Climb every mountain
Sometimes, motorsport is a multi-billion-pound international spectacle taking in high-stakes, high-risk endeavour at ludicrous speeds. At other times though, it is a bloke in his car trying to beat the clock to get to the top of a hill in the fastest time possible.
Indeed, this is what one does when one visits Shelsley Walsh, the oldest purpose-built motor racing track in the world. The one-kilometre course enables drivers to test their skills on its winding route up the hill first opened in 1905 in rural Worcestershire, and is still being used today. Supported by major sponsors including lubricant specialists Motul, the course runs a number of events through the year, enabling both beginners and experienced drivers to try and beat the clock
One of the regular sessions that runs through the year is the Hill Climbing School, where drivers can learn the art of hill climbing via the able assistance of experienced instructors.
Up until this point, I had no motorsport experience whatsoever, so of course immediately said yes to attending. What could possibly go wrong?
The day began with a briefing from the instructors, explaining the course, and how the day was going to run. All 28 cars would get four runs up the hill, with fluorescent yellow bollards to help with maximising the use of the road most effectively. At a number of points you would be stopped to have feedback provided on your progress. Then, after lunch everyone got another four runs, but this time without the visual aids.
Before we got into our cars, we were walked up the course, taking in the various turns. It was surprisingly steep when you walk it – as if the gravity had been turned up a bit higher. Imagine the effect that has on your car. We then got back down to the start, picked up helmets and started our initial runs. Things got off to a not-particularly encouraging start when just a few cars in, word came down the hill that a Ferrari 348 had experienced some unpleasantness by way of ploughing into one of the banks, and it soon arrived back down at the bottom, with the offside wing and half the bumper piled up in the passenger seat. Thank goodness it wasn’t rare or expensive…
That being said, later in the day it was back in action, so perhaps something can be said for Italian engineering. This prang did result in the drivers being given a stern talking-to about not driving recklessly.
After two runs, we got our first round of feedback, and I was surprised to be told by the first instructor; “That was very good – keep doing that.” The next three rounds were not as good. Oddly I was better on the tight turns than the straights. The third run was reasonably straightforward, but then on the final run of the first round we had another accident; This time it was a Porsche 944 that came off worse, hitting both banks on as it came out of the final turn before the short, straight run to the finish line. After this, we had lunch, followed by our proper four attempts to conquer the hill.
During the next two sets of feedback I got the full gamut. “You’re doing better than ever,” followed immediately at the next stop by “that was your worst run yet,” which was then rounded off with a “that wasn’t your best, but it wasn’t your worst either.” I think that sums up my at-best so-so driving. I was never fast.
When it all came to an end, there were awards for the highest score, and driver of the day and so forth. I passed with 71%, which if it was a degree would be a first. However, others were getting 91% and 92%, so I have some way to go yet. When it was all wound up, some of those in attendance looked at me curiously and observed “you liked that, didn’t you,” to which I gave a non-committal answer. “You’ve got the bug” they replied, to which I did note that 71% is okay, but I really want to try and do better, so maybe they were right.
Despite being in this industry for decades, apart from an afternoon in go-karts, I had never done anything like this before. It was certainly interesting. I did the day in my Volkswagen CC R-Line, which does have sport settings, but I should have brought something faster. That being said, there was every kind of car there. Apart from the aforementioned wounded supercars, you had everything from my Repmobile familywagon, to a father and son sporting a 1969 Porsche 911 and its early 00s descendent, to a Saab 95 estate, and a Maclaren 720S. There was even a Shelby Cobra that had appeared in the Elvis Presley film Viva Las Vegas (yes I bet you can hear the song playing in your head right now), but that’s another story. You even had the first-ever go at the track on a motorbike.
Commenting on Motul’s support of motorsports, from the grassroots to the highest levels, Motul UK Head of Sales and Marketing Andy Wait said: “Motul features in motorsport around the world – and at all different levels. We are partners with World Championship Winning teams and manufacturers and we are here at Shelsley Walsh which, at 108 years, is almost the birthplace of national motorsport in the UK. Certainly supporting this famous motorsport venue – and the non-professional sport of speed hill climbing is important to Motul. Firstly, we are very conscious of the history of the industries we are involved in and, self-evidently also, grass roots motorsport is the life blood of the sport and is where future champions are grown.
“Also, for Motul, motorsport has been a key part of the development process throughout the history of the brand. The track is an excellent proving ground for Lubricants, as if they are able to perform to the required standards in the heat of competition they should be more than capable of coping with the rigours of daily motoring. Much of our knowledge gained through motorsport has filtered down to everyday motoring – Motul 300V was the first fully synthetic car motor oil in the world in 1971. The name 300V in fact, celebrated 300 motorsport victories. That was more than half a century ago and now synthetic motor oils are part of everyday motoring.”
While I will admit there was a large cohort of gentlemen of a certain vintage in exotic cars that were equally well-seasoned, this was a highly accessible event, and for some people could be a route into enjoying motorsport longer-term. Me? Where would I keep a track day car? I mean, it’s not like I’m ringing around looking for a lock-up or anything. Well, not yet…