Taking On Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb

Taking On Shelsley Walsh Hillclimb

Author: Tom Magnay / Images: Niall Evans, BlendLine Apparel 

Better late than never right? Normally a phrase used when something has been delayed or left way over the intended deadline. Well this article is no exception, I meant to write it in July or early August right after the event took place, but knocking on November's door and here we are!

Sometime in early 2020, right when the world was about to go into 'rollercoaster mode', I put in an entry to run one of my cars at Bromyard Speed Festival. Ordinarily, BSF has been set in the middle of the Herefordshire town of Bromyard, and right from its first running in 2015, BlendLine Apparel has supported, in one way or another, this event as we believe we need all the motorsport we can get here in the 'Shire. We had a trade stand with our clothing brand for 3 years on the bounce and have also run Lea Wood's Peugeot 205 hot rod racecar there on the public display in 2019 too. 

But 2020 was looking a little different, for a mixture of reasons the organisers decided to move it to the historic hillclimb at Shelsley Walsh for a slightly different angle on proceedings. Then bat flu came along and of course the 2020 event was cancelled until '21 and I forgot all about it.

Then a few months ago I had an email saying my entry had been successful, nearly 15 months later. My only trouble was I couldn't remember which car I had entered it had been so long! A conversation with a friendly organiser Phil who reminded me it was in fact the Citroen Saxo rally car I had entered, we changed the entry to my RenaultSport Clio which by now was mechanically in a better shape and much better suited to a tarmac hillclimb event than my more gravel-biased Saxo. 

I did stick with my rallying roots through, and asked friend of BlendLine and my fellow Gobble De-Clutch Podcast host Sion Ellis to sit alongside me, more for entertainment value than to have him read pacenotes!

July soon came and in typical last minute style I began to check the car over. I'd been well aware that one of the aux pulleys was looking a little tired but only only closer inspection with a torch did I realise that the alternator pulley had a small crack in the belt guide. Cue an order going in to Pure Motorsport in Cornwall for a full air con delete kit (which I'd been eyeing up for a while) and also a new OEM radiator. The reason for the AC delete is simple, I needed a new aux belt and pulley anyway, and wanted to do away with the extra pulleys in the engine bay for the air con which I didn't use, thus freeing up space and hopefully a little throttle response too with much less inertia on the engine. 

Cramming in some late nights in the garage I got the rad swapped over (the old one was sagging, a common fault and it's had 20 years use...) and went about removing the AC gear. Having weighed the new kit and minimalist Pure Motorsport brackets and shorter Gates belt, vs what came out including nuts, bolts, long old belt plus the air con pump and condenser unit, I was making a weight saving of over 12kg plus reduced inertia and in theory better cooling with less mass in front of the radiator. 

You can see my full video of this overhaul in part 4 of my YouTube build series here: 

A few late nights and a road test run on the Saturday and we were good to go. I decided not to trailer the car there and to enjoy the short road trip to the Worcestershire venue - the beauty of a road legal racer!

Sion arrived early Sunday and we were greeted by fog and rain, not helped by the fact that I had not plugged the heater fan back in during my maintenance but a quick pitstop at the side of the road soon sorted that. 

Arriving at Shelsley, despite it being on the doorstep really (less than an hour from home) it was my first time at the venue and Sion's also. 

The busy paddock was a hive of activity with cars unloading from trailers and marshalls frantically waving and peering at sheets of paper. Allotted a garage (thankfully, due to the inclement weather) we set about changing into race overalls and readying crash helmets, before heading off to the drivers briefing with a jolly crowd of drivers. The organisers were happy, as after 2 years their festival was BACK and the aptly named, relocated BSF had the subtitle, "Altitude With Attitude". 

The cars were sorted into batches and what a lineup there was! Everything from Lotus Elans to R35 GTRs and everything in between.

Sandwiched in our garage area between some local lads in Caterhams and a guy in an Evo, we set off toward the start line where we lit up the front wheels in the "tyre cleaning" box, as is obligatory at a hillclimb. The weather cleared quickly, to the sun breaking through and actually being quite a sunny day. 

Rubber now sufficiently up to temperature, Sion and I sat on the start line with only a few night-before YouTube onboard viewings from previous FWD runs from which to glean information.

The light turned from red to green and we were off, and a cracking start we had, a little wheel spin to get us moving and we were away. Carefully weaving my way up through the kinks toward the Esses (a sharp left, right S bend) hard on to the brakes into the Esses and through them, and back on the power along the straight run up to the finish line. It really was over as soon as it had begun, and unlike in a rally stage which can be 10-15 minutes long, this was done within just over 40 seconds. Of course, whilst waiting at the top paddock for the rest of the batch to run, I allowed my mind to replay my run in my head, working out where I could save time on my next attempt. Flat through the first kink. Later and harder on the brakes through the Esses. A careful line on the exit of the Esses. Mind the sunk drain cover on the apex. Trundling slowly back down the hill towards the paddock, in a queue of other cars from our batch, I knew where I could save time.

Runs 2 and 3 were better, more aggressive. GoPro onboards showed a time of 41.1, with 90kg ballast in the way of my passenger Mr Ellis. 

Chatting at lunch to the Caterham guys, they were around the 43 second mark so I had to be happy for my first runs. It is easy to see how hillclimb drivers have to do everything right. A missed gearchange or a few mm's wide exiting Top Ess and it could be the difference between 1st and 4th in class. 

A final run of the day for us left us with a final time of 41.1 and no damage to the car, which is the result we wanted, especially since we had driven there in the car. 

You can watch my recap of the event here, including some onboards from various angles plus some driveby shots and my POV:


BlendLine co-founder, fellow BL Magazine author and 206WRX-builder-extraordinaire Tal was joined by Niall Evans (another friend of BlendLine) for the day and you can see the Bromyard Speed Festival through Tal's POV below too:

My first foray into hillclimb has definitely left me wanting more. Awkwardly, the Clio is kind of halfway between road car spec (which requires rear seats, a radio, carpet etc) and racecar spec (mandatory full cage, fire extinguisher, cut-offs and so on). My 172 is fully stripped out, with a half/rear clubman cage, so in reality to complete in race class it needs the front cage sections plus the fire extinguisher. I'd much rather work upwards to that class than to bring the car down a peg to road class again and refit weight I've carefully removed over the years! 

As far as my engine modifications were concerned the car certainly felt more spritely under acceleration with improved throttle response promised from the removal of the AC kit noted. 

The Bromyard Speed Fest team should also give themselves a pat on the back for running an excellent event and not forgetting this was just outside of the lockdown opening up just a fortnight before for outdoor numbers at an event. 

Hopefully catch you there in '22!



Tom Magnay: @tommagnay01

Tal England: @talengland

Sion Ellis: @sionellisautomax

Niall Evans: @nialle17

BlendLine Apparel: @blend_line

All content, written, photographic or otherwise remains property of BlendLine Apparel and may not be reproduced without written permission.

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