Competing

Last Updated on December 31 2015 I've been competing in Sprints and Hill climbs in and around the UK for over 10 years, and this web page is an account of my approach to competition, the preparation, the costs, check lists, the sort of information that I feel is useful to share with others.

What is hill climbing and sprinting?

Its one of many different forms of competitive motor sport run throughout the world. Its attractive to many because of the freedom it gives you to explore the psychological and physical limits of both yourself and your vehicle. Run against the clock, the driver sets off, one vehicle at a time, sometimes as close as 30 second intervals, along a measured 'paved' course, in rain or shine. A vertical timing strut fixed on the front of the car, breaks a timing beam at the start, and at the finish, and the fastest times recorded determine your finishing position in both your class and overall.

So on a sprint or hill climb, you never run the risk of being forced off the road by another driver. Its just you against the clock.

Events usually run two or sometimes three practice runs in the morning, followed by a break for lunch, then two, three or four timed runs in the afternoon. All runs are of course timed, but the practice runs do not count towards your class position or any awards, they are simply 'uncompetitive but timed' practice runs.

The competitive timed runs are where you need to consolidate everything you learnt during practice, and awards are usually given for 1st, 2nd or 3rd in class, depending on how many cars are competing in the class on the day.

Once you've finished all your competitive timed runs in the afternoon, you need to check your finishing position by looking at the published results. If you have won an award, its worth sticking around to collect your pot as some organisers refuse to post them due to the risk of getting damaged in the post.

What is the difference between a sprint and a hill climb?

Not a great deal. A sprint and a hill climb only differ in the gradients used. Strictly a hill climb is classed as an event who's start line is of a lower altitude than the finish (thus the event is based on a hill), but this doesn't always stand true. Curborough sprint for one breaks this rule due to the gradient of the first straight, but its not strictly a hill. So a hill climb is usually an event where'd you'd get out of breath when walking the course (like Shelsley Walsh), and a sprint is a level surface with no real gradients to speak of.

How do I get involved?

You need a car, a full driving license, and some safety equipment in order to compete in a hill climb or sprint. You need to belong to a motor club, or register with a championship that also enrols you in their club, and you need a competition license from the Motor Sports Association.

Once you have registered with the championship, you will start to receive in the post, Regulations, or Regs. These are posted out by the organising clubs, and vary from photocopied sheets of paper, to printed booklets. You can also download Regs from the club websites, for printing, and some clubs are very organised and allow you to enter their events 'on-line'.

Once you have sent off the completed forms, accompanied by a cheque (the entry fee), the clubs usually keep you informed about receiving your entry form, and if you are really lucky, an acceptance that you are entered in the event and will be competing at that venue.

Plan your season around your available finances, the wife and kids, annual holidays, trips to the seaside, weddings, and of course, the distance you are willing to travel to compete. Towing a trailer eats in to your finances, as typically a 2.0D will return an average of 30mpg with a car on the trailer, so in turn you either have to dig deeper to fund your hobby, or forfeit some of the further afield events in order to do more closer to home.

So whats the order of the day with a sprint or hill climb?

On an event, the first thing to do when you arrive at the venue, is find your space in the paddock. Some organisers (Shelsley, Curborough, Harewood) assign a space for your car, and you'll see a numbered post in the ground, which you are supposed to park in front of.

Other venues, such as Llandow, or Aintree for example, its a first come first served process, and the earlier you arrive, the closer you'll be parked to the start line/organisers/hub of all the action. At Shelsley Walsh, you must unload your car in to your allotted 'shelter/garage', and park the tow car and trailer in a separate field across the road. At Harewood, you unload the car from the trailer, then drive the tow car and competition car to your space in the paddock. Clearly this is easier than having the tow car parked 1/4mile away should you need access to tools and spares.

You must 'sign-on' after you have arrived, and depending on the time when you arrive, you either unload the car off the trailer first, or do that after you have first signed on (there is a deadline by which all competitors must be signed on and scrutineered so never lose sight of the time). Signing-on is when you shown the organisers your competition license, and membership registration card, and sign the 'Signing-on' sheet. They will in turn give you a slip of paper to allow the scrutineer to inspect your car, helmet, overalls and safety equipment.

Walking the course

Usually an advantage of getting to the venue early (ie around 8am) is that you have more time to relax, unload the car, sign on, get scrutineered, and walk around the circuit to familiarise yourself with the changes in surface, corners, gradients, kerbs etc. There is usually a deadline again, by which time the circuit is closed, and all pedestrians are ushered off, so again, keep an eye on the time, and make sure its a brisk walk of the course.

Scrutineering

The scrutineer will normally come to see you in your paddock position, but some venues such as Cadwell Park and Croft for example, have 'hangars' where you are expected to drive your car to, in order for them to inspect your log book if you have one, and the car prior to letting you loose on the track. Once checked, they will give you a signed sticky label, or a slip of paper, with your car number on it, and this needs to be stuck inside the car where it can be seen before you are allowed to have your first timed practice run.

Drivers briefing

All events must have a drivers briefing, and all drivers are expected to attend. This is where the clerk of the course or another official (wearing the navy blue MSA sweatshirts) tell you about running orders, what happens when a red flag is shown, how many practice and timed runs are expected etc. So its worth keeping your ears and eyes open to listen out for anything unusual.

First practice

Time to suit up now. Put on your race suit, boots, and get the helmet and gloves ready inside the car for the first practice run. Now is not the time to discover you have left anything in the tow car.

Noise test

Either before or after your first practice run, you will be instructed to rev your engine and make some noise. The sound meter is placed near your exhaust pipe(s) and the sound level in decibels is measured. The revs they ask you to hold the engine at are determined by the maximum RPM of your engine, which they will ask you for. If you fail noise, you are not allowed to compete, and will be sent home.

Competitive timed runs

This is it. Its time to wring the neck of the car and drive the wheels off the competition. My experience varies from track to track, and according the conditions, you can either be a hero, or make a mess trying. For me the best approach for any circuit is to break the lap down in the sections, with one section, or corner, leading in to the next. Positioning the car for each corner is paramount, and some drivers make this look very easy. A good fast time is only possible if you are consistent, and string all the quick sectors together properly.

Start procedure

The marshals will waive you forwards to the start line, and this is usually preceded by an opportunity to spin the front (or rear) wheels in the spin-box, an area marked out for you to spin the wheels. This serves two purposes. It both cleans and warms the tyres, and though some choose not to do so, to save wear and tear on the transmission, I always try to do so. Some tracks, Llandow for instance, do not allow you to do this, so you are starting on cold dirty tyres.

At the line, take your foot off the brakes, and the marshals will roll the car forwards (or backwards) until the timing beam is lined up just in front of your timing splitter. There are usually a set of red lights which you need to look for, and these change to green when it is time to go. The stopwatch does not start until you move forward and break the timing beam. So there is no penalty for gathering your thoughts for a few more seconds before setting off.

Dont be afraid to position the car on the track. The approach to any corner follows the exit of the previous one, and its a case of making a flowing, consistent, smooth and fast change of direction in order to position the car for the next corner. Of course, in the heat of competition, things don't always go to plan.

Locking tyres up whilst braking for a corner, eats in to your braking distance, and before you know it you've not lost enough entry speed to a chicane, and from that point on you can only do the best you can to bring the car and the lap, back under control. Precision and Positioning are two and the same thing in my experience.

Clear your mind before the start of the timed runs, and try to visualise the key corners, how you will approach them, which side of the track to be on, which gear you should be in etc. I was once told that the key to a fast lap is to always arrive in a gear higher than you'd normally select, thus forcing you to carry more speed around the corner. So dont brake and change down as you arrive at a fast corner, just lift on the approach if you need to reduce speed, and drive the corner with a higher gear and exit speed than you'd anticipated, and compare the times to the previous laps. You'll be surprised how much time you gain by not changing down a gear.

When you complete the run, head back to the paddock, park the car, and try to make some notes on the performance. Which gears were you selecting, how late were you braking, did you get on the throttle early enough out of each corner. Record the tyre pressures, and suspension & anti-roll bar settings between each timed run, try to see if the organisers publish 'split' times for the lap, and more importantly, the 60foot times (showing how well you managed to warm the tyres and get the power down off the line)

Coming next

Preparation: Car and driver

Check list

Getting to the events, what to take, when to arrive
Equipment: helmet, overalls, gloves, boots, nomex protection
Managing the costs
Insurance (storage and transit, on-event)