Hillclimbing (also known as hill climbing, speed hillclimbing or speed hill climbing) is a branch of motorsport in which drivers compete against the clock to complete an uphill course.
It is one of the oldest forms of motorsport, since the first known hillclimb (at La Turbie near Nice, France) took place as long ago as 31 January 1897. The hillclimb held at Shelsley Walsh, in Worcestershire, England is the world's oldest continuously-staged motorsport event still staged on its original course, having been first run in 1905.
A very different kind of hillclimbing is done with offroad motorcycles going straight up extremely steep hills. The winner is the one which could climb the highest, or in the case more than one made it to the top, the fastest. This kind of motorsport, which requires skill as well as bravery, has a long tradition in the USA and has been popular in France and Austria since the 1980s. The Austrian event in Rachau focused on crowd entertainment, and inspired many similar events.
Hillclimbs in continental Europe are usually held on courses which are several kilometres long, taking advantage of the available hills and mountains including the Alps. The most prestigious competition is the FIA European Hill Climb Championship.
In the British Isles, the format is different from that in other parts of Europe, with courses being much shorter - more akin to uphill sprints - and almost always taking under one minute for the fastest drivers to complete. For this reason, cars and drivers do not generally cross between the British and continental European championships.
The French hill climb championship, or Championnat de France de la Montagne, has been one of the most competitive of the European national series, attracting many new F2 and 2-litre sports cars during the 1970s and early 1980s. Notable champions from this period include Pierre Maublanc (1967 and 1968), Daniel Rouveyran (1969), Hervé Bayard (1970) and Jimmy Mieusset (1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974). The best-known Course de Côte are Mont Ventoux and Mont-Dore.
Hillclimbing is a very popular sport on the island of Malta. Numerous events are organised annually by the Island Car Club. Participants are divided according to their type of vehicle into various categories ranging from single seaters to saloon cars.
Hillclimbing is popular in Romania among drivers with limited financial resources. It has a long tradition in the country. The first major event was the Feleac course, in Cluj. From 1930, it was a round in the European Hill Climb Championship. The record of the Feleac was set by famous German racer Hans Stuck in 1938, driving a 600 bhp Auto Union Grand Prix car. Stuck stormed through the 7 km gravel course in 2'56". Despite several attempts in the 70s, Stuck's record was never beaten. In recent decades, the course was widened in order to be suitable for intense traffic and therefore is considered inappropriate for auto racing. Today's hillclimbing in Romania is refered to as Viteză în Coastă or Campionatul Naţional de Viteză pe Traseu Montan (VTM). In 2006, the Romanian National Hillclimbing Championship had 7 events, each containing two rounds (each scoring separately) held on Friday and Sunday respectively, with Saturday being a rest day. The seven events were Câmpulung Muscel (April 7/9), Braşov (April 28/30), Reşiţa (May 19/21), Bálványos (June 9/11), Abrud (July 28/30), Reşiţa (8/10 September) and Râşnov (September 29/October 1).
Motor racing was banned in Switzerland in the aftermath of the fatal collision between cars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1955. However, this prohibition does not extend to events where drivers compete only indirectly via the clock. Events such as rallies and hillclimbs are popular, including the FIA European Hill Climb Championship.
In the United States, hill climbs in the European style take place on long mountain courses, and in many cases spectators are either banned or heavily restricted for safety or insurance reasons. The most famous hillclimb in the US is the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb held at Pikes Peak, Colorado. This event has been entered by many internationally renowned drivers and multiple world rally champions. The 12.4 mile course finishes at a height of 14,100 feet. The current unlimited class record holder is Rod Millen with a time of 10:04.06. Millen has won the hill climb seven times. Additional races are held in Colorado, conducted by the Colorado Hill Climb Association (CHCA) during the summer months. These range in length from about two miles to five miles long. Discussion about these and Pikes Peak can be read here.
The "Climb to the Clouds" hillclimb on the 7.4-mile course up the Mount Washington Auto Road on Mount Washington, New Hampshire is the oldest motorsport event in North America, first run in 1904. However, this climb has been held only sporadically since 1961.
The scenic route on the hill overlooking Reading, Pennsylvania hosts two events on the same stretch of road, the Pagoda and Duryea Hillclimbs. Pagoda is a shortened version of Duryea, starting at turn 2 and finishing at turn 9 of the longer course.
- Duryea Hillclimb - The Blue Mountain Region SCCA hosts the longest hill in the PHA series. Named for the obscure automobile maker and following the same route that Charles Duryea used to test his cars, this is a 2.3 mile hill located in a beautiful city park in downtown Reading. With a history dating back to 1951, festivities this year will include a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the automobile. Possibly the most diverse and challenging hill in the Northeast, Duryea boasts 11 turns (most of which are negotiated in the first half of the course) coupled with some high (140mph) speeds at the top.
- Pagoda - The British cars get their revenge at this event, which is run on the same mountain as Duryea. Named after the Pagoda which decorates turn 10, this is a handling course which offers all the challenges of turns 3-8 (including the famous turn 6), while leaving out the high horsepower final straight of Duryea.
The American Hill Climb is one of the oldest forms of motorcycle competition, dating back to the early 1900s. Today some of the most famous hill climbs are Bushkill Valley in Easton, Pennsylvania and Big Nasty Hillclimb in Idaho. The North American Hillclimbers Association has a schedule of hill climb events around the country and around the world.
Canada's best known hillclimb event is the Knox Mountain Hillclimb, held in Kelowna, British Columbia. It a 3.5km paved road, climbing 245m elevation. It has run annually since the 1950s, attracting drivers from the Pacific Northwest.
The Knox Mountain Hillclimb http://www.knoxmtnhillclimb.ca, is run annually on Knox Mountain Park Road, in the City of Kelowna. The road, while paved, is narrow with off-camber corners, and steep grades; a nice Sunday drive, but hardly a race track. It is 2.2 miles (3.5km) long, and climbs approximately 800 feet (245 meters) in elevation for an average grade of 6.7%.
In its 49th year, Knox Mountain is the longest running paved hillclimb in the world. The event attracts top drivers from throughout the Pacific Northwest, looking for the challenge and thrill of being fastest.
Cars are run one at a time, each trying to reach the top in the lowest elapsed time. Drivers/cars compete in various classes from open wheeled formula cars to powerful large engined GT cars. But, each hopes to be "King of the Hill", earning the fastest time of the weekend.
The current hill record is 1m:38.969, held by John Haftner of Vancouver, British Columbia. Times under two minutes are considered exceptionally fast, with few drivers achieving that and even fewer sedans having ever achieved that. Most times fall between 2m00s and 2m30s. To achieve top times, speeds in excess of 160kpH must be reached on the short straights.
The road corners are known by their "numbers" and include three switchbacks; each corner has its own features varying from steepness to camber, to steep drop-offs if you go too wide.
Hillclimbing in Australia dates back to the early 1900s, and was most prevalent in the city of Melbourne, at locations such as Templestowe Heidelberg and Rob Roy. The course at Templestowe still exists today in the Domain Wetlands. The course was never trafficable due to the massive incline known as "the wall", and so was only used during race events. Burgundy Street in Heidelberg was used for early Hillclimbs.
The course at Rob Roy still hosts race meets on occasions. It is located just off Clintons Road in an area of Smiths Gully known as Rob Roy.
The premiere hillclimb event on the New Zealand motor racing calendar is the Queenstown, New Zealand based "Race to the Sky". It attracts a number of international competitors and is a major draw for local and foreign motor racing enthusiasts.
Held every Easter since 1998 it starts from the floor of the Cardrona Valley and runs uphill for 15 kilometres through 137 corners to the top, climbing from 1,500 ft to 5,000 ft averaging a 1:11 gradient.
The driver with the greatest number of "Race to the Sky" outright wins (6) is Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima, driving his custom built Suzuki hillclimb special vehicle.