Matt and I did our first hillclimb at Loton Park in 2018, and on that day I’d had a target (for myself) of being under 70 seconds. I finished on 70.09 seconds and that nine hundredths meant I wanted to head back this year.
Whilst it’s really important to remember the majority of motorsport is run by volunteers, it was extremely disappointing to have entered one of Loton’s July events in February, including full payment, only to be told two weeks before the event that we did not have entries due to being oversubscribed. Unfortunately polite email inquiries as to where their entries selection was available and when we would receive a refund went unanswered. Having a selection policy/way of prioritising entries is absolutely reasonable and completely normal, but the fact it doesn’t appear to be available makes it very disappointing in situations like ours. It meant it was time to cancel the hotel room and look for another event; and Gurston it was!
Given we (read, Matt!) had prepped the car and we were expecting to be away it seemed a shame not to compete so finding another option was great. We found a B&B for Gurston and that was that, a new plan was formed. We were never going to make scrutineering on the Friday night and various factors (a set of house keys left at work, traffic etc) meant we got down fairly late on Friday evening, but with enough time for a very good dinner in the pub connected to the B&B; we’d recommend The Penruddocke Arms in Dinton if needed (don’t judge a book by it’s cover!).
Come Saturday morning, the ground was damp. We didn’t have much spare time between signing on/scrutineering/the new drivers’ briefing and only walked just over half the hill but it was enough to see the crucial parts and first couple of bends, up to and including “the technical section.” I’d been put down as going first where we were double driving. We turned up for the new drivers briefing only to find it wasn’t taking place, so then it was a bit of a rush having hung around as I was due up the hill in the first batch.
Gurston is one of the few UK hillclimb venues which starts off downhill, into a fast approach tricky left hand bend, where carrying speed is key. Off I went on my first run, and I felt cautious and early on the brakes. The track briefly straightens before heading right and up hill and having been cautious, I went hard on the brakes there, but I had nothing. Off and back on the brake worked and I got it slowed down, took a poor line and a cut on the second part of the right hander, enjoyed wheelspin heading up to the left hand bendand was just about staying on top of slightly jittery car. I got to the top and texted Matt – “I think we need to change tyres for your run!” and before long it was time to head down.
Matt and I had agreed the tyres we would run, as on a rally we would choose them in damp but no standing water conditions (as Gurston was), but there simply wasn’t enough time to get any warmth into them on a hillclimb with the damp. I got back to the paddock and a quick tyre change it was, and after Matt’s run he reported that the car felt good.
By the time it came to my second practice run, I went off and wow – the car felt a world of difference! Confidence on the brakes, confidence in corners, it was simply so much more enjoyable. Four seconds off my time was the result and I was happy.
The sun was coming out for the first of my timed runs, but Matt and I agreed that as the tyres were a known quantity and doing the job, we’d get a “banker” in and then see if we could swap back for the final run.
We managed to do that, and by the end of the day I’d found over five seconds from where I’d started off. I really enjoyed trying more time through Hollow and into the technical section and could happily have done another run, but that was it, day over. I enjoyed the venue and event, and it was good to be out competing again.