Pirelli Ferrari Hillclimb Championship

Round Round 12


12 October 2019

1st Dave Snelson (F430)
2nd Chris Hitchman (F355GTS)
3rd Paul Booth (458 Spider)
report by John Swift
photography by John Swift

A battle royal was in prospect for the final round of the 2019 Championship, at Curborough on the 12th of October.  Perhaps it wouldn’t go down in history like those of Naseby, Edge Hill or Otterburn, but a notable battle it was sure to be.  The two principal protagonists – Dave Snelson and Mike Spicer – had been locked in combat for the previous 11 rounds.  They had come to Curborough almost level pegging, with Dave just two slender points ahead of Mike.  It was inconceivable that either driver would willingly concede defeat at this final remaining skirmish; it would have to be a last, unblinking, balls-out effort.

The course at Curborough for this sprint contest was the ‘Two Lapper’, a layout that we last used some six years ago.  It perhaps favours power over dexterity compared with the more popular ‘Crossover’ arrangement.  Some competitors thought it could be a test of memory as they feared they might, out of habit, take the wrong direction in the middle of the first lap (none did).

Of course the day wasn’t only about the two Ferrari drivers at the top of the Championship table.  There were other scores to settle.  Mark Wibberley was under threat from Richard Preece as to who would be the master of the 360 Modenas, and local-man Chris Hitchman – who knows the track like the back of his hand – was expected to be a threat to everyone with his scarlet F355GTS.  Pauline Goodwin (328GTB) was high up the leader board and the leading lady driver, but this time was challenged by Lorraine Hitchman in her potentially quicker 360.  Paul Booth’s 458 Spider was the most youthful Ferrari in the class while Mark Hargreaves’s 1978 308GT4 was the most mature.  In all, we fielded 11 cars, making the Ferrari class the second biggest at this HSA meeting.

The weather prophets had forecast a dry day which, in a period of seemingly continual rain, was a relief.  A nasty accident early in the day on the southbound M1 had closed the motorway, causing Peter Rogerson (360) to be an unavoidable late arrival although he managed to sneak into first practice.

P1 saw most drivers treating the reportedly slightly slippery track with respect, although the two fastest, Snelson (63.61) and Spicer (67.36) were clearly on song straight off the blocks.  Richard Preece was well over a second slower than rival Mark Wibberley due to an inexplicably slow 65mph over the finish line (Mark was timed at 92mph).  “I backed off,” he explained.  “You don’t want to show your hand to the opposition.”

Times were much quicker in P2; the early morning condensation had evaporated and grip levels were obviously coming up to normal. Snelson was again the fastest with an almost identical time to his first effort; Pauline dipped under 70 seconds, Chris Hitchman stopped the clocks at 65.88 to put his F355 into second spot, and Paul Booth shot across the finishing line at a stirring 107mph.  Mike Spicer, trying very hard, locked up his 328 at the Molehill wiggle on the first lap and then went off track at the Fradley Hairpin, resulting in an ignominious ‘Fail’.

The break for lunch allowed Spicer to carry out some minor repairs to the nose of his car and perhaps re-concentrate on what he had to do in the afternoon, when it really mattered. Dave Snelson admitted to feeling unwell, which is no surprise considering the number of redeye flights he has made to the US in recent weeks.  Otherwise, everything seemed to be normal, and the busy Curborough diner was a popular port of call for a hearty Staffordshire burger and mug of tea.

The Ferrari class was the last one on the card, so it was quite some time before the cars were out for the first of their two official timed runs.  Booth led off with a workmanlike 66.55, followed by a determined Pauline who typically shot off the start line in a class-beating 0-64ft time of 2.43 secs.  Chris Hitchman clocked a very capable-looking 65.65 to take the scratch lead while Mark Hargreaves continued with his ever-improving times with a 72.65 – not bad when you consider it was his first outing of the season with the GT4.

Lorraine H. just failed to equal Pauline’s time by a twitch (0.36 sec) and Preece stopped teasing us by crossing the finish line at a serious 95mph to record a splendid 66.80.  Dave Snelson was a little slower than he had been in practice while Mike Spicer posted an identical time to his P1 figure. Finally, Mark Wibberley failed to better the Preece 360 time, again flagging up 95mph at the finish which suggests all the 360 Modenas are stuck on that finishing speed at Curborough, regardless of who is driving them.

And then we came to the final runs.  Anne Swift, our busy Championship Co-ordinator, had placed the results board for all to see.  Fingers danced over computer keys to work out what needed to be done to achieve ultimate success.  The tense faces of the drivers reflected the seriousness of the moment.  Total concentration, no errors, no early braking, max attack.  It was all crystal clear.

Booth’s time flashed up: slightly slower.  Was the track temperature cooling and affecting all R2 times?  Pauline annoyingly out-braked herself into Flagpole Corner and ruined her run.  Then Hargreaves got out of shape at Molehill and spun his GT4.  What was happening?

Service returned to normal with a faultless performance by Chris Hitchman.  His time of 64.46 was to be the second fastest of the class and pocketed the full 20 Championship points.  Lorraine H. was untidy this time (73.34) but father-in-law Peter (F430) got his head down and recorded his best of the day, as did Peter Rogerson.

Then it was the turn of the two stars of the show.  Dave Snelson was a soupçon slower than his practice runs, at 63.66, while Mike Spicer made no mistakes to post 66.62.  It was just enough to score 17 points to his rival’s 15. Out came the calculators and the result we were all waiting for was that Dave and Mike had finished up with exactly the same number of points.  It was a unique situation in the history of the Ferrari Hillclimb Championship, and Anne needed to carefully and accurately establish what the result would be having followed the prescriptions of the Regulations.

Unfortunately, excitement got the better of one person, who thoughtlessly dashed off to the commentators box to tell them that Mike Spicer had won the Championship, even while the last competitor was taking his run.  This fake news unimpressed the Motorsport UK steward and we were appropriately reprimanded.  The lesson, we hope, has been learned that only our appointed Club officials are empowered to manage the Championship.

When the dust had settled on all this kerfuffle, and the outcome of the event had been properly assessed in accord with the rules, it was declared that the Championship was a tie, and that the 2019 winners are jointly Dave Snelson and Mike Spicer. I doubt they will ever forget this Saturday at Curborough.  Hats off to them both!

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