How To Get Started in Sprints & Hillclimbs
After owning a kit car for any length of time most people get the urge to get in some track time with it. What options are open to you ? Essentially you can go to some organised track days, compete in sprints and hill climbs, or race the car.
Track days are a great way to get to know the car and you get good value for money. These are not competitive events though - at many track days timing of laps is not even allowed and if you happen to have an `off' you may be chastised or even sent packing.
Racing is the real thing. You get a fair bit of track time for your money but the big downside is car damage. Plenty of racers are involved in accidents that were caused by somebody else - you get punted up the back or somebody spins right in front of you. Take a look at most racers the next time you are in the paddock - they look good from a distance but up close you can often see the scars from previous races. The big fun factor in racing comes from the simple fact that it IS racing, wheel to wheel.
This brings me on to sprints and hill climbs, or speed events as they are also called. Often cited as a starting point for motorsport many people never `graduate' to racing. A sprint takes place on a sealed surface. Cars are set off one at a time but there may be a number of vehicles on the track at once. Events are held at airfields (using perimeter roads or coned courses on the runways), stately homes, race tracks and parks. The course may form a complete loop (like most race tracks) or have a separate start and finish point (often the case at parks). Cars are divided into classes that try to ensure some sort of parity within a class. You normally get 1 or 2 practice runs on the course which do not count towards the results and 2 or 3 timed runs which do. At the end of the day trophies are dished out to the fastest cars in each class with a special award for FTD, Fastest Time of the Day.
Speed events are all about getting the maximum from your car with very little practice and with no time to correct mistakes. If you miss a gear change, or fluff your start, you will probably drop a place or two. The length of a run varies from about 30 seconds to 2 minutes. The average speed varies from about 40mph for the slowest cars at the slowest venues to nearly 130mph (standing start single lap record for Goodwood) for the fastest cars at the fastest venues. I love speed events and have done over 150 events in the last 10 years, having a modest amount of success in standard production cars during that time. Are you interested in taking part ? Read on.
HOW DO I GET STARTED ?
The first thing you must do is join a motor club that is affiliated to the Motor Sports Association (MSA). Most towns have a club and many owners clubs are suitable too. This is where I give my own club, Sevenoaks District Motor Club, a plug. SDMC are one of the biggest clubs in the country. They are very active on all fronts and organise 5 speed events each year. They also run their own speed championship (for members only). Once you are a member of a club you can apply for a competition licence from the MSA. The lowest grade of licence that lets you compete in speed events is a National `B' non-race licence which costs about 26 pounds at the time of writing. All you do is fill in a form and send it off with your cheque. There is no need for a medical or any training as with a race licence. You will soon get a package in the post with your licence and a copy of the Blue Book. This is your Bible and contains all the rules for all forms of motorsport in the UK. Sections E and L are applicable to speed events. Read these sections carefully. Note that if you enter a road going class in a regional championship that a lot of the information in the speed section does not apply to you. This is because a lot of the rules in section L are related to the classes listed in the Blue Book. Most clubs do not run these classes and so the only rules that are applicable are blanket rules for all classes.
Next you should register for a few championships. You might only intend to do a few events over the year but this is the best way of finding out what is on and getting entry forms (regs or regulations) on time. Most regional championships only cost about 5 pounds to enter. If you enter 2 or 3 championships you will receive a steady stream of entry forms throughout the year, and if you are a registered contender it may help to get you in to popular events. The 4 main associations in the SouthEast are the Association of South Eastern Motor Clubs (ASEMC), London Counties Association of Motor Clubs (LCAMC), Association of Central Southern Motor Clubs (ACSMC) and the Association of Eastern Motor Clubs (AEMC). The Westfield Sports Car Club runs its own championship and full details can be found on the WSCC web site. If you are a 7oaks member you can enter the Polkacrest Speed Championship. The Polkacrest is a high profile series that travels all over the south, from Kent to Wales, and has a very generous awards scheme. Finally the Cars and Car Conversions speed championship is a national affair aimed at clubmen. Most clubs in the South of England use the following class structure:
The following rules apply:
The above rules are partly a hang-over from the days when sevens ran with other normal cars. In practice some of these rules are not workable and are ignored by competitors e.g. what does `standard' and `original' mean for a kit car - for this reason the last 4 rules are impractical and I have never heard of a competitor being moved out of the class for infringing them. However the first 6 rules are very clear and if you break them you will be moved to class 13 to run against fire breathing monsters on slicks - you have been warned!
As well as the championship rules listed above (which may be different in other parts of the country) your car must comply with the MSA rules for speed events. Basically, for a Westfield, this means the following:
Despite what you may have been told you do not require a roll bar of any description, let alone an FIA bar. Four other common misconceptions are that you need a battery master switch, a fire extinguisher, a full harness and extra throttle springs. For speed events the ignition switch suffices for the master switch. Extinguishers are not required. All the marshal's posts are equipped with them and in the event of an accident you don't want your little hand held extinguisher breaking free and hitting you in the head. However the following are well worth considering:
OK, that covers what you have to do, and would be wise to consider, before competing, but what about the other type of car preparation - engines, suspension and tyres ? You do not need anything special here. Of course the people winning the classes will be driving high spec cars with lots of mods but you don't need any of this to have fun. Driver skill is a very large part of the equation at this level of sport. Unless you are already pretty experienced you will have a lot to learn before you can get the best out of your car. If you jump straight in with a high powered engine and all the other mods this will make the job harder, plus you have no upgrade path to follow as you do get more experienced. However one thing that is worth doing is getting the car tuned on a rolling road. I am always surprised at the number of cars that turn up at events and are obviously not running properly. You might as well make the most of what you have!
That said, what sort of cars do people compete in ? Class 7 is sparsely populated at present. Class 8 is usually won by a Caterham or Westfield. The top kiddies here are playing with engines from the likes of Roger King, VeganTune and Harris Performance Engineering. Power outputs are 180HP-200HP. These cars usually have modified suspension, limited slip diffs and possibly modified gearboxes. At the other end of the class you will find 7s with a single downdraft carburettor and other kit cars which probably have about half the power of the fastest cars. Class 8 is usually populated by Lotus 7 replicas while class 9 is more varied. Usually about half the class are Westfields and Caterhams (though not too many Caterhams seem to come out and play) and the rest are things like AC Cobras, Ford GT40s, even Group B rally cars as this class is sometimes open to any road legal car not eligible for the lower classes. To consistently win in this class you probably need 220HP+ in a 7 type vehicle and a lot lot more with other types of cars. For instance Tony Marsh, multiple British Hillclimb Champion, sometimes competes in this class with his twin turbo, 4.5 litre Rover V8 powered GT40 - this baby kicks out nearly 700HP! Cars in both classes tend to run on the same tyres - nearly everybody uses Yokohama A520s although this is not as important as it once was. A few years ago you could use uprated tyres from the Blue Book list 1B. These tyres are super sticky like the Yokohama A032R and the Avon ACB10 and could reduce your time on a 90 second course by about 3 seconds. Nowadays only standard road tyres are allowed and the difference between manufacturers and types is much smaller. If you have uprated tyres you will have to get rid of them - it is the most common cause of a protest which will see you moved to class 13.
Once you have your licence the only extras you need are a crash helmet and overalls to the specifications laid down in the Blue Book. You can buy overalls from about 50 pounds and a helmet from about the same price. You do not need gloves, Nomex underwear, neck braces or anything else people may have told you although these things can give you more peace of mind. In particular racing gloves come in pretty handy, especially if it is raining, as you get more grip on the wheel.
If you have registered for a few championships you should find several sets of regs dropping through your letterbox most weeks once the season gets under way. The season normally lasts from about March until October. There is often a quiet period in August as many people are on holiday so clubs organise less events at that time. Most regs come out between 3 and 8 weeks before the event. Entry fees range from about 40 pounds for airfield type venues to 80 pounds for somewhere like Goodwood. Most events cost about 50-55 pounds. If you want to take part you should return your entry promptly as entries are normally dealt with on a first come, first served basis. Some events are very popular and very difficult to get in to. If you want to know whether you have been accepted you can normally enclose an SAE and the organiser will send you a letter to let you know. This can be handy as otherwise you won't know until you receive the Final Instructions. The finals normally arrive a few days before the event. You will receive a timetable for the day, a complete list of competitors (just so you can see if Tony Marsh is in your class!) and often some paddock passes for you and your friends.
THE BIG DAY!
This is the normal running order for an event:
Check your finals the day before to see what time you have to scrutineer. Scrutineering is normally done in class order to avoid a rush of people turning up just before practice. There is also a latest sign-on time. If you have not signed on before this time you may be excluded from the event.
At signing on you will need to present your competition licence, your insurance and your MoT certificate - make sure you don't forget them! You may be able to buy numbers for the car at signing on but normally you must bring these yourself.
At scrutineering the car is checked to make sure that it complies with the MSA rules and the specific class rules. Your tax disc will also be checked. This checking is far from exhaustive and you would be very unwise to rely on it as an indication that your car is safe to race with. The car may be noise checked at scrutineering, it may be checked just before you go out onto the course or there may be no checks at all. Once you pass scrutineering you normally get a sticker or a label that must be attached to your car. Be warned that some scrutineers can be very fussy and sometimes they insist you do something that is not in the Blue Book - best not to kick up a fuss and just play along with them.
Next up is a convoy or walking the course. The Blue Book states that, prior to competing, drivers must have the opportunity to walk the course or drive it at a non-competitive speed. At most hillclimbs this means walking the course. At most other venues a convoy is run. About 20 cars at a time follow an official car around the course. `Non-competitive speed' is a very loose term... the queue gets quite strung out and if you are near the back it can be like a race. Drivers deliberately allow gaps to open up and then charge through a corner to get a feel for it. At my first ever sprint, at Goodwood, the car in front of me was up on 3 wheels as we went through St Mary's and my car was in a big four wheel drift! "Hang on a minute, how fast do these guys go when the clocks are running"!!!!
`Practice' and `Timed Runs' are misnomers as practice is timed. You normally get 1 or 2 practice runs. These do not count towards the results. Cars line up, usually one at a time, sometimes 4 abreast. You have to edge forward slowly while keeping an eye on the starting lights. When you are in the correct position an amber light will come on. You can either apply your handbrake or let the marshals chock your back wheels to hold the car still. If you go too far forward a red light comes on and you have to roll back a bit. The tension rises .. After what may seem like an eternity the green light comes on. You can now take as long to start as you wish, within reason. At circuits you are normally given the green when a suitable gap appears on the track - under these circumstances you must go fairly quickly. You drop the clutch and the wheels screech as you take off, in to second gear and the rear tyres howl again. For the next minute or two you are totally focused on your run. After you have finished (normally a chequered flag) you pull off and return to the paddock. The only other flag you will see at a sprint is a red flag which means slow down and stop, and this is normally displayed if there has been an accident. Your time will be posted on a results board a short while after you have finished. If a course is marked out with cones there is usually a 5 second penalty for hitting one of them - this is so severe that your run will be wasted. Also if you put all four wheels off the track you will get no time at all. At some events there is a big clock on top of the timing caravan and spectators can actually see your time as you finish. Some venues have speed traps at strategic points as well which is fun. Practice runs are sometimes in any order and sometimes in class and number order. The latter tends to work well when it is raining because otherwise people try to wait for the track to dry and there is a distinct lack of cars queued up to run.
There is often a lunch break after practice, officially required at some places like Goodwood, more often just to give the marshals a well earned rest. Most events have a burger van on site so you don't need to bring any food although it is usually a good idea to bring your own drink as the whole day lasts about 10 hours and it gets expensive to keep buying from the van.
Timed runs normally take place in class and number order. This is so that if the weather conditions change then only one or 2 classes are adversely affected. For most classes it will be similar conditions for everybody. These are the runs that count and there are normally 2 or 3 of them. It doesn't matter if you were leading your class in practice. If you can't repeat the performance now all is lost. Approaches to practice and timed runs vary a lot from driver to driver. Some people do a blinder in practice and only improve slightly in timed runs while others genuinely take it easy in practice and then turn up the wick when it counts. Some people get slower with every run throughout the day! You will have to see what style suits you.
About half an hour after the timed runs have finished there will be an awards ceremony. Even if you have not won an award it is good to hang around and give some applause to those who did. You will appreciate it when you get your first award! Talking of which, do not be too dispirited if things don't go well from the off. Driving on the track is very, very different from fast driving on the road. When was the last time you had the opportunity to practise a tail out slide at 90mph on the road ? When was the last time you had to brake from 130mph to 75mph with the brakes right on the limit of lock up ? Due to the short amount of track time it can take a long while to become a good driver. There are plenty of drivers who were at the back of the class when they started, but a few years later had bursting trophy cabinets. It is easy to lose lots of time on the corners, even at a very simple airfield course marked out with cones. The car may be sliding and it might not be possible to go any faster on the line you have picked, but a different line could save you a considerable amount of time, especially if a long straight follows the corner. The best advice here is to watch what the fast boys are doing. Where do they brake ? How late do they wait before turning in and where do they apex ? This is easy to do at some tracks and may involve a long walk at others.
Right, you know what you need to do, now get out there and lay some rubber!
USEFUL ADDRESSES & LINKS
All the contact details for local clubs, regional associations and the MSA can be found at The UK Motorsports Page.
© Ian Crocker