Here's Everything You Need To Know About Hillclimb Racing

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A beginner's guide to hillclimbing.

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What is Hillclimbing?

Hillclimb racing is one of the oldest forms of motorsport in the world and can trace its roots back to 19th century Europe. Also known as speed hillclimbing, it's as simple as it sounds: start at the bottom of a hill or small mountain and set the quickest time possible getting to the top. The first-ever hill climb race took place in 1897 at La Turbie near Nice, France, and the oldest continuous race is held at Shelsey Walsh in Worcestershire, England. The US also has a long history in 4-wheel hill climb events, with the most well-known event being the Pikes Peak Hill Climb finishing at the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado. Unlike traditional motorsport events that occur on a purpose-built track, hill climbs take place on closed-down public roads. Due to the lack of conventional track safety measures, added safety gear is required to compete in hill climb racing.

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History

Hill climb racing became a massively popular form of motor racing in the early 20th century before dedicated race tracks were being built, but the sport can find its roots in late 19th century France. Hill climbing in the US is a niche form of racing, but the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) still hosts around ten hill climb events every year, and groups such as the Northwest Hillclimb Association host popular hill climb events including the Cope-Myers Memorial, the Freeze-Out Hillclimb, and the Hoopa Hillclimb.

Possibly the most famous hill climb event around (other than Chasing The Dragon in Robbinsville, NC) is the Pikes Peak race. The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC), otherwise known as The Race to the Clouds, has been going since 1916. The first championship trophy was awarded to Rea Lentz in 1916, who completed the course in 20:55.60 in a Romano Demon Special. The current record stands at 7:57.148 min and was set by Romain Dumas in a Volkswagen ID. R during the 2018 event, but it should be noted that the surface of this course has been vastly upgraded over the years from all gravel to now all asphalt, making the race faster. The oldest hill climb event in the US is the Eagle Rock hill climb, first held in New Jersey in 1901.

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Hill Climb Racing in the USA

Hill climb racing is still active in the USA, and the SCCA regularly hosts events. Below are some of the more popular hillclimbing events.

  • Pikes Peak - The Pikes Peak Hill Climb takes place in Pikes Peak, Colorado, and has been around for well over a century. The track measures 12.42 miles in length, has over 156 turns, and climbs 4,720 feet in elevation. The Pikes Peak race is run on asphalt from start to finish. The 99th race took place in 2021.
  • Chasing The Dragon - This famous race takes place on a course going up the Maple Gap Road in Nantahala Forests, North Carolina, and is held twice a year. The race was first run in 2011. The coolest part of this race is the fact that the winners get a Dragonslayer sword.
  • Climb To The Clouds - This hill climb event is one of the oldest motorsports events in North America and was first run in 1904. The race takes competitors up the Mount Washington Auto Road on Mount Washington, New Hampshire, and is 7.4 miles long.
  • Mount Equinox - This race, located in Arlington, Vermont, just outside Manchester, has been run uninterrupted since 1950 and features an elevation change of 3,100 feet.

Famous Pikes Peak Race Cars

The Pikes Peak race is known for hosting some of the most insane-looking, hardcore racecars on the face of the Earth. Here are some of our favorite specially designed cars to have graced the Peak.

  • VW ID. R - Piloted by Romain Dumas, this electric race car broke the outright record in 2018. Its twin electric motors produce 680 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque. The ID. R can sprint to sixty mph in only 2.25 seconds, and despite being a focused racecar, was instrumental in the development of the ID. family of cars in the VW range which includes such humble vehicles as the VW ID.3.
  • Peugeot 208 T16 - 875 - Piloted by rally legend Sebastien Loeb, this Peugeot is based on the European small car of the same name, and delivers 875 hp from its twin-turbocharged 3.2-liter V6 engine and has aero borrowed from the 908 LMP1 Le Mans race car.
  • Toyota Tacoma - This wild racecar, loosely based on a Toyota Tacomapickup truck, competed between 1997 and 2000 and took outright wins in 1998 and 1999. This mean machine was powered by a 2.1-liter turbocharged engine producing 1,000 hp.
  • Suzuki Escudo - The most well-known and loved Pikes Peak racer of them all shot to fame when it featured on the Gran Turismo game. The Suzuki Escudo Pikes Peak was piloted by legendary driver Nobuhiro' Monster' Tajima in 1996 and featured a mid-mounted 2.0-litre twin-turbo V6 producing close to 1,000 hp.

Safety During Hillclimbs

Due to the dangerous nature of hill climb racing, the SCCA recommends that all drivers and cars adhere to these stringent safety rules:

Driver safety equipment

  • Fire-retardant helmet
  • Fire-resistant clothing/driver suit, including gloves and shoes
  • Head and neck support system is highly recommended
  • Driver's-side window safety net or arm restraints

Vehicle safety equipment

  • 4-point roll cage
  • 5-point racing harness
  • Fire retardant system

Conclusion

Hill climbing is one of the oldest forms of racing in America and continues to thrive, sharing popularity with drag racing among other forms of motorsport - these types of races are mostly open to the public. Hill climbs are a great way to get into more formal track-based motor sporting events like NASCAR and rally racing, and since you're driving on closed public roads, the feeling is all the more exciting.

Hill Climbs Pexels.com

FAQs About Hill Climbs

Do I need a race car to enter a hill climb event?

No, you don't. As long as your vehicle meets the safety standards and regulations set out by the organizer of your chosen event, you should be able to race your daily car up the hill climb event of your choosing.

Are hill climb events held only on tarmac surfaces?

Some hill climb events have been traditionally held on dirt roads, necessitating the use of off-road rally tires, but most significant events, such as the Pikes Peak event, have switched over to full tarmac, although this change came about as a result of a lobbying group claiming that the dust was causing environmental damage.

Can I enter the Pikes Peak race?

Technically you can, but it's not easy. Entrants have to request an invitation. Once you receive an invitation, an entry fee of $2,250 is payable. The Director of Competition has the right to remove you from the race if he believes you do not possess the skill necessary to drive competitively.

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