23 Jul 2017

2017 Classic Nostalgia at Shelsley Walsh Review

Shelsley Walsh hillclimb in Worcestershire is the world's oldest motorsport venue in continual use. It's a 1000 yard long ribbon of tarmac which twists and turns uphill from the paddock to the finish line at the top. It opened in 1905 and the record for the fastest run was set in 2008 by Martin Groves in a Gould single seater.

The record run time is 22.58 seconds, which is barely believable when you stand trackside. The track is narrow and has no run off areas, and it's steep - it rises 328 feet over it's course.

Classic Nostalgia is a weekend of four wheeled fun where the paddock is expanded from the usual single seater and classic hill climb fare to encompass other cars, in this case rally cars and a tribute to Donald Campbell and his Napier Bluebird land speed record car from 1929.

If you've never been before you'll be surprised by the size of the place. A hillclimb is necessarily compact but Shelsley Walsh feels particularly bijou. The car parks are right next to the bottom of the track and then it's just a short walk to the track and paddock.

But before you even get there you'll gawp at the lines and lines of classics, sports and super cars, polished and cleaned and prepared by their owners who gather together in an eclectic mix of owner's clubs.

After you've walked up and down and enjoyed the club owner's cars you're at the track. You walk the gauntlet of a dozen food stands - quality fayre here, no typical motorsport grey tea and undefined meat burger - and you're there, trackside. You can hear, but not see quite yet, a car pull away from the line every twenty seconds or so.

Turn left and head to the paddock. If you're lucky, as we were, you'll have access to the Stratstone village with its own grandstand and marquees (with a live acoustic band!) and toilets (and a static display of a lightweight E-Type and Ferrari F40). As it turns out this is a nice to have rather than a have to have because, unlike the majority of UK motorsport venues, Shelsley Walsh is a rather civilised place with first rate facilities.

As mentioned previously the food stalls are a cut above. But then you notice the lack of litter, the closely cut grass, the cleanliness of the loos, the politeness of everyone...

The paddock is a collection of tin roofed, wooden framed, open sided garages which are open to anyone to walk around, inspect the cars, chat to the drivers and generally soak up the atmosphere. Cars are fired up and revved, men and women in overalls and race suits amble around and cars will come and go as they enter or exit the collection area at the bottom of the hill.

And then when they line up and it is their turn to go they drive up to the line and are placed precisely by an orange suited marshal whilst another sticks a chock behind the right, rear wheel. Even the start line is steep.

And then they go, leaving behind the sight, sound and smell of a race car - petrol, fumes, rubber. Automotive nectar.

The first 300 yards looks straight but it bends subtly left and right before the first off-camber left-hand corner - Kennel. The track here is visible by those further up the hill and those who stand or sit in the public or Stratstone grandstands, but there is a hedge preventing those from the car parks seeing in.

Therefore once you've left the paddock you'll want to sprint up the hill to avoid missing any of the action.

You don't have to go far. By the time you reach the second corner, a shallow left called Crossing, you can see more than two thirds of the entire track - left all the way down almost to the start and right to the sharp left Bottom S which leads on to the sharp right Top S and then the finish line.

You can, and should, walk up and down the track, soaking up the atmosphere and watching the cars fly by.

For a 113 year old circuit the tech in use is up to date. Each car hits three timing beams and this data is displayed in real time on a large digital display which is visible to most spectators. There's no need for large TV screens because you can see almost the entire track from most places.

The cars climbing the hill at the Classic Nostalgia event ranged from Group A rally cars with serious pedigree to classic hillclimb machinery. Cars rallied by Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae and a host of  other top flight drivers wowed the crowds as they ran up the hill several times.

You stand or sit and watch as cars come and go and time flies by. You don't need to elbow your way through four deep crowds just to catch a glimpse. You'll generally find a bit of clear fence where you can see up and down the hill. You feel close to the action almost anywhere and, as a motorsport fan, you'll be absorbed by the sight and sound of race cars being driven to the limit for just a few dozen seconds - and then the next car comes along.

Shelsley Walsh exists as a modern reminder of a bygone age, which celebrates fast and glamorous and glorious race cars from the 1920s to the 2000s. It feels elegant and genteel and friendly whilst never being a pastiche. Rather it is just about the most genuine grassroots celebration of motorsport I've encountered in the UK.

With thanks to Stratstone who provided me with a pair of tickets for the day.

Matt Hubbard