They say that the day you stop learning is the day to give up, so it was with considerable glee that I set about getting my head around hillclimbing last weekend. I’d spectated at an event before, but never taken part in one.
Harewood, which is nestled in the countryside near Harrogate, is the longest hillclimb course in Britain, at 0.9 miles. It’s narrow, twisty and at all times demanding, mixing pretty much every type of corner within its confines – plus a blast between farm houses.
Team Autocar – Steve Cropley, Tim Dickson, Stuart Price and myself – were competing in a brace of Fiat 500 Essesse (pronounced essie-essie, not 's-s' as I always thought) cars; another beauty of hillcimbing is that two people can share a car, running at the start and end of each group.
Apart from uprated exhausts (to make a bit more sound, and up power to 170bhp), some tape on the battery terminal, a sticker showing the ignition direction and a blade to cut the timing beam, these were stock standard cars.
That might sound a bit made on a motorsport event, but the fact is we were never doing speeds greater than you would on a country road, we had helmets and overalls on, and there wasn’t too much to hit – and plenty of help at hand if we did. Even so, I’m glad I didn’t find the track’s ‘Oops’ online photo gallery until today, or indeed make an entry in it...
With two practice runs and three timed runs, we were running about every hour and fifteen minutes. Each run was around 75seconds long, meaning track time was far outweighed by paddock time.
Even so, I’d still rather do a hillclimb than a track day. Although the amount of action is tiny in time, the concentration, excitement and intensity is far greater, and carries you through a roller-coaster of emotions.
Likewise, rather than fork out for an over-priced ‘supercar experience’ I reckon a real petrolhead would take more from competing on a hillclimb.
Part of the fun is getting dragged into going faster. Tracks differ, but Harewood had six timing beams on its short route, allowing you to analyse you ability on easy to comprehend sections of the track.
Bad start? The 60 foot timing beam will let you know about that. Not brave enough through those farm houses? The split time will make it clear for everyone to see.
Seeing as he’ll be too modest to tell the full story in his mag column, I may well spell out the extent of Cropley's superiority. In less than a mile he was quicker than second place man Dickson by exactly a second, and had an uncanny ability to explain exactly what was happening with the car as he went round, too. Which is why he’s so good at his day job, I guess.
What’s more, after his final run - slower than his fastest, but still faster again than the three of us had managed - Cropley was still suggesting he hadn’t nailed the perfect run. Looks like the rest of us have an awful lot of learning still to do...