A Long Spring Day…Very Long! Prescott Speed Hillclimb 26 April 2015

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It’s something after 4pm on Sunday and I’ve been at Prescott for exactly 48 hours. The sun is out, it’s not exactly warm but it’s OK. There’s a bit of breeze gusting in across the orchard, rustling the apple blossom and wafting the side walls of the marquee. And it’s quiet. Oh so quiet. Theres another red flag hung from the nearby marshalls post and the course is temporarily closed again for some reason. Hopefully minor this time.

The first round of timed runs up the historic Gloucestershire hillclimb have not long been completed and thats normally done by 2.30. It seems impossible that the concluding second runs for the entire entry of well over 100 cars will be finished before the curfew kicks in (even though we don’t know if thats 6pm or 7pm). If thats the case then point-scoring top 12 run-off for the British championship, the highlight of the entire event, will  not happen . It’s been a long weekend generally but today has been seemingly endless.

DSCF5097The nasty accident, that brought morning practice to a near 2-hour halt and saw an air ambulance make a dramatic landing on the infield, cast a long shadow over everything that followed. The PA system then failed so a large part of the event went by in eerie silence. Although silence is perhaps the last term one would say summed up the rest of the event. Noise was the problem. More specifically the newly applied drive-by noise metering requirement. It set off alarms in the stewards office when any car was metered above the strict limit. This caused no end of ill-feeling and general dissatisfaction. Some cars passed the test on one run and failed on the next, some passed with one driver and failed with second (you can share a car in these events).

It’s such a pity as this is usually a great opener to the season. The entry is always top-notch, there are new car-driver combinations. One such was my friend John Huntley who’s been a regular feature with his T30 Bugatti for the past few years. I didn’t see the car in the programme and assumed he was giving the event a miss – then he appeared on the line in a 1971 F3 Palliser Formula 3 car – which is quite a change of machinery! Glad to report he was overjoyed with the new car and how well it went, and how easily it handled on his first ever drive in it.

Another familiar face with an unfamiliar machine DSCF5061was Steve Owen, designer.builder of the many OMS single seater and sports-racing cars that make up a large proportion of the entry at any hillclimb. He turned up on my stand in shiny new leathers and the fanciest biker boots ever created. His mount for the event was a rare 1945 Moto Guzzi 250 (left).  Was this going to be a regular sight? I asked. No, just a bit of fun, actually some sort of bet, so he’ll be back of 4 wheels and dressed less like a PowerRanger next time.

This is the first event of my 30th season selling motoring books. I started out at nearby Cheltenham Racecourse with a table at an autojumble in April 1985 , aged 18, my dad, brother and cousin along to help and I think we took about £35.  The very first book I sold was to an old chap who I didn’t know, a fellow trader with a table full of car mascots and badges.  Only later did I find out the “old chap” was ex Brooklands racer Charles Mortimer (left) ajs-v-twin-1000cc-supercharged-bike-1930s-c-mortimer-5249-pwho had first appeared at the track on a motorcycle in 1928. He went on to race all manner of  bikes and cars including Altas, Maseratis and after the war a Healey Silverstone. There are no Brooklands veterans left alive today. That was quite a first sale, in retrospect.

Back to 2015. 30 years on and I made another sale to someone I didn’t immediately recognise – only later did this customer turn out to be twice British Hillclimb champion Chris Cramer who I’d seen competing in his Formula 2 March back on my very first visit to Prescott in the late 70s.

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The red flags have gone back in and action has restarted. The clock ticks closer to the curfew and by 5pm the crowd has dwindled so I’m packing things away, dusting off the books,  stacking boxes and wrapping pictures. Time to retrieve the car from the car park and load it up.DSCF5076 But suddenly the second runs have been concluded  – and we’ve beaten the curfew against all expectations. It’s time for the Top 12 run off for the quickest competitors. For a change I get the chance to stand by the fence and watch. 5 time champion Scott Moran sets the time to beat in his 3.5 litre NME V8 powered Gould (left)  and car after car fails to match him, even new co-driver Alex Summers who records 2nd fastest. Only Trevor Willis is left. He fell victim to the noise meter earlier in the day and then qualified fastest. He throws the car around in particularly determined style but it’s just slightly too wild, a big slide on the way into Ettore’s hairpin scrubs off a couple of tenths and thats enough to drop him to third. Moran had already won the morning run off so ends the day with a perfect score , 20 out of 20  and a record equalling 6th title could well be within his grasp.  4th in the points after the meeting was local man Alistair Crawford, making good progress from 10th in last years series. That pleased my near neighbours Adam and Anne Pentney who are normally seen scrubbing tyres and pushing the car to the line at every event.

So that was it. We got there, just 2 hours left of maquee disassembly and I’ll be on my way home. It’s warm and sunny now, finally. But it’s been a long long day…

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