Racing is such a wonderfully simplistic endeavor, setting out a pair of designated points and then championing those who handle the task of negotiating the in-between part the quickest. Getting from Point A to Point B is the mentality we live our daily lives by, but to be the quickest can become an obsession. Motorsport is merely a collection of opportunities to get from A to B in a variety of rapid vehicles, all dealing with differing tasks in-between. But to some though, things only get interesting when you throw a sizeable hill in the way.
The sport of Hillclimbing is one I’d personally been aware of for quite some time, but had never really experienced until earlier this year. Similar to a rally stage, competitors take-off up a piece of closed road aiming to set the fastest time to the top. In truth, the cars all around you quickly dispel my naive thought of this being nothing more than a glorified rally sprint, as for every familiar MK2 Escort there are four or five incredibly purposeful looking single seat race cars that would look more at home in Mondello Park than an Irish B-Road.
With most track averaging about 2.5/3km in length, hill climbing is all about short, sharp bursts. The terrain, while naturally hilly as the name suggests, is often good flat tarmac which explains the attraction for the plethora of track machinery lining up for the latest run. Being a normal public road, its natural to expect camber and wear in areas not exactly bang on the racing line, so drivers have to be right on it to challenge the clock. Every rasp of a bike engine screaming through the gears is almost matched by the hard hitting sound of splitters and under-body protection meeting tarmac.
Like any sport that makes use of public environments, dealing with the surroundings adds both to the danger and the thrill. Drivers fire themselves towards stone walls, trees, grass verges and drains, eking every last inch of road possible to nail the perfect run. Generally done and dusted in about 70 seconds, Hillclimbing is certainly one for the braver of racers.
When we mention diversity in sport, we often accompany it with the argument that repetitive and mundane spectacles make things boring to watch. With Hillclimbing, you truly have no idea what to expect emerging from the tree-lined road below or over the blind crest in front of you. Classes are wide and accommodating of almost everything, from the already mentioned single seat weapons, through historic race and rally cars right down to the Fiat Cinq/Seichento challenge, which truly is as exciting and mesmerizing as it sounds on the tin.
If you have ever had the notion of wanting to compete in competitive motorsport but lack either the funds or the space, then the Fiat challenge is exactly for you!! Taking the Italian company’s mid-90’s city car, the challenge allows for very little in the way of expensive modification. The majority of the field are made up of the sporty Seichento Sporting pushing out 54hp, but at full pelt these little cars are rapid! Naturally, roll cages are a necessity, but the rules stipulate that the rear seats remain in place hence why some competition cars still bear road plates. Entry’s for this class are nearly as big as the leading competitive classes, so these little cars are truly pushed to their limits up the hill.
As with all facets of the car world, there’s a strong sense of camaraderie among the competitors, as the nationwide scheduele is nothing more than a list of destinations to meet and compete with old friends and fierce rivals. In times of need, all hands reach for the pump in an effort to see everyone get the maximum enjoyment out of their weekend. While there is a core there, many events continue to rely on a strong local entry to support event running cost. In most cases, it is Rally guys who wheel their machinery out of sheds to pit them into the unknown world without navigators and the like.
While I may be a total noob in this world, the name McKinley was one I was always aware of, generally mentioned following the words Simon or Escort. The late Simon McKinley became a cult hero after a video of his antics in his home built MK2 Escort became a Youtube hit. The clip was spread far and wide, jaws dropped in front of computer screens and I knew then that I had to get out and see this thing for myself. But I never did. In 2015, Simon tragically lost his life competing in the sport that he loved, surrounded by those who loved him. The Escort became a memory, until standing on the side of the road last weekend, a familiar silhouette came sideways through a square junction and slithered up the road past me!
While I’ve mentioned the diversity on display, new regulations have allowed cars of the more sideways orientation to compete on closed public roads. Led by Brendan Stone and the crew in Stone Motorsport, the chance to hear a 600BHP 2JZ Toyota Aristo unleash in an environment so different to a circuit is spellbinding, although the more priceless aspect is seeing the faces of hardened rally folk once the get their first dose of fully blown anti-lag and a face full of tire smoke.
While small, hillclimbing is a sport with a strong future. Based around a strong core of eager followers, the discipline can expand. People like Naylor Engineering are providing the necessary backing to the national championship, but there’s plenty of room for improvement yet. As long as clubs running events continue to be rally-centered, then Hillclimbs will always be a distant after thought. But this will change in time just like anything. People will realize that Hillclimbing is an affordable day out, a chance to push their cars on new roads and a form of motorsport with a bright future.
Pictures from this article are combined from both the Imokilly Hillclimb in Dungarvan and the Limerick Hillclimb in Glenroe. Further information on events and the sport can be found at: www.irishhillclimb.com/
The popularity of track days is on the rise again which is great to see. We’re all for people getting the most out of their cars and using them to their potential and the best place to do that is on a race track. With that in mind we’ve put together a very quick track day do’s & don’ts to get you started:
Check your nuts:
Check your wheel nuts/studs are tight periodically throughout the day and use a torque wrench if possible. You might think that’s overkill but with the extreme heat cycles, additional forces and vibrations from driving hard on track they can and do come loose
At a track day your engine will be at the top end of its rev range for most of the day. Even if your engine doesn’t normally burn oil it’s worth checking the levels once or twice throughout the day. Oil starvation is the last thing you want!
I’ve never been at a track day where I didn’t need tools of some sort. Now you probably won’t need the whole tool chest but a socket set, torque wrench, cable ties, duct tape, oil, fuel and a funnel would on my list of essentials
Use your mirrors
There’s always someone faster than you at a track day and it’s vitally important to keep a close eye on your mirrors and get out of the way of faster cars. If you have a car behind you for 3 or 4 corners you need to move over and let them past. Remember a track day isn’t a race!
Don’t be a dick!
A track day is a compromise and has to cater for a broad range of car and driver performance levels. In Motorsport terms it’s the best value for money that you’ll get in terms of seat-time and track time by miles, but you need to remember that everybody has an equal right to be there and drive accordingly. Whether you’re a championship winning racing driver testing a new car or are bringing your daily driver on track for the very first time. Accept that if you’re an experienced driver in a fast car, you’re going to get held up a bit and if you’re a newbie in a slower car you’re going to have to move over and let the faster stuff past.
In short, share the track, enjoy it and don’t drive like a dick!
Respect my authoritaah!
Track days don’t have many rules but the ones they do have need to be followed for everyone’s safety.
- Only overtake on the left
- Only overtake on the straights
- Never overtake in the corners
- No drifting
- No racing
Break the rules and you’ll find yourself being summoned to the control tower for a telling off. Break the rules a second time and you could be asked to leave.
Getting on-track tuition is one of the best things you can do. Some track days offer tuition for free and some charge for it. Even if you’ve been doing track days for years, you can always learn something new from an experienced instructor, so if they’re there we’d urge you to take advantage and get yourself some tuition