Take a purpose-built single-seater with about 600bhp, launch control, traction control and a sequential gearbox and race the clock up a hill course that’s at times barely wider than said car. It’s the ultimate adrenaline rush: hillclimbing at its highest level.
The British Hillclimb Championship (BHC) is this country’s oldest motorsport series, far predating the British Touring Car Championship, British Formula 3 and even the British Rally Championship.
Its 2020 season was lost to the pandemic, and that was the first time that the title hadn’t been awarded. But this year it’s back stronger than ever, with a fantastic line-up of cars and drivers on a schedule that includes most of the usual rounds – although the annual summer trip to Jersey and Guernsey was cancelled because of uncertainty over travel arrangements.
Hillclimbs in the UK are short and intense. Shelsley Walsh is just 1000 yards long but is among the most treasured venues. So are Doune, Loton Park, Harewood and Prescott, but Shelsley, which has been in use since 1905, is the biggest one of all. The high-speed rush up the side of the Teme Valley in Worcestershire remains one of hillclimbing’s most difficult challenges.
This year more than ever, the long-standing Shelsley record of 22.58sec is under threat as the latest generation of cars chase the fractions of a second.
Each round of the BHC is over two run-offs, in which the fastest 12 contenders gather to have another crack at the hill. And with the fastest qualifier going last, the atmosphere and excitement is unrivalled.
Remarkably, the technology is as diverse as the drivers and yet events are won and lost by the finest of margins. There are former Indycar engines, McLaren Cosworth DFVs and even a pair of Hayabusa motorbike engines combined into a V8. Purpose-built chassis from Gould, OMS and Force are among the pace-setters.
But of course, hillclimbing isn’t just about the top single-seaters. Classes at every event cater for everything from a virtually standard road car to a classic sports racer. Hillclimbing is one of the most accessible forms of speed events in motorsport, and right now it’s overflowing with entries.
The 2021 BHC began in May at Loton Park in Shropshire, and it was 2019 champion Wallace Menzies who was in stunning form to win both run-offs in his Gould GR59.
Despite having sat out the whole of last year, Menzies has clearly lost none of his competitive edge, as he saw off the challenge of Sean Gould, Trevor Willis, Scott Moran and, most notably, Alex Summers in his Indycar-engined DJ Firestorm, which revs to more than 14,000rpm at its peak.
Seeing these cars in full flight up a narrow hill is a stunning spectacle. And this is one of the few motorsport categories in which engineers are free to explore technology without regulatory constraint.
The BHC has been running since 1947, and the action is as good as ever. This is going to be a cracking season.