The Memories of a dyslexic man who took up Hillclimbing.
It’s just 36 days until Round one of the 2017 Naylor Engineering Irish Hillclimb Championship. Motorsport crews will descend on the beautiful village of Ballyvaughan, famished for the need for competition after the long winter break. It’s four years ago since I, Gary Egan, competed in my first Hillclimb. Traveling to the same village that morning to double drive a car, with my long-time friend Billy White. We would be driving his then girlfriend’s birthday present (yes, you read that right), Keeva’s mint little silver Fiat Seicento.
I had the pleasure of driving Billy’s… sorry Keeva’s Seicento for the best part of a season. We moved slowly up the time sheets as our confidence grew and as we got to grips with the Fiat’s “unique” handling characteristics. Swopping times pretty much every run with each other, we would discuss where we found that half second or even a few tenths. Usually we were trying to catch or get past a very hard charging Senan O’Connor. Senan drove the earlier model Cinquecento and boy did he drive it hard!! Neither Billy or myself had a van at the time so the Seicento was driven to the event, competed in the event and driven home again! This also meant it was loaded with spares, tools and our accommodation: Tents – warm tents, cold tents, leaky tents, blown over tents… to be honest I don’t like tents anymore.. They got us through the early days, we even fixed the Seicento in a large tent in the paddock in Wexford. There is nothing quite like your own van, with your own warm bed!
2014 – Class 1
The real madness started next season, in 2014. Cento owners like current Hillclimb Champion Joe Courtney, that aggressive red head fellow Neil Bradbury, Cork based men Senan O’Connor, Damien Walsh and Ivalo Linder, Billy White and I were appearing on entry lists all year. There was no way of telling who would top the Centos at the end of each day. The competition, the crack and the pace was unbelievable. The winner was easily noticed by looking around the pits as competitors loaded up their cars. You just had to look out for the guy holding a time sheet doing a victory dance! As the Cento Challenge cars were incorporated within Class 1, they competed with all other saloon cars up to 1400cc. They made it to second or third in the class at times, but could never reach the pace of Gar Cunningham’s glow in the dark Fiat Punto. Battles were purely for pride and bragging rights between the Cento drivers.
With times closer than ever before, people were wondering what others had done to their cars. The term Cheating Ba####d was thrown at anyone who turned up to an event with anything different. Be it a different brand of tyres, air intake system or suspension, you were a cheating ba####d! The banter between these lads was like nothing I had seen in other forms of Irish motorsport. That, and the intense competition, had me hooked on these tyre squealing, bright coloured indestructible little cars. When I say indestructible I mean mechanically indestructible…
Throughout the 2014 season there were 696 entries, 104 of these were Cento entries! In the 2014 – 2015 season break, the painstaking task of putting regulations to paper was carried out and Class 1b was born. Finally, the Cento’s had a class to call their own. Two of the main players involved in this were Simon McKinley and Billy White. Alan Tully of Tully Watch Repairs Loughrae has sponsored the class for 2015 and 2016. The sponsorship stickers read “Class 1b by Simon McKinley” a lovely tribute to the man who upped the rep of these cars to cool.
2015 – Class 1B Championship
2015 saw 12 drivers registered for the Championship. A fantastic battle ensued the whole year. Aidan Courtney took the Carlow weekend, Billy White did the double in Limerick, full 20 points for myself in Naul. Aidan Courtney sealed his Championship win in Donegal, with a weekend in hand. As the first Class 1b Champion, he attended the Sea Sessions festival in the beautiful county Sligo to celebrate and left the rest to battle for runner up spots in the final rounds in Wexford. Calculators were rattling out all possible Championship position outcomes the whole way through to the final run of this final round. Neil Bradbury was testing a few flag marshals reactions on the chicanes both days in Wexford; his poor chink was dripping in cone juice but landed 1st spot in last run fashion each day to pip Billy for 3rd in the Class Championship. Second place belonged to myself, so I was going to be back again for 2016.
It takes time to get all the speed out of these machines. I recall standing in the paddock at the bottom of Knockalla 2014, frustrated as I couldn’t match the speed of Neil Bradbury or Joe Courtney. Joe said something that stuck with me ever since. “This is as much an engineering contest, as it is a driving one”. So, getting the engines fresh and as good as they can be, tweaking them to handle, freeing the brakes before each event, wheel alignment before each event, eliminating as much rolling resistance as possible. It’s all relevant! Most importantly though, how to drive them. Learning to carry speed EVERYWHERE. The personal battle between your brain and one of your limbs can be quite hilarious. Travelling up to the chicane in Donegal for the first time telling your right foot not to lift, when every instinct inside you in saying otherwise. There are countless moments like this throughout the championship. One is that extra foot of room in the hedge, on the exit of turn 7 in Naul… A portfolio of the hills can only be put together by competing on them. By the end of 2015, I had the car handling well, had built up my knowledge of the main hills that are used each season and was ready for an assault on the Championship for 2016.
2016 – Class 1B Championship
2016 brought 12 drivers out competing once again. The strongest Class of the Championship. Billy White and Neil Bradbury were the lads to beat again, showing phenomenal pace every round. The Fiats were now finishing half way up the time sheets on rounds of the Championship, a far cry from the early days. Hearing stories from spectators on the hedges always makes us laugh. “He never lifted” or general gasps as a Cento is put through a corner as fast as physics will allow. What other sport would you see a competitor battling to win and then offer a seat to their main rival in their own car! It just goes to show the sportsmanship of these guys; it’s fantastic. It can be a little embarrassing when they beat you though, in your own car. I finally got my hands on the Championship trophy at the end of the exciting 2016 season, Neil Bradbury finished 2nd and Billy White 3rd.
2017 – New Era
Too much of anything is bad for you…. Be it gin or Centos! Billy and myself have decided to part ways from the class for 2017. There are 3 or 4 cars being built that I know off. We have no fear whatsoever that class numbers will drop as the interest is still on the up. We tried to leave before unsuccessfully a few times but were sucked back in each time until now. The sheer fun and laughs provided through the years has been amazing. We both feared that, moving on to other cars, the competition and times would never be as nail-bitingly close again. So, the dream team are going to share a car for 2017. We will take everything we have learned from the Fiats and put the knowledge to work on the new car “Roger the Renault”. It will be fun to look in on the class as outsiders this year. Neither of us could sell our cars nor let them go, so maybe there will be 1 or 2 guest appearances somewhere throughout the season. Who knows?
So here is the question… who will be top of the class for 2017?
The term “driving her to the door mirrors” is thrown around quite loosely these days, but it should have been written about Conor, he managed to touch them off the road last year!! And finish the run. Conor has showed “extreme bravery” this season, his engine hasn’t been built to full spec of the regs yet, but he will be a man to watch with some extra horses this year.
The name may not be familiar to Hillclimbers, but Colin “Beardy” Clinton has been racing Sheanes, Fiesta St’s and most importantly Fiat Uno’s. He is well accustomed to getting as much pony’s as possible out of a Fiat 8 valve. Keep an eye on this guy, Big Ginger beard and shtyley sun glasses, you can’t miss him!
Brian and Elaine, Husband and wife team did a full season for 2016 in their grey Seicento. Brian’s choice on an R&D cylinder head for last season back fired and left them a little low on compression. With Brian building a rwd Peugeot 205, he may be leaving the class for ‘17, but hopefully Elaine will be out battling for the year.
Keith Mooney another new name to the hills, Keith drove Billy White’s Seicento in Donegal this year and was straight on the pace out of the box, finishing 4th on both days. Coming from a motocross back ground, he has the racing pedigree. We are hoping he won’t be too distracted with his lovely new blonde lady Chrissy and manages a full season for 2017.
Rob drives one of those evil red Seicento’s. We tried to warm him, but it bit back one round 2 of this season in Ballinalacken and landed on its side putting him out of the days racing. Rob is getting his car well dialled in and should be a top runner for this season.
Damien boi from cork prides himself in his also cracking blue Cinquecento. If there was an award for best presented Cento it would be his. Damien competed in his fathers Indy mk2 on selected rounds for the 16 season. With his new business thriving and stress levels through the roof, he is only a shadow of the man he was. Power to weight ratio will be better than ever before.
Danny was right in the mix through the 2016 season, driving a yellow Cinquecento with lovely fresh paint. Danny has been building a Saxo hillclimb car over the winter, but let’s hope he sticks with the chinks for ‘17, as he knows the hills after this season he should be a top finisher.
Leanne joined the roley-poley club in Wexford 2015. An elite club of drivers. An even more elite group of people is the ones who have done it twice! This happened in Limerick 2016. Her husband is getting very fast an Chinky prep as she was back out for the next round in Mondello for the MEC sprint. Her confidence was back up after one or two runs. Leanne pushes super hard, so watch out for her on the time sheets this year.
Another new name this year. Martin has been busy building his car a yellow Cento while attending college through the winter season. With one or two test session under his belt, he has some more suspension felting to do but, with his car up to full cheating spec, Martin should be right on the pace from the get go.
Alan has generously sponsored the class for 2015 and 2016 through his business Tully Watch Repairs. Taking a break last season, Alan promised me he will do every round for 2017 in his yellow Cinquecento. There’s nothing quite like some family rivalry on the time sheets; both Martin and Alan will be trying to better each other for “Top Tully”.
Neil could be counted as a Cento Veteran. He is fast, angry, a great engineer with a well sorted car. He is also a ginger, with a questionable taste in red wine. If Neil takes on a full season, he will be a hard man to beat. Watch out for “gay blue 2” the Blue Cinquecento with cones hanging out of the bumpers.
Author: Gary Egan