A fabulous season opener at Prescott saw reigning British Champion Wallace Menzies emerge as joint Championship leader alongside challenger Matt Ryder. Matt had a very consistent weekend taking two second places. Only one point behind Wallace and Matt is six times British Champion Scott Moran. After what at times was a challenging weekend, Scott managed to put it all together to win the second run-off. After Prescott he now sits only one point behind Wallace and Matt in third place in the British Hillclimb Championship (BHC) which is once again presented for the 2023 season by Avon Tyres. Three time former Champion Trevor Willis had an encouraging start to the season. A fine third place in the first run-off followed by fifth in the second leaves him in fourth place overall after the Prescott weekend. 2022 runner-up Alex Summers suffered a frustrating weekend. Throttle and fuel flow issues during practice resulted in the team spending many hours overnight fixing the issue. In fact the car was not back together until just before Alex took his final practice run on Sunday morning. A scrappy day resulted in fifth and fourth place run-off finishes, leaving Alex in a disappointing fifth place overall after the first event. Much work to do for the DJ Firestorm driver! Prescott saw the entire BHC field on Avon Tyres for the first time for a number of years. This added complexity to the weekend for those making the change, as they fine-tuned their cars to a different tyre. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out, particularly during the early events of the season.
The first run-off saw a few surprises with drivers missing out. After suspension failure on the approach to Pardon hairpin in practice Paul Haimes (Gould GR59 Hayabusa Turbo) was playing catch up and consequently did not make the cut. After a sideways moment at Pardon Graham Wynn (Gould GR59J) also failed to qualify. Wallace Menzies (Gould GR59M) however produced a fabulous run to win the first run off of the season with a time over half a second clear of anyone else. Wallace was in fact up on the clock from start to finish, making the transition to using Avon rubber look easy! A fine second was taken by Matt Ryder (Gould GR59J). After a stunning debut season in the big Gould he continues to impress. Eleven hundredths back in a fine third place was Trevor Willis (OMS 28 – RPE V8). Trevor was another driver on Avon Tyres for the first time for a while. It didn’t appear to be holding him back though! A disappointed fourth was Scott Moran (Gould GR59J). A scrappy run where he ‘probably tried too hard’ saw him lose time everywhere, in particular after a little brush of the Armco on the exit of the Esses. He would however bounce back from this later in the day. Alex Summers (DJ Firestorm Cosworth XD) was having a bit of a nightmare. His fuel flow issues now resolved he perhaps drove too hard. A number of errors saw him finish nearly a quarter of a second behind Scott in fifth. Maybe the swap to Avon Tyres was proving a little more complex than he had hoped. Whatever the reasons Alex was left scratching his head! A great drive from Richard Spedding (GWR Raptor 2 Mistral Suzuki) gave him an excellent sixth place finish, just three one hundredths of a second ahead of Dave Uren (Gould GR55B) in seventh. Dave finished the previous season on Avon Tyres. Maybe this experience was helping him a little with set-up? Another six hundredths behind Dave was Sean Gould, part owner of the Gould GR59 that he will hopefully be driving for a full season in 2023. Dave Warburton (Gould GR59 Hayabusa) was enjoying the extra horsepower of running his Hayabusa engine on methanol. His ninth place run-off finish bodes well for the rest of the season. The final point scorer was Eynon Price. It would be fair to say that the hard trying Welshman had a difficult 2022 season. With a rebuilt engine now producing a little more power, his aim will be to get back in the top ten on a regular basis in the season ahead. Will Hall turned a competitive wheel in anger for the first time at Prescott in his brand new Judd engined Gould GR59. Although he was disappointed not to score a point, he was delighted to have qualified for a run-off at the first attempt, particularly after less than five minutes testing the car at Curborough! A great achievement for Will and his team of helpers. Johnathen Varley (GWR Predator TKD V8) also missed out on scoring a point finishing twelfth just two hundredths of a second behind Will. None the less this was a great result when you consider the power deficit that Johnathen has compared to the numerous cars running big V8 engines.
All eyes then turned to the second run-off of the day. In cooling temperatures Eynon Price failed to make the cut this time. Graham Wynn once again failed to qualify, this time due to the car going into ‘limp mode’ after he had left the start line. This was due to the team trying a different setting for the launch control on the big Gould. Many apologies were offered to the unlucky driver. Better luck in Ireland Graham! A stunning run away from the start line set the tone for ‘maximum attack’ from Scott Moran. His first run off disappointment was soon forgotten. A best of the weekend 111mph approach to the sweeping Orchard corner was followed by a snap of oversteer on exit. All was quickly gathered up and Scott was up on the clock on the entry into the first hairpin, Ettores. This was a lead that Scott grew a little all the way to the finish to win by twenty one hundredths of a second from the consistent Matt Ryder. A further fifteen hundredths back in third was a slightly disappointed Wallace Menzies. The cooler conditions meant that the car just did not have the grip that it had earlier in the day. Alex Summers improved a little to take fourth place just two hundredths of a second clear of Trevor Willis. The cooler conditions did not seem to suit Trevor and the OMS as he slipped down the order to finish fifth. A fine sixth was taken by Sean Gould who was really looking like he was getting to grips with the big Gould. Dave Uren finished a consistent seventh just one hundredth of a second clear of Richard Spedding in eighth. A further three hundredths back was Will Hall scoring his first points in his new car. The car looked fabulous in its unpainted carbon too. Don’t paint it just yet Will! The final point was taken by a hard charging Dave Warburton just five hundredths back from Will. Seventh to tenth place finishers were covered by less than a tenth of second. That’s tight and just goes to show how competitive it is at the sharp end of British Hillclimbing. The unlucky non-scorers were Johnathen Varley in eleventh and Paul Haimes in twelfth. After a weekend when Paul ran the car without anti-lag on the new turbo, modifications will be introduced for the next event in Northern Ireland.
The opening round of the BHC Cup presented by Classic Car Insurance Broker Footman James was a tight affair. Ten drivers ended the meeting with a perfect eighteen points for two class wins. Allan McDonald was one of these in his newly acquired Suzuki engined Force SR4. He was finding the car ‘very different’ to drive than his previous Mitsubishi engined Mini. It was also a great start to the season for Rod Eyles in his beautiful Alfa Romeo 4C and Andy Tippett in the historic Rover V8 engined Brabham BT30X single seater race car. An unbelievable twenty eight car entry in the up to 1100cc racing car class is certainly worthy of mention. Battle at the top was fierce to say the least with Tom Weaver (Empire Evo) and David Tatham (DJ Firehawk) taking a class win each. This fight for class honours is likely to get very tasty as the season progresses! Battle will resume in the Cup at Harewood at the beginning of May
Reigning BHC Championship and 2023 Championship joint leader Wallace Menzies said “The Prescott weekend was better than I expected if I am honest. We are still very early in our learning curve with the Avon tyres. They appear to be quite temperature sensitive. I feel for Alex who really did have a challenging weekend. I have no doubt that he will bounce back very quickly though. The Prescott organising team deserve a mention. The introduction of four practice runs over the weekend is very much appreciated by all drivers. Its off to Northern Ireland and the high speed sweeps of the Belfast road course at Craigantlet this weekend. We always get a very warm welcome over there and I am really looking forward to it”.
Winner of the second run-off Scott Moran said “After a scrappy and disappointing first run-off it was good to bounce back by winning the second one. The car was pretty good, although we still have plenty of fine tuning to do. Launch control was a particular challenge for both me and my driving partner Graham Wynn. Unfortunately he got the dirty end of the stick this weekend for which the team and I apologise! Moving onto next weekend the challenge of the closed road course at Craigantlet, its camber and the open sweeps at the top of the hill is amazing. We approach the final corner at nearly 150 mph, apex at around 90mph then accelerate again to cross the finish line at around 130mph. With the downforce that our cars produce it is an absolutely fantastic experience.”
The BHC now moves onto its second round at Craigantlet which is located on the outskirts of Belfast in Northern Ireland. The event takes place on Saturday 29th April and twenty BHC drivers, including all of the current top ten, are making the trip ‘over the water.’ As one of five venues chosen to host a round of the inaugural British Hillclimb Championship back in 1947, Craigantlet has a special place in Championship history. When the BHC first started there were just five rounds at Shelsley Walsh, Prescott, Bo’ness near Falkirk in Scotland, Bouley Bay in Jersey and Craigantlet. Of the original five only Bo’ness does not currently host a round of the BHC. The Championship has now expanded considerably and consists of thirty rounds at ten different venues across the whole of the UK.
Competition is sure to be fierce as registered contenders fight to score BHC points. Being the second event of the season, the focus will be on scoring good early points. As well as being two rounds of the BHC the event is a round of the ANICC Hillclimb Championship. This attracts many local drivers competing throughout the day in a wide variety of roadgoing and racing cars.
Competitive action is scheduled to start at 9.00am and will continue for the majority of the day. Being a closed public road venue spectator entry is free of charge. Spectators can only access the venue at the bottom of the course adjacent to the start-line from the Old Holywood Road/Massey Avenue direction. The 1460 yard climb is spectacular, with the current record standing at 39.12 seconds, an average speed of close to 78mph from a standing start. So, if you are across in Northern Ireland on Saturday 29th April make your way to Craigantlet – you won’t be disappointed!
Photos by Ben and Paul Lawrnece