The first event of the British Hillclimb Championship (BHC) took place on 17th May 1947 at Bo’ness near Falkirk in Scotland. The 1947 Championship consisted of just five rounds which took place at the aforementioned Bo’ness, Prescott in Gloucestershire, Bouley Bay on Jersey in the Channel Islands, Craigantlet on the outskirts of Belfast in Northern Ireland and last but definitely not least Shelsley Walsh.
The BHC, supported in 2023 by loyal partner Avon Tyres, has expanded considerably and now consists of thirty rounds at ten different venues across the UK, including events in Scotland, Northern Island, the Channel Islands as well as at various venues up and down the length of England. There have been a number of developments in recent years including the introduction of ‘double-header’ weekends when two separate BHC events take place at the same venue on consecutive days. This year has also seen the introduction of a three round ‘Tin Top Top Ten Challenge’ featuring the fastest ‘tin top’ closed cars in the country. More on this later.
The oldest and most historic venue on the BHC calendar is Shelsley Walsh. Shelsley is in fact the oldest motor sport venue in continuous use over the same course in the world. First used in 1905, it is older than Indianapolis, Le Mans or Monza. Brooklands has been and gone, but Shelsley Walsh is still here, as old as the sport but as modern as today, as it welcomes the BHC for the second time this year.
The Shelsley Walsh track measures exactly 1000 yards (914 metres) from bottom to top with the gradient being 1 in 7 at its steepest point. At only twelve feet wide in places with high grass banking, the course feels tight. Shelsley is fast, with carrying good corner speed being key to setting a competitive time. The first left hand corner at Kennel sees the top cars shoot into view without a lift of the throttle, maybe a dab of left foot braking before turn in, then accelerating hard on to the super quick Crossing corner. This is another left hander which is taken most often with a feather of the throttle, but definitely without using the brakes, continuing uphill via a short ‘straight’ into the braking area for the left-right complex of the Esses. Many a run has been spoilt here, either by scrubbing off more speed than necessary or getting the tail out by being too keen on the throttle. It’s a fine balance and one which is very exciting to watch from the large seated spectator areas. Hard on the throttle exiting the Esses and the run is over in a blink of the eye with cars topping 160 mph as they cross the finish line.
Reigning BHC Champion Wallace Menzies, driving his expertly prepared Cosworth XD engined Gould GR59-M, took another large step towards an historic fourth successive BHC title at the last event at Wiscombe Park in rural Devon. Wallace really is on great form and is absolutely determined to retain his BHC crown. He set a new outright record at Wiscombe, his second in two events, as he broke the record at the preceding event at Val des Terres, Guernsey too. If his current speed and consistency continue, which is looking increasingly likely, Wallace will become a member of a very exclusive club, as he will join Ken Wharton (1951-54) as the only other winner of four consecutive BHC titles. Wallace holds a thirty point lead in the BHC as we head to the last four events of the season, beginning this weekend at Shelsley Walsh.
One thing is certain, Wallace will not have things all he own way. Outright Shelsley Walsh record holder Sean Gould (Gould GR59J) is sure to be on the pace. Scott Moran (Gould GR59J) holds a strong second place in the BHC and with five wins in the season to date will be there or thereabouts too. Alex Summers (DJ Firestorm – Cosworth XD) has three wins in the season so far. He was also a winner at Wiscombe last time out, so is on good form too. Matt Ryder, who shares the Gould GR59J with Sean Gould, also has a win this season as does Will Hall (Gould GR59J). Will Sean’s outright record of 22.37 set in August 2021 come under fire? With Menzies, Summers, Moran and Ryder all having personal best times within a quarter of a second of Sean’s record, the pieces are in place for another stunning weekend of top class Championship Hillclimbing.
Steven Darley at speed in the Subaru Legacy - Photo by Nigel Cole
Simon Bainbridge in the SBR Crono - Photo by Ben Lawrence
BHC competitors are joined at all mainland venues by competitors in the class based BHC Cup, presented by classic car insurance broker Footman James. Competitors in the BHC Cup compete in cars ranging from relatively standard road cars through to sports cars and historic and modern single seaters. After a strong Wiscombe weekend Allan McDonald (Force SR4) has a six point lead in the Cup. In second place is David Tatham (DJ Firehawk). Duncan Barnes (Norma M20FC) holds third place two points adrift of David and just one point clear of a charging Paul Haimes (Gould GR59 – Hayabusa). With dropped scores coming into play after Shelsley it will be very interesting to see what the order is after the weekend.
And finally, as mentioned earlier, Shelsley is also the second round of the 2023 ‘BHC Tin Top Top Ten Challenge’. After round one at Harewood the series is led jointly by the amazing 800+ horsepower Subara Legacy of Damien Bradley and Steven Darley. They each took a win and a second place at Harewood and therefore are inseparable at the top. Will Damien or Steven score maximum points in the tin top run-offs or will Simon Bainbridge have something to say about things in the big SBR Crono V8? The outright tin top record could well come under fire as well. It should be quite a show!
Make your plans to be at Shelsley its sure to be a fantastic weekend! Advance tickets can be purchased below.