A year ago in my review of the 2003 season I remarked that it had been one of the best seasons ever. If anything, 2004 has surpassed the previous year and must be the best season yet for the series. Strong entries were evident at nearly every venue and a great ongoing contest between the leading drivers as they traded maximum point scores and positions until the penultimate round at Longleat. There has been some very good competition further down the pecking order too, with many of our competitors recording their best ever times this year.
Nick Taylor finally took the 2004 Ferrari Hill Climb Championship crown, getting stronger and stronger as the season went on, and in the final rounds produced some devastating performances with his unlikely looking Mondial 3.4t. He took a hat trick of 20 maximum point scores in the last three meetings, and with a further three 20-pointers previously banked was invincible. Nick came to the hills as a very experienced and successful circuit racer, taking a little while to adjust to this new discipline and realise his potential. It all came together this season and, with a win in his sights, Nick became noticeably more serious and determined in his approach. It is difficult to pull out one result as being his best but his last run time of 66.89 at the second Harewood in September was truly astonishing, more especially for his relatively big Mondial that just happens to have the steering wheel on the wrong side!
Richard Prior was second overall in 2004, as he had been in 2003, with his 348ts. Just as in the previous year he topped the points chart for most of the season, having romped away with a couple of early maximum scores at North Weald and Harewood. Richard had some indifferent mid season results, allowing Nick and Jon Goodwin to catch up, but finished strongly with another maximum score at Prescott in September, and high scores at Curborough and Harewood. Many of his times this season were faster than ever but he has shown some inconsistency. On a good day he has put in some great performances, and his best was at Prescott where, besides dispatching Nick Taylor, he closed to within two hundredths of a second of class winner Jon Goodwin's F355. Richard really wanted to win in 2004 and will be even stronger next season. Still relatively young and improving most of the time, he will only get better.
Jon Goodwin a previous FHCC Championship winner finished third overall with his F355, after many class wins with times that were below his own previous marks but not quite fast enough to gain maximum championship scores. At just one event, the August Curborough, did we see some of the old Goodwin devastating form, where he took a 20 pointer, the class win and an amazingly quick new class record. He scored strongly everywhere, but the maximum point scores were always just beyond his grasp. He had one or two close shaves with the class wins too – some by just hundredths of a second from Nick Frost and Richard Prior.
Other strong runners in 2004 were veteran Geoff Dark, fourth overall, taking a couple of maximum scores at MIRA and Shelsley Walsh with his 308GTB, and Chris Butler who took a 20 point score from the second Loton and a couple of class wins – the last one being particularly impressive in the wet at Longleat. Also notable was the debut of the very young, by FHCC standards (i.e. no bus pass - Ed), Marco Pullen, first with a 308GTS and subsequently with a Mondial 3.4t. He drove well and improved steadily all season.
The 2004 opening round on March 21 was on the horizontal – a sprint at North Weald, that less than charismatic airfield venue in Essex. Notwithstanding this early start, a good entry of a dozen Ferraris showed up and there was some close competition. Jon Goodwin won the Ferrari class convincingly by a couple of seconds with his F335 from Richard Prior (348ts) and Chris Butler (F355). His time was not quite fast enough for the maximum point score – after PEP application Prior was one hundredth ahead of Goodwin! Power counts at North Weald with 355’s and 348’s filling the first five places with the 328/308 brigade back from sixth. Some fun took place on the final very wet run, and there were Ferraris spinning all over the place.
Round two was over in Jersey for Easter. The weather was superb and this one proved to be a nice holiday, never mind a hillclimb. We had our Club Chairman Jack Sears over to keep tabs on us and there was much merriment during our considerable leisure time on the island. Out on the tortuous and hazardous Bouley Bay course, it was Jon Goodwin again with the F355, winning the class and demolishing his own record set with his 360 Modena the previous year. Nick Taylor gave the first sign that he meant business this season – his Mondial 3.4t, now lowered and firmed up for both the hills and formula classic. He took second overall and maximum points, finishing ahead of third place man Richard Prior. Jersey was notable too for the debut of nineteen year old Marco Pullen, easily our youngest ever competitor, out for the first time with his 308GTS.
Harewood in May is always one of the biggest rounds and this year was no exception with a twenty-car Ferrari class, including Len Watson’s F40 and Leon Bachelier’s F512M. Great weather and track conditions produced some fine drives, with 2003 FHCC Champion Nick Frost going great guns to take the scratch win in his 348GTC. A delighted Richard Prior, on tremendous form with his 348ts, took second overall and the big 20 point score. Chris Hitchman, with easily his best ever performance in the series, took third with his F355 ahead of Jon Goodwin, who was forced to use his Mondial 3.4t, his F355 very recently broken, whilst Nick Taylor and his Mondial were a little out of contention this time. Geoff Dark was fastest of the smaller engined cars ahead of Harewood old timer Chris England and his 308GTS.
Later in May the Ferrari hillclimbers were back on the horizontal at MIRA, the Motor Industry Research Associations proving ground near Nuneaton. This is an open and fast course and you would expect it to favour the more powerful tipos, and Chris Butler took the win with his F355, but it was veteran Geoff Dark who took the twenty points. A really great drive with his 308GTB took Geoff to second overall ahead of many more powerful Ferraris. Philip Whitehead, now really getting the hang of his F355, was third ahead of Peter Hitchman's 360 Modena. Nick Taylor was elsewhere and Richard Prior was nowhere, finishing well down the chart after a spin on his first qualifying run. A seasons high spot for John Marshall here - he was fastest of all with his 328GTB on the first wettish practice. Also notable was the competition debut of Lorraine Hitchman, wife of Chris, driving her 328GTS
Early June came the first of the serious hills at Shelsley Walsh. A dozen car Ferrari class included tipos as diverse as Colin Campbell's 246GT and the Bachelier F512M. Jon Goodwin holds the class record here with his F355 and though he could get nowhere near his own mark he did take the class win. Another great drive from Geoff Dark (308GTB) took a very convincing second and comfortably secured another maximum point score. Nick Taylor (Mondial) took third overall and a useful second in the points chart. A good result for Mike Spicer too - he placed his 328GTB just ahead of Richard Priors 348ts. Nice to see our gentleman driver Andrew Duncan out here with his 328GTS, he finished a few hundredths ahead of John Marshall's similar car.
Round 6 took place in Scotland at Doune near Stirling. This formidable and exciting hill was included in the 2004 programme to provide something really different but it proved a step too far for most of the regular FHCC runners. It is even a fair way from Barnards Castle for our long distance runner Chris Butler, and Jon Goodwin from near Stoke on Trent, and it was even further for the ever keen Richard Prior. Club Director Christian Mineeff, no stranger to Doune, was conveniently on hand and he was able to provide the necessary instruction on how to get up this hill properly. A small entry then, but a great battle ensued. Three practices were taken and Chris Butler was fastest with his F355. On the officials Jon Goodwin edged his 355 half a second ahead of Butler who had spun out on his first run. Richard Prior was right there with his 348 going really strongly just a quarter second back from the more powerful F355. Pity about the small entry - they had a great time otherwise!
The first of the two Loton Park rounds, on July 10th, was another well supported meeting, though it was a pity about the weather that was wet on and off. Loton is another Goodwin stronghold and on the one dry practice he was way ahead of Nick Taylor and Chris Butler. In the afternoon runs Jon took the class on the first dry run, though short of his class record. Chris Butler moved his F355 ahead of Taylor's Mondial but it was Nick, very close to the 355s, who significantly took the maximum championship points. Richard Prior could do nothing about all this with his 348 as he slipped to sixth behind Mike Spicer's 328GTB. Andy Grier made his first appearance of the season and his first visit to Loton Park with the Sally Maynard-Smith 328GTS, managing to just get the better of 308GTS driver Barry Wood.
On then to Wiltshire for Round 8 later in July at Gurston Down, where the weather was much nicer and most of the serious runners were out in force. Another scratch win for Jon Goodwin – he had the only F355 there and simply outgunned the opposition to finish nearly a second ahead of Nick Taylor’s Mondial 3.4t. Richard Allen (328GTB) was just five hundredths behind Nick, with Mike Spicer's 328 in close company. Richard Prior could manage no better than sixth and, even more surprisingly, Geoff Dark, usually a front runner at Gurston was down in seventh. Marco Pullen inevitably is new to all these venues and consequently at some disadvantage. Out of his 308GTS, he was now armed with a Mondial 3.4t, and finished just ahead of the F355 of Philip Whitehead. Barry Wood and Jos van de Perre were closely matched with their 308’s until Barry got the edge on the final run. Now just beyond the seasons half way mark the cumulative points chart was looking interesting, with early leader Richard Prior tied on 106 with Jon Goodwin. Geoff Dark was third with Nick Taylor coming up fast on the rails.
Back again at Loton Park on 1st August, where things opened up for the class win when Goodwin forgot to get his entry in! This now looked like a pushover for Loton expert Geoffrey Rollason with his 360 Modena and sure enough he headed the practice time sheet. A fourteen car Ferrari entry included just about everyone you would expect, except Nick Taylor who was off on circuit racing duries. The weather was good and so were Chris Butler, second fastest with his F355, and Richard Prior next with the 348. Mike Spicer had escaped unscathed from a huge off with his 328GTB in practice and went more prudently thereafter. On the competitive runs Chris Butler proved to be the star of the day with an amazingly quick time not far short of the class record that netted him 20 points as well as the class win. Geoffrey Rollason was unable to respond as he struggled with his paddle shift and had to make do with second overall ahead of Richard Allen's 550 Maranello. Geoff Dark, his 308GTB working well here, was fourth, heading the 348ts of a disappointed Richard Prior. Further back John Dobson was going strongly in what was to be his last outing with the GT4 he has campaigned for so many years.
The big guns were out again at Curborough in mid-August and the weather was good enough for some fast times. Another large class featured all the championship front runners and it was Jon Goodwin who took charge from the outset with the 355 leading the practice times by a big margin. Chris Butler was nearest with his similar car but over a second adrift, and then Nick Frost (348GTC) and Richard Prior (348ts) tied on identical times. On the competitive runs Goodwin was in even more devastating form, knocking his own class record for six, collecting maximum points and the class win – a “Triple”! A fine drive by Frost took second not very far behind, ahead of Butler. After that it was very close with Prior, Allen and Taylor all within a tenth of a second, taking seventeen, fifteen and thirteen points respectively. Chris Hitchman (F355) and Mike Spicer (328GTB) were just one hundredth apart ahead of Geoff Dark with Peter Hitchman next with his 360 Modena. Lorraine may have finished thirteenth, but in this company with Geoff Dark ninth that’s not so bad.
And so to September and Prescott, where superb weather but a smaller entry than expected produced another great contest, especially for the class win and the twenty points. Theoretically Prior, Goodwin, Taylor and Dark were all in with a chance for the championship at this stage but Nick, with several maximum scores to hand, looked to be in a strong position whilst Jon with only one 20 pointer less so. Richard Prior with some disappointing results of late, desperately needed a good result here and to be ahead of Taylor too. After three practices on Saturday Jon Goodwin had the lead with his F355, but Nick Taylor was really flying with the Mondial less than a second behind closely followed by Richard Prior's 348. Geoffrey Rollason's 360 Modena was up there too but once again he was unhappy with its gear-shifting and withdrew. On Sunday Goodwin was fastest on the first run with Nick Taylor very close and Prior a little out of touch. Big drama on the final run though, as Richard Prior put in a sensational run to close within two hundredths of a second of Goodwin for second in class, taking the twenty points off Nick Taylor at the same time. Quite remarkably, just a quarter of a second covered these first three.
A week later it was back to Yorkshire for the second Harewood, where yet another big Ferrari class featured no less than six F355s, and a guest appearance of very experienced hillclimber Christian Mineeff in Gary Culver's formula classic 328GTB. The weather was good but the track not quite up to speed in practice as Goodwin showed the way with Prior next ahead of Frost. All the signs were there for an exciting contest in the afternoon runs when many Ferrari drivers were to clock their best-ever times here. Jon Goodwin took the lead on the first run comfortably ahead of Nick Frost. Richard Prior looked good for the twenty points as he put in a cracking run, his fastest here yet to close within a couple of hundredths of Frost, and it was Chris Butler next with his F355 as Nick Taylor went off course to fall out of contention. The big drama came on the final run as Goodwin, looking fairly safe for the class win, went a little faster. But it was not to be, Nick Frost took the 348GTC up in his best ever time here, edging just ahead of Goodwin to take the class win. Equally sensational was Nick Taylor, he took the big Mondial up in an amazing time to eclipse Prior and close right in on Goodwin and Frost – a sure fire twenty pointer then for Nick! Richard went slower this time, but a bunch of 355 pilots all produced their best times here - Chris Butler, Chris Hitchman, Philip Whitehead and Peter Hitchman in that order. Christian was just ahead of this group in fifth overall and well pleased with his return to the hills. Geoff Dark, Mike Spicer and Christopher England, were really close too, just a tenth of a second apart. Marco Pullen (Mondial 3.4t) and Jolyon Harrison (328GTS) were also within a tenth of each other too, whilst John Dobson, out now in his 328GTB, just pipped Peter Rogerson (F355).
Less than a week later it was back to the West Country and Longleat where the weather was suspect from the start. Nick Taylor, having pocketed another twenty points at Harewood, could clinch the championship here if he got a maximum score. The practice runs were sort of dry though grip was not in abundance. As seems to be the norm Jon Goodwin rushed off to the top of the practice chart from Chris Butler, these two F355s ahead of the Taylor Mondial and Prior 348 which were on near identical times. Philip Whitehead tangled with some of the Marquis of Bath's horticulture in practice and decided to just take the one competitive run, and carefully at that. Very wise as it transpired, when it started to rain lunchtime and the course was lethal thereafter. An amazed and delighted Nick Taylor was fastest on the first run and by a couple of seconds too, from Goodwin and Prior. Then came the final run and a daring and very skilful Chris Butler zoomed his F335 past this lot to win the class very convincingly. But Nick Taylor was again formidable, going yet faster than his first run to take second in class, the twenty points and win the 2004 Ferrari Hill Climb Championship! Jon Goodwin and Richard Prior were just a half second back and a couple of hundredths apart – all very exciting considering the track conditions.
The final 2004 round at Curborough attracted another
good entry, though the weather looked discouraging as the meeting got
under way. There were all the makings of another needle match between
the star players, and the first and only dry practice run had Jon Goodwin
(F355) holding a slim lead from Nick Taylor (Mondial 3.4t). Richard Prior
(348ts) was right there, just a fraction off Taylor, as was Nick Frost
(348GTC), and Chris Butler (F355) – a half second covering the lot!
Goodwin kept the lead on the first competitive run but this time it was
Richard Prior in second, seven hundredths back, then Frost and Taylor,
with Geoff Dark (308GTB) now ahead of Butler. Richard Prior looked a happy
man – taking the last twenty points of the season would not dislodge
Taylor, but he would go home with a warm feeling! But once again some
big drama was to unfold as Nick Frost moved in to the lead, well ahead
of Goodwin's first time, on the final run. Then Nick Taylor rather unkindly
took two-hundredths of a second off Richard to greedily snaffle the remaining
twenty points! Jon Goodwin running last went quite a lot faster too, and
rather luckily for him, finished up one hundredth of a second ahead of
Nick Frost. The conditions through all this were very wet and the closeness
of these results is amazing and a fitting end to the most competitive
Finally, our thanks are due as always to the organising clubs, officials and marshals who make this fine sport possible. If you are an FOC member and fancy joining in the fun, you can get in touch via the website or the Club Office. We are repeating our successful Curborough Tuition Day for newcomers to the sport on 25 May, so keep your eyes on this site for further details.
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