David Coveney

Competing in Your First Sprint or Hillclimb

I’m often asked by people how to start competing in sprinting, and the reality is fairly simple. This information also applies, by and large, to entering many other events which don’t require a special license – eg, trials, autotesting, navigation rallies and so on.

First, find an event with a local club. In the North West I can heartily recommend the Liverpool Motor Club – one of the most professionally run clubs around. They run four events in the region: three sprints at Aintree, Liverpool, and a hillclimb at Loton Park, Shropshire. They also run two trackdays which are a great way of gaining track time on a budget. To find a club near you you should look on the MSA website where you’ll find lots of information on clubs, regional associations (which usually maintain a calendar of events) and events running around the country.

Then you should contact the club and see what events still have spaces. Popular events at the big circuits tend to fill up quickly so you may need to plan ahead. If the price and availability is fine, then the club can send you the entry form for an MSA competition licence. This licence should cost no more than about £50, and usually less, depending on what categories you want to compete in. Full race licences cost a bit more and you’ll also need to arrange a simple medical test with your doctor (£45 to £80 depending on the doc). If you wish you can actually complete and pay for the form on the day of the event – but watch out for preparation as you won’t have had a chance to read through the blue book of rules that the MSA send you.

elise_on_dynoPreparing the car

Obviously I’m assuming you have one to use! It’s not unknown for people to enter events using rented cars from Avis and the like, but personally I’d not recommend it and if you have a serious accident they’ll be unimpressed. I’m also assuming that your interest is in starting with a road car. If you have a race car to enter you probably know a lot of the following anyway.
There are a few things to sort out – sadly not much is detailed on the MSA website but I’ll link to detail where possible.

  1. Decent tyres – the more you spend on tyres, the faster you’ll go as a rule, but to start with ordinary good quality tyres are just fine. I use Bridgestone S03s. The club will usually be happy to advise on which tyres are suitable for the class of car you’re driving. As each club can have different rules (eg, some allow any road-legal tyre, whereas others specify the tyre must come from the infamous MSA List 1.a).
  2. A timing strut – you’ll need to mount a strut to the front of your car for the timing beams used in hillclimbs and sprints. Details of how to make a strut are on Steve Heath’s Page.
  3. Yellow tape wrapped around the positive battery terminal, for easy identification in case the battery needs to be disconnected quickly after an accident.
  4. A race suit – buy one from any motorsport suppliers, like Demon Tweeks. They start at around £60 for something respectable though I prefer a good multi-layer Nomex based suit (around £200 upwards) rather than the basic clubmans suits you can buy. After all, if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself in a rare fire you’ll appreciate the extra protection.
  5. A helmet – you can use a good quality motorbike helmet but do bear in mind that it may not have the fireproofing of one specifically designed for car use. There are some other differences too. I do use a motorbike helmet, but that’s partly because I’m a biker and already have enough helmets lying around. If it’s not already MSA approved then the scrutineer at the event will check the helmet and attach an MSA sticker if it’s suitable. You’ll be charged £1 for this.
  6. A sticker around the ignition barrel, in white with clear black writing, with an arrow showing the direction in which to turn the ignition in order to turn the ignition off.
  7. Some stick-on numbers (you could paint them on for all the officials care, but I don’t recommend it) for your race numbers. In my first event I’d assumed they were supplied, so I had to make some up with bits of tape. Technically the numbers should be on a contrasting background but in the road classes people don’t worry so much.
  8. On some older cars you may need to add a supplementary spring to your throttle to make sure that if your throttle spring fails, the throttle will still close. BUT…be careful, do it badly and you can make the throttle more likely to jam. I think more accidents are caused by this regulation than are prevented. You’ll find that most production cars with fuel injection don’t need this extra spring anyway.
  9. And some race sense! You’ll need to be sensible enough not to crash, and committed enough to go quickly. Don’t worry if you’re slow to start with – it’ll take time and practice before you can win against the country’s best.

Coming soon – what happens on your first sprint, when to arrive, what will happen, and what to do.

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