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Sprinting and Hillclimbing

 

First things first - this isn't a guide to the world of performance enhancing drugs, one-piece lycra jumpsuits and thigh muscles the size of footballs. Nor is it at all related to hiking, rambling, or any other activity that involves wearing red socks and growing a beard. No - this is a guide to sprinting and hillclimbing in the motorsport sense; that is to say, drivers competing against each other and the clock, in a time trial format, on circuits or closed roads of lengths ranging from half a mile to more than ten miles.

Although sprints and hillclimbs share a common format, there is one major difference between them, which is probably self evident from their titles - hillclimbs take place on, well, hills (strangely enough...) whilst sprints are run on race circuits, airfields, or, in some cases, closed public roads.

In the UK, hillclimbs tend to be the shorter of the two, with lap times rarely being longer than one minute. In mainland Europe, however, they usually take place on closed mountain roads, and can involve more than ten minutes of flat out driving per run . Sprints vary considerably in length, but are generally no more than two laps of an average sized race circuit.
 

Compared to other forms of motorsport, sprints and hilclimbs are usually  cheap to enter and can be undertaken in most cars with relatively little preparation. They, thus, offer a great opportunity for drivers who wish to move on from trackdays, but do not necessarily want to commit the time and money that circuit racing or rallying require. That said, at the sharp end of the grid in national and international competitions, such as the British and European hillclimb championships, competitors run purpose-built carbon-tubbed single seaters with near-F1 levels of performance, and take the competition extremely seriously (the video below gives a good idea of the sort of speeds reached on a hillclimb in mainland Europe).



 

The rules for sprints and hillclimbs can vary between countries, so what follows is a brief guide to competing in the UK. European events follow a similar format, but usually require additional safety items, such as roll cages, and electrical cut-off switches.

1) Decide on your car

Almost all UK events use the MSA class structure. This groups cars depending on their engine size, level of modification and whether they are a production car, limited production car or race car.

The best place to start is probably in one of the road production classes, which cater for standard road cars, but allow engines, suspension, brakes and seats to be modified, albeit within certain parameters. Roll cages are recommended, but are not mandatory, and interior trim (other than the seats, which may  be replaced with race items) must remain in place, meaning that a standard road car can be used without compromising its day to day usability.

It is worth noting that many of the cars that compete in these classes are not standard; stiffer suspension, uprated brakes, modified engines and semi-slick tyres are all fairly common, so don't expect to be challenging for class wins in a standard car.

If you wish to purchase a car specifically to compete in, it's worth considering power to weight ratios in relation to engine size, and into which class this places the car. A Nissan 350Z, for instance, may seem like a perfect sprint/hillclimb car, but unfortunately, its engine size puts it in the same class as the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru Impreza - both of which can be, (and often are, in the sprinting/hillclimbing fraternity) relatively easily tuned to produce considerably more power than the Nissan.

It may also be worth considering whether a purpose built race car would suit your needs better than a road-going car. Single seaters range in price from 4,000 to over 100,000 and provide acceleration and braking capabilities far beyond those of most road cars. The downside is that they will require trailering to events, are trickier to drive quickly, and tend to be quite expensive to run.

2) Do your paperwork

Most sprints and hillclimbs require you to have an MSA licence. This can be a race or rally licence (which require tests, and in the former case, a satisfactory medical examination), or a 'speed' licence, which requires neither and can be obtained from the MSA by completing the relevant application form: http://www.msauk.org/imissite/login/default.asp.

You will also need to become a member of an MSA affiliated motor club, a list of which is available here - http://www.msauk.org/site/cms/localGroupFinder.asp?category=469.

3) Preparation

You'll need an MSA approved helmet and race-suit, and nomex gloves as a minimum. Cars in the road-going class require relatively few modifications: an arrow indicating the direction of the ignition, yellow tape on the battery earth, and a timing strut are the only items that are mandatory.

Strangely, there are no commercially available timing struts - competitors must make their own. Fortunately this is fairly straightforward, and a detailed guide is available here - http://wiki.seloc.org/a/Timing_Strut_for_Sprinting.

You'll also need a set of numbers, available from most motorsport retailers, that conform to MSA size regulations.


4) Learn the track

As a large proportion of sprints, and almost all hillclimbs, take place at venues where there is little possibility of driving the track before the event, it's worth tracking down in car footage on Youtube from previous years' events.

For sprints that take place on race circuits, doing a track day prior to the event can be extremely advantageous, as it will provide you with the opportunity to complete many more laps of the circuit than the four that are usual at sprints, and help you to be fully up to speed come race day.

5) On the Day

We recommend that you check tyre pressures, brake pad and disc condition and fluid levels at least a week before the event, in order that there is enough time available, prior to the big day, to fix any problems.

On the day itself you will be expected to present your licence and club membership card to the clerk of the course, who, after giving you a legal indemnity form to sign, will direct you to scrutineering. There your car, helmet, racesuit, gloves, and, if you are in a road-going class, MOT and tax documents will be examined. Make sure that you have these documents, or photocopies of them, to hand, or you may find yourself moved to the modified production class.

You will also be required to undergo a noise test to ensure that your car is within the limits defined in the regulations of the events. This shouldn't be a problem for most road-going cars, but can be an issue, depending on the limits,  for single seaters and bike engined race cars. If in doubt, get it tested beforehand.

Once you have successfully passed through scrutineering, you will be given a sticker that indicates such to the marshalls. This allows you access to the track and must be placed on a visible area of the car.

After a short drivers' briefing by the clerk of the course, you will be summoned, in class order to the start line. Road production classes usually run first, in order of class engine size. In most cases you will be allowed two single practice runs in the morning session, followed by two runs in the afternoon. The best time for each driver for the afternoon session will be used to calculate overall positions in class, and the coveted fastest time of the day (shortened to FTD in sprinting/hilclimbing parlance).

At the start line you'll be greeted by a number of marshals whose job is to ensure that you are in the correct position for the start. Approach them slowly, then drift to the line with the clutch in. Once you have come to a complete halt, take your foot off the brake and allow the marshals to move your car to the start line. When you are in position, the marshals will move away (although one or two may lightly grip the rear of the car to ensure it doesn't roll backwards), and you will see the start light. This will change from red to green when the race controller is ready for you to commence your run. Note that this doesn't mean that you need to start at exactly the moment it turns green; unlike circuit racing, the timing only starts when you break the start line beam - not when the light changes.

And with that you are off! Our only remaining advice is to build your speed up gradually; a spin in the practice runs can dent confidence, harming your performance in the afternoon session - which is the one that counts.



 
 

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