Shelsley Walsh Speed Hill Climb

The Shelsley Walsh Speed Hill Climb is a hillclimb in Worcestershire, England, organised by the Midland Automobile Club (MAC). It is one of the oldest motorsport events in the world, and is in fact "the" oldest to have been staged continuously (wartime excepted) on its original course, first having been run in 1905. On that first occasion, the course was 992 yards (907 m) in length, but in 1907 it was standardised at 1000 yards (914 m), the length it remains today.

Shelsley Walsh is a notably steep course by the standards of today's hillclimbs. It rises 328 feet (100 m) during its length, for an average gradient of 1 in 9.14 (10.9%), with the steepest section being as much as 1 in 6.24 (16%). This makes Shelsley a hill on which power is important, and on which the gap in times between the most powerful cars and the rest is greater than at many other venues. It is also narrow, being no more than 12 feet (3.66 m) wide at some points.

History

The winner of the first event, held on Saturday 12 August 1905, was Ernest Instone (35 hp Daimler), who established the hill record by recording a time of 77.6 seconds for an average speed of 26.15 mph (42.08 km/h). However, at that time hillclimbs were not strictly "speed" events at all, performances being rated in terms of a formula based on power and cars of 20 hp or more being required to be four-seaters and to carry passengers. There was also the question of whether a particular car would make it up the hill at all. In fact, in these early years, drivers' actual times were not even announced to spectators!

Restrictions on competing cars were dropped from 1913, meaning that specialised racing cars were now eligible to enter Shelsley. Unsurprisingly, climbs immediately became much faster, and Joseph Higginson's Vauxhall 30/98 recorded the best time of the day: 55.2 seconds, more than eight seconds faster than H. C. Holder's mark of 63.4 seconds which had been set just two years before.

The First World War intervened after the 1914 meeting, and hillclimbing did not resume until July 1920. Times continued to come down, and during the 1920s the emphasis moved firmly away from reliability and onto speed. Basil Davenport was perhaps Shelsley's first "superstar", breaking the hill record four times between 1926 and 1928 in his GN "Spider", but even more significant was the appearance on the hill of Raymond Mays.

The 1930s were a golden era for Shelsley. The track was now asphalt rather than gravel, and the likes of Mays, Hans Stuck and Whitney Straight battled for supremacy in International events. At the last meeting before World War II, in June 1939, Mays set a new record of 37.37 seconds in his ERA R4D - the machine which still holds the hill record for a pre-WW2 car, having recorded 33.71 seconds in the hands of Mac Hulbert in 2004.

Hillclimbing resumed at the track in 1947, and the 1950s saw a move from Saturday to Sunday meetings, despite protests from, among others, the Lord's Day Observance Society. Several Formula One drivers competed regularly at Shelsley in this era, among them four-time British Hill Climb Championship winner Ken Wharton who broke the hill record on four occasions, and Tony Marsh. The young Stirling Moss would have made his competition debut at Shelsley in 1947, but the entry list was full; he had to be content with a win in 1948.

The first sub-30 second climb at Shelsley was made by David Hepworth in 1971 in his own four-wheel-drive Hepworth FF, and little by little the outright record was chipped away - particularly by Alister Douglas-Osborn, who broke it no fewer than eight times between 1976 and 1983 - until Richard Brown brought it down to 25.34 seconds in 1992. However, an increasingly uneven surface made smooth runs more difficult, and at the turn of the century the 25 second barrier had still not been broken. Meanwhile, the MAC had a much more pressing problem to confront.

The land on which the Shelsley course is run is not owned by the MAC, but is rather leased from a local landowner. The original lease, taken out in 1905, ran for the common length of 99 years - which meant that a solution was urgently needed if 2004 was not to mark the end of hillclimbing at the venue. The owners of the land would not consider selling it outright, but were prepared to extend the lease (by a further 99 years). This, however, would cost a very substantial sum of money, and so the MAC launched the Shelsley Trust, with the aim of raising over a million pounds in order to secure the future of hillclimbing at Shelsley. This target was achieved, and the new lease signed in 2005.

For nine years the track record stood at 25.34 seconds and many wondered when it would fall again and who could beat the record. The Scottish driver Graeme Wight Jr was the first to achieve the feat, in 2002, and he collected the £1,000 prize which had been put up for the first driver to dip under 25 seconds with a run of 24.85 seconds. The record was lowered several more times in the next few years, including two records in 2008 by three-time reigning champion Martin Groves. In the June meeting, he took the record down to 22.71 secondscite news
url =http://www.top12runoff.com/meeting.asp?id=79&ttl=1+June+2008+%3A+Shelsley+Walsh#report
title =Shelsley Walsh has a new outright record
publisher =Top 12 Run Off
date = 2008-06-01
accessdate = 2008-09-16
] and then shaved 0.13 seconds off that record in the August meeting to set the record at 22.58 seconds.cite news
url =http://www.top12runoff.com/meeting.asp?id=87&ttl=17+August+2008+%3A+Shelsley+Walsh#report
title =New outright record for Groves
publisher =Top 12 Run Off
date = 2008-08-17
accessdate = 2008-09-18
]

References

*Midland Automobile Club, "Shelsley Walsh 1905-2005 Centenary Meeting programme", August 2005.
*C. A. N. May, "Shelsley Walsh", Purnell and Sons, Paulton (Somerset) and London, 1946.

External links

Official Shelsley Walsh web site: http://www.shelsley-walsh.co.uk/


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