- Thursday, 11 September 2014

So the question - why do I want to race in France?

Long ago, before I even first started hillclimbing in my Peugeot 205, I've always wanted to race in Europe - the hills there are so much longer, so much faster, there seems to be no silencing at all and it just looks incredible. The cars are just something else too, sometimes supported with teams in huge liveried trucks, covered in sponsors logos and TV coverage to back it all up. I love the UK hillclimb scene for its laid back, friendly atmosphere as this a big part of what attracted me to the sport in the first place, but in Europe everything just seems a bit more 'wow'. And scary.
Georg Plasa's Judd V8 powered BMW 134 - my favourite car of all time :)

I used to watch videos of George Plasa & Lionel Regal and was just blown away by their cars and the speed these guys were hitting. Just type either of their names into Youtube, Plasa especially as the sound of his car is enough to make any petrol head go crazy!

And so it was always a dream for me, and for a long time that's all it would ever be, until 2014...

It all started back around 2005 after a I left uni and bought the Peugeot with £1,500 I managed to scrape together from summer jobs and a small loan from my mum (thanks mum!). I'd grown up going to hill climbs with a school friend and his dad and loved camping and the whole atmosphere at the events. They raced Morgan 3 wheelers that I occasionally passengered in, and although I loved the idea of competing I never thought I'd be doing it myself... But then that summer the same friend's dad offered me the Pug for a price that was too good to refuse (it already had an Mi16 engine and roll cage) and I just thought 'why not?'

I ran this for about 4 years in the Midland & Leaders Hillcimb Championship, respraying it myself at my family firm where they had a spray booth, fitting slicks, a carbon seat I got on eBay out of a Hyundai WRC car, Group B graphics and an LSD - it was a perfect little car to start off in. (Peugeot 205 at Loton Park) Before long though I knew I wanted something faster and rear wheel drive as I always saw myself making the move to a single seater one day so I bought a very cheap Westfield. It was a bit of a shed & needed a lot of development plus a huge engine rebuild I was unaware of, but it taught me a lot about car preparation, power oversteer and buying cheap, unloved race cars... in the end it really flew and the last two seasons were fantastic!
I carried on running this car on the Midland hills, but at the same time I was getting itchy feet and was thinking about venturing further afield... Quite a few years ago I'd heard about an event in Brittany called St-Gouéno and after a little research realised that it wouldn't be too hard to get to. A few people who'd been told me amazing things about it, and so at the end of 2013 a good friend & I decided to go for it. Little did I know that this would  be the start of something that would snowball out of control...

And so we booked ferries and set sail having each spent hours trying to learn the course on YouTube, at 3.2km it was way beyond the length of any UK hills. St-Gouéno is quite renowned for being as much a festival as it is race weekend, with live bands in the salle des fêtes every evening and big meals laid on - the atmosphere is terrific and unlike anything I've been to.

Once there we had a few days to drive the hill which is normally a public road before it was closed down on Friday in preparation for the weekend - 3 practice runs on Saturday, 3 competition runs on Sunday. I'd put a lot of time into memorising the sequence of corners as I figured this would be key to pushing hard where others might be lifting off. 

The hill itself was like nothing I've ever driven in terms of the rhythm you get into - I don't think I've ever felt so connected with the car, and it paid off to with a win and 2 seconds taken off the class record! 

I was over the moon, just to go there and compete was the realisation of a long held ambition, but to have such a fantastic result was just surreal. On top of that I got interviewed on the giant screen (I managed to do it in French) and even had a couple of articles in the local paper - I guess they don't get many ladies coming over from England to compete :D

Arriving back home I was on a huge high for the next fortnight, I kept waking up at 5am and thinking the same thing all day until I got back into bed and tried to sleep again - how do I get back to race in France? 

I started looking into it and before long it had gone from being something I was really interested in to something that I was determined to do. I tend be quite blinkered once I set my mind to something and I started emailing some of the contacts I'd made while I was there and trying to understand how it could work. Discovering that my Westfield wasn't homologated for hillclimbs in France was a bit of a blow, and so my plan to put a Duratec in it was out of the window. This is what it needed to catch the quicker cars on the UK hills, and it began to dawn that if I wanted to go racing in France and do it properly I needed a different car, and a quicker one at that. Oh and a van to put it in... 

It's a good thing I started French lessons again last year!

No comments:

Post a Comment