12 Aug Munkebjerg hillclimb is a real steal of a deal
Munkebjerg hillclimb is a real steal of a deal
Hillclimbing may be at the cheaper end of motorsport. But the fun is simply priceless. I know. I just tried it for the very first time last weekend.
For some the word “Denmark” might conjure up images of Viking settlements in fiords walled in by mighty rock walls and snow-capped mountains. Sorry, that’s Norway you’re thinking of. Denmark is flat like a beagle puppy on the E45 during rush hour.
In fact the only supersized thing is probably the Danish ego and feeling of self-importance. So it’s hardly surprising that every little bump here is named a mountain. In fact the highest hill in Denmark – though men in stained parkas will argue otherwise – is called Himmelbjerget, literally ‘Sky Mountain’.
The name has its roots in the old sagas. So it’s hard to say whether it was meant in all earnestness. Maybe – just maybe – those Viking forefathers were nothing but ironical proto-hipsters and Lindisfarne was just a joke that went slightly awry.
My point is that those mushroom munching and nun raping forefathers of mine left behind an impressive amount of “mountains” here in flat Denmark. Which is great. Because wherever there’s a mountain, there will be hillclimbs. Even in car-hating Switzerland where motor racing is officially outlawed.
The concept behind a hillclimb is very simple. You race up a hill against the clock. That’s it really. It’s one of the oldest forms of motorsport. And it’s one of the least expensive. Because all you need to do is kiss your spouse goodbye, get in your regular car, drive to the event, race like mad and then you simply drive back home. How brilliant is that? You don’t need slicks, stiffer suspension, sleek trailers or sexy pit girls. In the entry classes all you need is a car, a helmet, a trial license and of course love, as The Beatles keep reminding us.
So is it any fun, you might ask? And I’m sure glad you did, because I just spend two days finding out at Munkebjerg Hillclimb. Now Monk’s Mountain is neither a mountain nor settled by monks. But there is a 1,800 metre uphill track with a total rise of a dizzying 60 metres. And that’s more than enough for a few good laughs and scares.
Munkebjerg Hillclimb consists of 2 trial runs and 3 runs that count towards your overall time. I was in a 15 car class for unmodified street cars along with a Ferrari 308, a Lancia Delta and several Peugeot 205s in various degree of rally trim. My goals were quite modest: 1) bring the car home again, 2) beat that Ferrari and 3) clock a time below 1:15.
There I was. At the starting line. Ready for my first run on a track I didn’t know. Staring at the 5 red lights that went out in one second intervals, while I tried to hold the RPMs steady at 4,000. Lights out! I dumped the clutch and got off without too much wheel spin. First gear, second gear, third gear and then the first right hand corner came up so very, very quickly.
I slammed the brakes too late, shifted down to second, entered the corner with too much speed and had a slow exit which in this case wasn’t that bad. Because immediately after the first bend comes the really scary bit: A narrow stone bridge spans the tight road, leaving very little room for error. So it was only when I was certain that the car was pointed in the right direction that I slammed the throttle down, shifted up to third and made the short run up to the casino corner.
Aptly named after its Monte Carlo counterpart, this is a second gear left-hander hairpin. It turns more than 180 degree and starts quite open before it tightens. So once again I entered with far too much speed in a typical rookie mistake. The corner seemed to go on for ages before I could once more step on the gas and exit the turn with a twitch from the rear end.
The casino corner is followed by a right hander which also tightens a bit. After that it is a fairly easy run through the last 3 corners and past the goal line. Keeping in style, I managed to bodge every single corner by breaking too late and so I entered them with too much speed.
Foto: Brian Bernberg.
My goal was to end the day by doing a run in less than 1:15. So I was pleasantly surprised when the clock for the first run showed 1:13 despite all the mistakes I made. That’s a testimony to the 911 engine rather than to the skills of the driver.
On the second run I forced myself to enter the corners really slowly in order to exit them quicker. And despite a bodged gear shift it paid off with a one second improvement to 1:12. Rather pleased with myself I set a new goal: Do a run in less than 1:10 and – for the sake of old rivalry – beat the red Ferrari 308.
By now I was on fire. I was hooked. The very first trial run had honestly been scary. Things were happening very quickly on a very narrow and windy road with absolutely nothing but a concrete barrier to stop you from fire-balling into the woods. But after the second run the terror had been replaced by pure adrenaline and a huge grin on my face.
Then the real race started. The next 3 runs would count towards the overall score for the day. After the first one I was feeling quite good about myself. Everything seemed to have gone okay and I was sure I had improved my time again. So the disappointment was huge when the clock showed 1:13. Thankfully that improved later on.
In between the runs there’s plenty of time to walk around and talk to some of the other drivers about their cars, their race experiences and their goals for the day. This was my first hillclimb, but judging from the participants, hillclimbers are a chatty and helpful bunch. Of course most are hugely competitive as well, but most people I spoke with really compete with themselves, looking to improve their times, rather than they compete against the rest of the field.
My next run was a lot better and I clocked in at 1:10. Now I really needed to calm myself, because the race virus told me to get out there and push even harder. So it was a bit of an inner struggle to persuade myself to take it easy on the third and final run. No reason to wreck the car just because I suddenly felt like Sebastian Vettel.
But all good intentions seem to fade once you put that helmet on and watch those 5 red lights count down the seconds. I pushed a bit harder through the casino corner this time. Despite a bit of oversteer at the end it paid off when I finished the final run for the day in 1:09. That a 4 second improvement for the day, and I managed to pass the Ferrari by half a second overall. Best of all: The car was still in just as excellent a condition as when I started the day, so I could tick off all 3 objectives for the weekend.
Would I do it again? Heck yeah! A full day may be a lot to time spend for a total drive time of 6-7 minutes compared to, say, a track day. But that doesn’t matter. Because the scariness (read: fun) factor of those narrow roads is much higher. The race against the clock is intense. And the camaraderie and vibe is great.
So don’t hesitate. Look for your nearest hillclimb event and apply today. Danes can start here: HMS.dk
For those of you interested in how a fast run of Munkebjerg Hillclimb is, please take a look at last year’s winner:
Foto: Brian Bernberg.