It’s narrow. It’s twisty. And it’s fast! In a nutshell, that’s the challenge of speed hillclimbing, one of motorsport’s most accessible and friendly categories. With the British Hillclimb Championship coming to Gurston Down over two Bank Holiday weekends in May and August, there’s a great opportunity to see how the best drivers in the country tackle the course at speeds up to 150mph.
Hillclimbing is all about driving up narrow windy roads, with timing at competition events done electronically, and there are classes for all types of cars. But because the roads are private, and closed to traffic of course, the environment is a safe one in which to drive as fast as you feel you can.
If you’ve spectated and wondered what it’s like to take part, did you know that you can actually start hillclimbing in a road car? And there are four opportunities each year to start in the best possible way – with a day at the Gurston Down Hillclimb Drivers School.
To make your entry into this fun branch of motorsport as easy as possible, at the Gurston Down Hillclimb Drivers School you receive classroom tuition on safety and how to drive the course from experienced, licensed instructors before you take to the hill in your car. And your every-day road-car is ideal for the job, providing it is roadworthy and has a current MoT certificate if appropriate. It’s a great day out, and an adrenalin-induced grin is guaranteed! All pupils need to have a minimum age of 18 years, and either hold a full driving licence (not a provisional) or hold a Motor Sports Association (MSA) competition licence.
Interested? Then click here to visit our School web page.
And after you’ve had a try at the School and you get the bug enough to want to enter into hillclimb competition, the following guide takes you through what to expect at a typical event.
Once you have acquired your Competition Licence from the MSA, joined an appropriate Motor Club, and have subsequently applied to a Competition Secretary to enter a Hillclimb Meeting, you will receive your Final Instructions. These instructions will tell you the time you must sign-on, your competition number and what times practice runs are to commence. Competition numbers are not normally available at the venue, so make sure you have the correct numbers ready to affix to your car as soon as you arrive. Remember, it is illegal to drive on public roads with Competition Numbers displayed, unless you are taking part in a Rally or Trial etc. which makes use of the public highway.
At many venues it is possible to arrive the previous evening and camp overnight. At Gurston this will incur a fee, which is donated to Broadchalke village. Overnight camping does save early morning starts and the ensuing panic.
Once at the venue, find your allotted space. At most venues, cars are allocated paddock spaces by class, i.e. the Saloon cars will be grouped together, the Sports cars will be near to each other, and Single Seaters will also have a designated area.
Walking the Hill
It is highly recommended that you walk the hill before driving it. The walk will give you a far better guide to the steepness, camber and severity of the various corners etc. Looking at a plan is helpful, but walking the hill will give you a far better understanding of how to plan your climb. This is another reason for arriving at the venue in good time, as the Clerk of the Course will close the hill approximately fifteen minutes prior to the commencement of practice.
You must now sign-on at the Signing-On office. Here, your competition licence will be examined, and your appropriate club membership verified. You will receive a programme, and a blank scrutineering ticket.
A Scrutineer will visit you in the paddock before your first practice. You must be present whilst your vehicle is checked, as your helmet and overalls will be examined as well. If everything is satisfactory, the Scrutineer will sign the scrutineering ticket, which you must then affix to your car where it can be clearly seen by the Clerk of the Course and the Paddock Marshals. You will only be allowed to practice or compete if this ticket is present.
You will be called up in numerical order for your first practise run. You will have a fairly good idea of when you are about to be called, as everyone is called in numerical order, and you will see your fellow competitors preparing. If you wait until you are called before putting on your helmet, strapping yourself in etc., you will waste time and delay the meeting. This will not endear you to either the Paddock Marshals or the Clerk of the Course, so be prepared!
Approach the start-line in accordance with the Marshals directions. Once in position, watch the red light. When it turns green, you may start in your own time. Unlike a race meeting, it is NOT necessary to start immediately the control light turns green. At hillclimbs, the green light merely indicates that the track is clear, and that the timekeepers and course controllers are ready for you to start. The timing computers will be activated once you start moving and have broken the light beam that is positioned across the track just in front of your stationary car.
Now you are on your way! The only things to stop you completing your run will be a marshal waving a red flag at you from one of the various marshals posts, or a breakdown etc. If you see a red flag being waved, you must cease competing, and immediately stop in a controlled way, and then obey the marshals instructions. You will be shown a red flag when a previous competitor has experienced difficulties on the hill, or the track needs dressing before competition can continue. If you are red-flagged, you may be offered a re-run.
The Top Paddock
After completing your run, you will be directed into the top holding paddock, where you should park in accordance with the Marshals instructions. You will generally have time to get out of your car and talk to fellow competitors. Don’t forget to talk to the Marshals if they are not busy. Remember that they are all unpaid volunteers without whom you would not be able to enjoy yourself!
When the last car in your batch has left the startline, you will be instructed to return to your car. When the course is clear of ascending cars, you will return down the hill in convoy, and you should wear your helmet. It is embarrassing and unforgivable to go off on the return run, so drive carefully, and watch out for Marshals sweeping up dust or debris from the track.
Your time will be displayed on computer screens in the paddock and can be printed with your other class competitors times for comparasion. You will be able to compare your performance with your fellow competitors, and will soon be able to spot the good runs from the ordinary. Similarly, you will learn why your times are better or worse than before, being able to relate the changes to differences in cornering, braking or acceleration etc.
You will be called for a second practice run once all the competitors have completed their first runs. The procedures for the second practise run will be identical to those detailed above.
After a lunch break, the competition proper will commence. As before, you will be called by the paddock marshals in numerical order, and will proceed to the start-line. The starting procedures will be identical to those in practice, but this time your competition time is official, i.e. it counts towards the results of the days sport. This is where you need to know who you are up against!
Two competitive runs will be offered. As in practice, you will make them in programme order, and once you have taken both runs, the timekeepers or the results team will determine the best time achieved by each driver. These best times will be arranged in class order, and will form the results of the day.
It is worth emphasising that the practice runs in the morning are just that. They are intended to familiarise you with the hill, and for you to assess how the car is performing. The times achieved in practice do not form part of the official results.
When you have returned from the top paddock following your second competitive run, it is time to start collecting together your equipment etc., and load your car onto the trailer ready for departure. Remember that other drivers are still competing, so please do not hinder anybody who has still to run. Your paddock space should be left tidy, with all rubbish etc. placed in the bins provided.
The prize-giving will take place soon after the competition has finished. It is considered bad manners not to attend it, whether you have won anything or not.
The Chairman will expect the driver who achieves the fastest time of the day to say a few words after collecting his trophy, so if you are in this happy position, be prepared!
On leaving the venue, please drive carefully, bearing in mind that the local residents are not necessarily fans of motor sport, and your behaviour can seriously affect the running of future meetings.