Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Fun and games down on the farm

When I first said to a friend of mine that I was going to "Gurston Down Hillclimb" she was a bit puzzled -' how can you have a downhill climb?' she said. All became clear quite quickly, when I spelt it out, until I then said that in fact the first part of the 'climb' was actually downhill!! Exit confused party heading for the bar!!

While not unique in having a downhill section (see Harewood) the scale of the plunge from the start line at Gurston is something else - and, while most of my readers will have been there, here are a couple of pictures for those unfamiliar with the location. Firstly looking from the start towards the finish which is at the gap in the trees on the skyline

and secondly from halfway up the hill at Ashes back to the start:

On a flat sheet of paper the hill looks fairly straightforward -

What the map cannot show of course are the difficulties posed by the speed of descent towards the compression at Hollow (up to 130mph), the sharp rise up through Karousel, the jump at Deers Leap (though fewer these days have wheels of the ground) and the right angle bend at Ashes whichit  is critical to get right to carry the speed up the long ascent to the finish. It is the third fastest hill in the British Championship and definitely favours the more powerful cars so that Ed Hollier's 1600 did very well to qualify for the run - offs though he finished both in 12th place in contrast to his 6th and 8th at the twistier Harewood two weeks previously.

The marshalls at the Gurston startline also have a unique challenge - to stop cars without handbrakes from breaking the timing beam while waiting for the green light - as you can see from the pictures two of them hold onto the rear wing or rear suspension of the cars as they get ready to go and then remove their hands as the car accelerates:

Obviously a fair bit of co-ordination is required and below you can see that this has been achieved with a display of synchronisation that would probably impress the judges though they might lose marks for the variation in hand height on release!

And I think a bit of overcompensation on the right this time.

Elsewhere in the paddock the Welsh synchronised tyre-scrubbing team were getting in a bit of practice

although I think Tim just fell off the beat a bit here.......

The Gurston venue runs through a working farm and sometimes the drivers try and give the owners a bit of a hand by helping with the harvest  - here is Mike Broome having a "Jackie Stewart at the1973 British GP" moment

fortunately without harm to his lovely Alexis Mk17 Formula 3 car shown below immediately afterwards. No apologies for showing this car at a larger scale as it was one of my favourites from the meeting.

And there were also a few animals about the farmyard as well - John Oxborrow and his self-built Ox -7 is a regular on the hillclimb scene now, John having previously built a series of successful Formula Ford cars and having great success at Brands Hatch in particular. The car features its own version of a cow-catcher at the front and I reckon it would also have more success with the harvest than the Alexis!!

John picked up a fine 8th place in a very competitive class where a couple of tenths less would have seen him on the class podium. Positions 3rd through 7th in that class were covered by just 4/100ths of a second.

This little chap was spotted on the back of Oliver Wright's Caterham 7 - he does not look very happy - maybe he should have a helmet to go with his trendy leather jacket! The things you have to do to sell insurance!!

Oh and how do you explain to your friend (see first paragraph) that while it is the Lotus 7 Championships all the cars are Caterhams!!

Ties for first place in top 12 runoffs are rare. In the first run-off at Gurston Alex Summers and Scott Moran both got the Gould GR61X to the top of the hill in 26.25 seconds and while there have been ties for first before (see below) this is the first time that the same car has been involved.

In recent years (that is since 1970!) there have been just 5 other ties for first place in a run-off. Scott Moran and Chris Merrick, also at Gurston, in 2010, and then a few weeks later they tied again at Shelsley Walsh (Chris Merrick's only 2 run-off wins in fact). There have been two at Wiscombe - Tim Mason and Graeme Wight Jnr in 2001 and Trevor Willis and Martin Groves in 2007, and one at Val des Terres - Scott Moran and Jos Goodyear in 2012. What is interesting is that they have all come in the last 15 years when the previous 30 years produced none - any mathematicians out there want to comment on the whole probability theory behind this??

Also on Sunday in the first run-off there was a tie for 5th place between Dave Uren (going extremely well all day) and Will Hall. So 57 points awarded instead of 55 - another uncommon happening to have two ties in a single run-off - previously at Harewood in 2014, Gurston in 2012, Wiscombe in 2003 and Prescott in 1999. While researching this I came across the triple tie at Wiscombe in 2010 which involved Will Hall, Scott Moran and Roger Moran - so the GR61X has been involved in a tie with both drivers before - just not for the win!

Enough numbers for the moment - a quick question for you - what is the connection between this car -

 and this car

The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that Piers Thynne's Westfield Megabusa sports a Scottish numberplate - SK03 ARU and it is in fact the first car that Wallace Menzies, seen in the Gould at Craigantlet, built for hillclimbing way back in 2002 /2003. Old hillclimb cars never die - they just get new engines!!

I have already identified one of my three favourite cars at Gurston last weekend, Mike Broome's Alexis. Ian Sydenham's Nissan Micra is number 2 - just for the fact that it looks immaculate and you do not see too many of them rushing up hills!!

and the last one is chosen for its lovely colour!! James Moore's OMS

As is the case everywhere we go the marshalls at Gurston do a fantastic job in all conditions - in my younger days I was one of them when the snow threatened at Doune and there was nary a spectator in sight -you can never praise them highly enough and, as we have seen at Prescott earlier this year, they can be the first on the scene and immediately have to manage a life or death situation. There are also the lighter moments and the sight of one of them on Sunday haring down the track to collect a piece that had fallen off a car just after the start, and then returning a bit more slowly uphill through the spectator enclosure raised a few smiles especially when somebody asked if they should have the ambulance on standby with the oxygen!! This member of the orange brigade was spotted with his feet up at the weekend but he was the exception!! Where did he got those boots!!

So after 4 rounds it is Alex Summers leading the way in the British Hillclimb Championship on 70 points, the only driver actually to have scored in all the rounds so far. Scott Moran and Trevor Willis are tied for second on 58 and Will Hall is 4th on 46. Wallace Menzies is next on 37 while Alastair Crawford is having his best season and lies 6th on 32. Jos Goodyear comes next in the best of the smaller engined cars.

In the Leaders Championship Colin Satchell won his class for the third time, though for the first time this season not with a class record and so just 9 points for him but he leads the way on 29 points. Ed Hollier has also had 3 wins but no records and so has 27 while Alex Summers was beaten to the class win by co-driver Scott Moran and has slipped back to third on 25 points.

I used to think of the Leaders Championship as being for the non single-seater classes - a chance for the saloons and sports cars to grab a bit of glory but in fact the last non single-seater to win the title was Simon Fidoe back in 2008 with the sports racing Pilbeam MP43, Ed Hollier won in 2007 with the OMS sportscar and before that it was Paul Haimes in the 2.0litre Mallock - Millington in 2001.

Is there a case for banning single-seaters from the Leaders Championship to try and get some more interest in the saloon and sports car classes where there are too many classes in which a shortage of entrants makes record-breaking performances an irrelevance on the scoreboard. Thought for the day!! Discuss.

On to Shelsley Walsh next - if  Doune is the King of the Hills then Shelsley is the Grand Old Lady of the Hills - wearing extremely well and not averse to biting back when provoked! See you there.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Harewood - records and tragedy

For the second time in 3 weekends the British Hillclimb Championships was interrupted by a visit from the Air Ambulance but this time, tragically, their efforts to get the patient to hospital were in vain as  Les Thurkettle, a well known Yorkshire hillclimber, passed away in the hospital after an incident in the paddock on Sunday. Many others, who knew Les better, have posted and will be posting their thoughts about him in various fora and websites but I will just direct you to one of his reports on the Harewood Hill history page.  RIP Les.


This was my first visit to Harewood and it will not be my last -  do not know why I have waited so long to go there - maybe it was the thought of travelling 150 miles but with it just being off the A1, as is Bedford where I live, accessibility could hardly be improved. I was originally going to go to practice on the Saturday as well, but when my proposed accommodation in York became unavailable, I went to Silverstone instead to catch some Classic Sports Car Club racing - if I say that there were 100 spectators there, I would probably be over-estimating!! There was little there with any connection with hillclimbing, but all you Lotus Elan aficionados might be interested in this example purchased from Germany with a double bubble hardtop - apparently the driver was quite tall but, as the new owner said - why 2 bubbles!! Aerodynamic balance maybe!!

So it was an early start for Yorkshire from Bedford on Sunday morning and I was able to get parked easily at Harewood in the hilltop car park and got my first view over the hill because, as most of you I am sure will know, the car parking and paddock are, unusually, at the top of the hill. This picture is too small a scale to see properly (I have made it big to make it easier to see) but the start is down to the right of the tree in the left middle distance - you can see the hut -  and the track then goes away from the viewer towards the trees at the end of the field before winding its way back up via the farm buildings in the middle to the finish off to the right of the picture. So, also unusually, it contains a downhill stretch before it starts to climb.

What the picture does show is that it is possible to see almost all of the hill from the paddock area and looking back at the skyline from the middle of the hill it was like those Western films where the Indians stand on the top of the cliffs watching the settlers' wagons wind along the trail below!!


The cars descend from the paddock by a fairly steep access road

and obviously there is no need for a return road. The whole process works extremely well and with 2, and sometimes 3 cars on the hill at any one time, the programme moved along pretty quickly unless there was an incident. I found plenty of places to take photos and there was no crowding in the lower reaches as most people seemed to get as far down as Farmhouse bend and no further. A longer walk out through the main car park also takes you to the outside of Quarry and also right down to the outside of Orchard, where like Silverstone the day before, I enjoyed almost complete isolation.

As you might be beginning to tell, I enjoyed it all thoroughly.

The main feature of the hill is of course the run through between the farm buildings as seen in this picture of Roger Moran sharing Steve Day's Caterham - I think it must look very narrow when something like Tony Bunker's Nissan goes through there - maybe he just breathes in at the right time!! (see Comment from Tony below). And I love the "Children Playing" sign - do you think they just put that up for the hillclimbers - boys (and girls) and their toys!!!

Roger was actually driving two cars on Sunday -  he was also sharing Eynon Price's new Gould GR59 which Sean Gould had debuted at Prescott. Photographs are wonderful - every one tells a thousand words they say but they can also be terrific liars - look at this one of Eynon in his Gould - has he discovered a go faster tweak for his rear wing - or they are his 'Prescott silencers'???

It was pure chance of course that I managed to take the picture just as the chimney pots acting as gate posts were lined up with the wing supports - and here is another one I like - it looks like a pretty normal picture of Tom New exiting Clark's

But if we crop it and focus on his inside front wheel you can see that there is definitely a bit of a gap between wheel and tarmac:

This was also the corner where Jos Goodyear had a spin on his first qualifying run. From the outside of Farmhouse it was quite difficult to understand what had happened - here you can see the wing of the car parallel to the road

but when you got closer the skidmarks told the tale and he had ended up sideways on the grass bank. The car was undamaged and he was able to set a new class record second time around. You really have to respect these guys!!

Although he was driving two cars, Roger Moran is not entered in the British Championship this year but it did raise the question as to whether it is actually possible to qualify in more than one car for the BHC Run-off and maybe score points in both. In August 1952 at Shelsley, before the days of a run-off,  Ken Wharton took BTD in his Cooper-Jap and second BTD in ERA R11B while also winning the 500 cc class in a Kieft,  while in June 1953 he not only took BTD and second BTD but also won the team prize with a 4th in the 500cc class!!!

There was a new Raptor at Harewood, looking unfamiliar in white, for Richard Spedding and he did extremely well to finish 7th in the first run-off, while he was heading for a higher finish in the second one until he stopped with mechanical failure at the farm.

The question must be  - what effect does this little fellow on its nose have on his performance:

and if he starts to win regularly will all the cars suddenly sprout such features as, who knows, maybe that will be the secret to his success. I remember many years ago there was talk of the purple-pole effect. Colin Chapman's Lotuses were dominating Formula 1 and everybody was trying to copy his design to get the same success and it was suggested that if Lotus turned up one GP with a purple pole sticking out in front of the car and continued to win, how long would it be before all cars sported similar appendages as that was obviously  the key to winning!!! So if Richard starts winning (or Jos who has a similar feature on his car) then I would rush out and buy up Toys 'R Us's stock of plastic dinosaurs as they will obviously become the thing to have!!

Talking of noses - the Empire Wraith's aerodynamic beauty is obviously effective

As I said above I got to a number of places to take photos and they will all be up soon on my Flickr page but here are a few examples. First from the outside of Country - Craig Moore's Rage buggy

and then the outside of Orchard -Carl Wattam's Alan Mann Racing replica Escort

the outside of Farmhouse - a hard trying Andy Birkitt

looking down on Farmhouse - Simon Moyse's Gould GR59

and finally a couple from different positions on the outside of Quarry - Simon Fidoe's Empire Wraith

and Tony Bunker's Nissan

And so to my favourite cars of the week and there is a story to the first one:

This is the Abarth 695 Biposto of David Finlay and Alisdair Suttie who at Prescott two weeks ago were driving this car:

If you look closely at the Abarth you will see this on the side:

It reads the "Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes" and David and Alisdair are supporting this charity by, hopefully, driving a different car at every hillclimb they participate in. See here. I await keenly to see what they will turn up with at Shelsley Walsh (they are not going to Gurston). I have no details as to how to support David and Alisdair by donating to the charity but I am sure they will be only too pleased to tell you! (see Comment from David below).

My second favourite car is this one - it is the Macveans' Van Diemen RF93 - and I just loved the variation in tyre wrap colour and the contrast to the red of the car - come on the rest of you - ditch that boring black tyre wrap and let's see some jazzy contrasting colours!!

And finally I am going to go for these 2 - 'His' and 'Her' Ferraris -  Jon Goodwin's 550 Maranello and Pauline Goodwin's California - built for Go as well as Show!

So there you have it - 3 down, 14 to go - and a weekend off before Gurston is quickly followed by the Coventry Motorfest and then 4 weekends out of 5 (with the Barbon and Harewood double header at the end). I do not know how the drivers do it - at least I only have myself to worry about but when you add in the car preparation etc. etc. it takes real dedication to pursue the BHC, and then to do it the next year and the next year. I raise my hat to all of you.

PS - Edition 2 - I mentioned "records" in the title - the first and last runs of the day both saw records being broken and there were others in between.

The first run saw Paul Drowne set a new Class C (ii) record in his Peugeot 205 only to then see it broken again by Sarah Bosworth in her Elise and then finally by his co-driver, Colin Satchell who after 2 rounds is looking like a good bet for the Leaders Championship.

And the last run saw Scott Moran set a new hill record as the 49 second barrier was broken for the first time with a 48.81 run. Who said that the big V8 cars had had their day??

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