air Serbia are better than you might imagine and you cannot get Serbian currency in the UK.

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