Ever since seeing a shaky video featuring some insane hill climb action at Switzerland’s Saint Ursanne Les Rangiers round of the FIA European Hill Climb Championship many years ago, I’ve told everyone that would listen that one day I would visit this magical event. Living all the way over the other side of the world in New Zealand meant that no one really believed me, and honestly, I only half believed it myself…
And yet, here I am, on a warm Saturday evening, sitting at a cafe in the middle of a medieval village in rural Switzerland writing this article. Next to me is a team of mechanics scurrying around a beleaguered Dallara open wheeler, while the beautiful signature tones of a Ferrari V8 warming up somewhere in the distance provides the perfect soundtrack.
Though I’ll be putting together a full story on the event later in the week, I couldn’t resist sharing a little of what I’ve experienced after one full day spent scrambling around the steep, rocky hillsides of this awe-inspiring part of the world.
After an extremely early start (these seem to be all the rage once you become a Speedhunter…) and a thrash along some seriously amazing roads, we arrived at Saint Ursanne to find the Game-of-Thrones-esque town, well… vibrating.
Every little piece of cobbled street was occupied by some form of amazing machinery, and all were making their way to the start line for the first practice run of the day.
The town was completely over run with the sound of lumpy idles, squealing ceramic brakes and rattling twin-plate clutches.
Because space is so limited, makeshift pit bays like Simone Faggioli’s pop up anywhere there is room. The Italian has taken the overall victory on the Course de côte for the last two years and also holds the overall elapsed time and average speed records. From what we saw up the hill this afternoon, he could well be looking to make it a trifecta.
Today was all practice sessions, with the timed race runs up the 5.1-kilometer climb kicking off tomorrow morning. And although most drivers seemed to ease into it, not all got it right in the early morning damp conditions. You think it’s scary watching a single seater like Adrian Meier’s Gloria B420Y swap ends on a race track; try watching it happen on a narrow mountain pass at 200km/h!
Meier actually got off pretty lightly all things considered, though he should probably look at adjusting his speed to match his new-found lack of downforce…
The greatest thing about hill climb racing is that the driver must push to the absolute limits of themselves and their machine over a short period of time, regardless of what they are behind the wheel of.
From screaming economy hatches that were originally destined for city driving.
To beautiful history-filled race cars like Bruno Ianniello’s Group B Lancia Delta S4.
And interesting one-off custom machines bristling with super-wide fenders and flame-splitting exhausts.
Now that we’re half way through this dream event, with another day of racing to go tomorrow, does it live up to the hype? Did I build it up to much after watching too many videos on repeat? I’ll leave my final verdict for next week, but so far, I can only imagine this is what it would be like meeting your greatest hero, and realising they’re just as cool as you always imagined they would be.
More from Saint Ursanne coming soon!