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
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
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.
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
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.