Ferrari Hillclimb Championship
1998 Season Review
Robin Ashley, in his beautiful yellow Dino 246 GTS, emerged as the popular winner of the highly successful 1998 Hillclimb Championship. Entries were stronger than ever, the competition intense, there were many highlights (and a few lowlights) and, as they say, the future looks bright.
The 15-round series visited 13 different venues and embraced both hillclimbs such as Prescott, Shelsley Walsh and Gurston Down, as well as sprint tracks such as MIRA, Curborough and Wroughton. Thirty registered competitors took part, with three more who were unregistered (how did that happen?). The highest number of entries was at Wroughton, with 18, the lowest number was five at Longleat, with an average of about 12 per event for the entire season. It seems the most popular place is Harewood, which attracted 17 runners at each of its two events.
|Richard Allen's F355 splashes its way to a Longleat win.|
Although the Championship embraced 15 rounds, only the best eight scores counted. The most prolific drivers were John Marshall, Richard Allen and Len Watson, who took part in 13 of the rounds, and next came Sally Maynard-Smith, who took part in 12. It is interesting to note that Robin Ashley planned his season very carefully. He took part in just eight events and had wrapped up his win after just seven of them - such was his dominance.
|Sally M-S was a busy competitor throughout the season.|
It is pleasing that Ferrari UK continue to provide outstanding support for the Championship and that this will continue into the 1999 season. Richard Allen, as always, was the driving force and the organisational talent behind the series, although the single-handed style became increasingly at odds with RACMSA requirements and events during the season led to a revised administrative structure.
Two names stand out. On an outright basis, Richard Allen took seven wins from the 13 events he contested. He was also the most multitudinous tipo user in that he competed in a 308GT4, 308GTB, 328GTB and F355. The next most prolific winners were Geoffrey Rollason (F355GTS) and Simon Clark (328GTB), who took two wins each. Richard Barnett (328GTB), Robin Ward (308GTB ), John Marshall (328GTB) and Terry Esom (328GTB - Isle of Man, remember?) took the remaining scratch wins.
|Richard Barnett's 328GTS before the Cornbury straw bales attacked.|
Once the PEP factors had been applied, the second major name emerged : Robin Ashley took home six maximum point scores, with Richard Allen, Geoff Dark (308GT4) and Richard Baker (308GT4) taking two each. John Marshall, Brian Jackson (308GTB) and Robin Ward took one PEP win each.
|John Marshall's 328GTB lines up at Shelsley Walsh.|
With the little Dino being given a PEP advantage of 5% over the base line 328GTB model, it was always going to look favourable that a well-driven 246 would take the Championship, and so it proved in Robin Ashley's extremely capable hands. It was not only quick but was probably also the best-looking car ever to have won the FHC.
|Mark Hargreaves leans on his Boxer at Wroughton.|
Various 328 models obviously provided the backbone of the series, although Richard Baker's 308GT4 took full advantage of its 1.5% PEP allowance to finish second.
Richard Allen's F355 was clearly the motor to have for some of the faster venues (MIRA, Shelsley and Cornbury) and Geoffrey Rollason's similar tipo took wins at Prescott and Loton. Ashley's F40 made a solitary appearance at Wroughton but spent too much of its time facing the way it came to do any good.
|Robin Ashley's F40 brought serious class to Wroughton.|
Although the series purports to be for standard cars, the level of modifications was reaching worrying proportions. This caused some grumbling during the 1998 season and the FHC is still largely dependent upon drivers declaring any modifications carried out to their cars in return for additional PEP handicaps. It is inevitable that, with the increasing competitiveness of the series, people will want to win it all the more and this could lead some astray into undeclared tampering. Much tighter scrutineering is the answer in the future.
As always, with 30 registered drivers it is not possible to mention every meritorious performance but particular congratulations are due to Robin Ashley, who conquered all during the year. Whilst shunning the southern venues he scored strongly at Harewood, MIRA, Shelsley, Loton and Cornbury Park. Richard Baker was forced to work hard in his 308GT4 but a succession of excellent results gave him second place in the Championship ahead of an equally motivated John Marshall, whose high spot of the season must have been the splendid Shelsley result in June.
|Robin Ashley receiving the Championship Award from Ferrari UK's Stuart Robinson.|
Geoff Dark drove incredibly hard in his 308GT4 but became down-hearted later in the season when his car fell foul of eligibility wrangling, although this was later cleared by the RAC. Richard Allen was an outstanding performer, with two maximum PEP scores in addition to his seven overall wins, but his F355 drives were handicapped by the PEP system. Jon Goodwin (Mondial) was tipped for success but had all sorts of car problems, a most unusual factor in a Ferrari class.
Len Watson was impressive at MIRA and Wroughton, where he took a brace of second places on scratch with his 328GTS. From his Curborough debut at Round 3, Robin Ward has been a star performer, culminating in his brilliant win at Wroughton's season finale in his 308GTB. He deservedly took the Newcomer of the Year award and had there been a Driver of the Year he would undoubtedly have won that as well.
….. and so to 1999
There is every reason to assume that the new season will be at least as good as the old. All the leading contenders have stated their intention of returning and there is the prospect of some exciting tipos appearing. Geoff Rollason is rumoured to be having an F40 and Jon Goodwin will appear in the ex-Rollason F355. For Ferrari UK also it is important that the newer tipos come to the fore in order to justify their sponsorship support.
The 1999 calendar has been finalised and embraces 15 rounds at broadly similar venues to the previous year. The regulatory framework for the Championship has been somewhat re-vamped in response to competitors' grumbles about rule-making on the hoof, although whether the structure that has been set up will serve this purpose remains to be seen.
The hard competition amongst the drivers this year has impressed organising clubs of speed venues and it has become easier to get Ferrari-only classes. It looks as though the FHC will not disappoint the spectators in '99!
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