Wednesday, 29 July 2015

.....and on to Guernsey

It seems I raised some issues in my last post which upset some people and my apologies to them for that but that is the nature of the beast that is a blog - many thanks for all the supportive comments that I continue to receive and many thanks to Uphill Racers for allowing me to post a link to this story of my journey around British hills. Just a reminder that I am not a journalist seeking to sensationalise but a devotee of hill-climbing who has been following it for nearly 50 years, so I have seen a lot of changes in that time, many of them as a result of accidents or incidents and many as a result of the changing nature of society. I will not be responding to any comments on line but will always be happy to speak to anybody about anything that upsets them if our paths should cross at a hillclimb.

After a Friday of sight-seeing in Jersey it was off to the harbour for the early morning ferry to Guernsey on Saturday morning. Some issues at St Peter Port with left luggage delayed my arrival at the hill where a plaque left me in no doubt about the correct spelling of the venue:

So not 'Les Val De Terres' or any other combination!

In many ways the climb is similar to Bouley Bay - a seaside start, fairly twisty, surrounded by trees and then a short run to the finish line from the final corner - but being in the centre of St Peter Port it is much more accessible to the public and the area around the finish line featured a motor show laid on by the local Guernsey Motor Traders, all part of the Guernsey Motor Festival.

There is much more room for the paddock on the seafront and so the gazebos could return!

Once again there was a healthy turnout of local entrants for the BHC and, owing to a number of incidents to the BHC regulars, a good number made it in to the top 12 run-offs. Trevor Willis crashed at the last corner on his first timed run, ruling him out for the day, and John Bradburn had a similar accident on his second timed run and missed the second run-off, but the biggest surprise was Scott Moran's off low down on the hill on his second timed run which ruled him and Alex Summes out of the second run-off, especially as he had set a new hill record while winning the first one.

The pile of bent suspension parts lying around at the end of the day showed that the Gould had been made whole again before the team left for the ferry.

What was shocking about Scott's crash was that it was so unexpected. Others who have been at every BHC round in the past may remember him going off before but I cannot place one from my recollection.

Failed runs can be a result of a variety of happenings - a crash or a mechanical failure being the most likely, and it is interesting to look at the records of drivers and their propensity to fail to finish a run, in a Top 10/12 run-off (i.e not including fails which led to non-qualification) and I present them as facts with no further comment. Up to the end of 2014, Scott had had 3 runs in a total of  344 run-offs when he did not record a time, a level of success surpassed however by his father who had only 4 no times in 545 run-offs!

At the other end of the scale, 4 time champion Martin Groves had 14 no times in 309 run-offs while Trevor Willis, before this year had had 19 out of 389.

Richard Spedding seems to be the current driver to bank on to complete a run as he had 0 failures out of 92 run-off appearances up to the end of 2014 though this was spoiled this year when he had gearbox trouble at Harewood in May.

Darren Warwick, of course, was the local driver who did the best with a second place and then a win in the two run-offs in his ex-Paul Haimes Dallara and it would be interesting to see him undertake a full year of the Championship. Ironically Paul continues to suffer with his Gould GR59 and failed to make the trip to the Islands (and indeed did not appear at Wiscombe a week later either).

As well as the cars and the motorbikes there were also a number of karts competing  - here are a couple of 250s driven by Brendan Slattery and Mark Gillson but the BTD for them was 32.64 by Connor Le Cras in a 125 machine - which would have put him midway among the runners in the 1100 cc single-seaters.

And  there was also one quad bike - the wonderfully named Zef Eisenberg on his 'MadMax'

I think he occasionally uses the saddle! And maybe a quick question for all those who know their regulations backwards - would a quad bike be eligible for the BHC? It has 4 wheels and a motorcycle engine!

Viewing points along the hill are varied but some are quite difficult to find as there are no directions for spectators but once you get there they do give you some interesting views. The startline is easily accessible, being on the promenade - here is Mark Le Cras' OMS leaving the line.

There used to be a brewery next to the start but it has been knocked down and the site is looking a bit derelict - boardings have been erected which show a history of the hillclimb and you can spend some time between cars enjoying views of the past and trying to recognise the cars and drivers displayed

Access to the outside of the first corner is fairly straightforward and from there you get a good view of one of the features of Le Val Des Terres - the pavements! All the way up there is a car-width pavement on the right and a narrower one on the left and these are there to be used, as the kerbs are minimal - but I would imagine for new drivers that it is a bit of a dilemma about how much to use - is the kerb the same height all the way, what are the grip levels likely to be - without the constant use that the road gets will there be more or less grip there? Here you can see Alan Prevel taking a good bit of the pavement at the first corner in his OMS and getting a front wheel airborne.

While Tom New shows how much you really need to take for a fast time

Further up the hill there is a viewing point where you stand right above the track and look down on the cars negotiating the S Bend - a left, right and left where the majority of drivers are light on the throttle - unless they are driving a Mk2 Escort - step forward Gary Duquemin whose trails can be seen in this shot of a much more sedate (though still quick) Tony Simon in his Westfield.

From that highpoint it is not much farther up the hill before you are back at track level in the middle of the S Bend where we see Mark Scott's Dax Rush.

After the S bend there is the Top Straight and you can actually spectate from below the level of the straight which gives an interesting perspective on the speed of the cars as they approach the final right hander. This is Mick Lancashire's Westfield Megabusa.

The finish line is just around the last corner and then the run out from there (Jim Mallett's Empire seen here)

leads to a tight hairpin onto the parallel link to the holding paddock (Alan Prevel's OMS again).

As you can see here the single seaters need a hand to do a three point turn just to get around the bend (Martin Jones' DJ Firehawk).

The only picture I have of the last corner is unfortunately one showing a damaged car but I think it does show some of the issues I raised in the last blog about the layout of the track at this point. John Bradburn in this case actually failed to make the right hand turn and so he went straight on and impacted on the right front of his car.

In the case of Trevor Willis' crash he was around the corner when his left front hit the bank that you can see in the foreground of the picture. (You can see tyre marks which may be his or someone else's). The piece of tarmac in the bottom right of the picture is the return road. The damage to Trevor's car was substantial - so it was not a low speed impact.

As usual in Guernsey there were sand racers on the hill - we have seen Emma Rayson's Chevrolet Special in this blog before but what about Mark King's 4.5 litre 'Bodyline Special'

or Ian Gillespie's MG ZR

I do like the idea of a car with no glass being sponsored by a company called Westglass 2000 Ltd!!

And so to some favourite cars from Guernsey

John Dean's MGB GT V8

Sarah Gaudion  became the first women from Guernsey to qualify for a run off at Le Val Des Terres (although she unfortunately failed to finish) and her OMS CF08 is a rare beast

while the 'Dangerous Brothers' (Ian and Paul Le Messurier) self-developed 1300 Lemtech gets my vote for being at least partly orange and also for qualifying for the second run-off.

So an end to a traumatic trip to the Channel Islands for drivers, officials and supporters. Jos has been transferred back to the mainland and continues to recover from his injuries and we hope that he will be back on the hills some time in the future as he truly is an exciting driver. We all wish him well.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Over the seas and far away.....Part 1

Home again now after my 12 day tour taking in maiden visits to Bouley Bay, Le Val des Terres and Wiscombe Park - three interesting hills which threw up some unusual results amid the changeable weather but also reminded us  how fine the line is that our top drivers tread when they are going all out for that extra hundredth of a second.

Fortunately, fatal accidents in top class hillclimbing in the UK are rare - it is 20 years since we lost Mark Colton - but with times still dropping on roads which, in some cases, have changed little, we are definitely pushing the boundaries - Wallace Menzies' two accidents last year have led to changes at Shelsley Walsh and Doune - but Nicola's accident just last month showed that the solutions which were implemented at the latter may need to be refined further.

Jos Goodyear's accident at Bouley Bay was frightening and he now faces a long recovery for his damaged legs and we wish him all the very best. His times this year have been amazing - witness his new record at Barbon Manor and I will admit that when I saw him coming around the first right hander at Doune in June I took a step back as it was so quick. At Bouley the two spectators next to me were in awe at his commitment our of Radio Corner on his qualifying run.

The question of safety at Bouley Bay will now be an issue I am sure - I believe it took the police well over 3 hours after the crash to hand the road back to the organisers by which time the Closure Order was about to run out. Trevor Willis' accident at the last corner in Guernsey, in my mind, also raised questions about the safety of the track at that point, where only a lowish bank separates the competing car finishing its run at full chat from the previous cars returning down to the holding paddock.

Even at Shelsley - has anyone stopped to think recently about the consequences of a sticking throttle on a car travelling at 140 mph towards the Bottom Ess?

Let us hope that sensible heads will prevail and we will not lose the iconic venues from our Championship, but we must be prepared to accept major changes, I feel, to some of them.

Heading out to Jersey I thought I had discovered a new range of merchandising that Graeme Wight Jnr. had started to sell

but apparently not - the  Toronto Raptors are a basketball team it would appear but I am sure that some enterprising Aberdonian could strike a deal to sell their hats etc. to hillclimbing fans!

Once the road at Bouley Bay is closed for the event it is very difficult to actually get between different spectating points because the way to do that is along the course itself and so movement is between batches. On arrival at the top of the hill all I could see was a sea of trees and a sinuous road rising through early morning mist

but I was early enough to walk right down to the bottom to the most amazing paddock where I spent the morning's practice absorbing the peculiarities of the venue. I will let a few pictures set the scene for those who have not been there before:

Looking towards the starting hut


This is the motorcycle paddock

The Waters Edge Hotel dominates the scene


No trailers, no gazebos, nothing extra because there simply is no room for them!! And where else can you sit in a hotel bar with your morning coffee and watch all the paddock activity taking place:

There was slight delay before the start as a local taxi had a customer to deliver - here he is getting ready to tackle the hill but I do not think he was timed!

As you can probably see from the photos, space is at a premium and with limited turning space the big single seaters return to the paddock in a unique manner. Down the hill to the first corner is done in the forward direction but then from there the cars reverse down -  here is Tom New going up to help Wallace Menzies negotiate the last few yards after a failed run.

Now the rearward view from a single seater is severely restricted, and hillclimb ones do not have mirrors either, and so when a batch of them are coming down to the paddock this is what happens!

The driver operates the brakes and the 'passenger' does the steering. Of course if you are unlucky and do not have a helper then you might end up like Darren Warwick who seems to have the flexibility of an owl if you believe this picture!

Because of the restricted space and the time taken to get cars back to their places in the paddock, the first cars up the hill do have a long wait at the top as the only intermediate returns are the dual- driven cars and the motorcycles - so if you are competing at Bouley and are near the top of the entry list then it might be wise to take a book with you - Mark Spencer in his Porsche had an hour and a half wait up at the holding area each time. And then once he got back down it was almost immediately time to go back up again!! Maybe that is why he kerbed one of his lovely wheels:

It is also a good idea to have a comfortable place to sit I guess and so that is probably why this local Ralt belonging to Jack and Andrew Allenet has such a luxurious looking cockpit!

Favourite cars -I know the DJ Firehawk is not unfamiliar but I thought this example of Lindsay Summers and Martin Jones looked so good in its pure white livery

Yes it is another Ford Anglia - but this one has 2.4 Pinto engine and it  goes like stink - a new class record on the day for Kevin Rault whose father was once the motorbike record holder at the hill.

And finally a rare beast on the hills, though Tony Bunker used to have one - this is the Mallock Mk32 of Len Amy and the paint scheme highlights well the contours of the body.

And then it was on to Guernsey - see Part 2 to follow.