Faggioli-Norma: a winning association (already)
Of course the victory of Simone Faggioli at this opening competition of the 2014 FIA European Hill-Climb Championship might not have been a great surprise, given that the Italian driver’s domination of the discipline over the past few years has been nothing short of breath-taking. Even more noteworthy is the fact that at Saint Jean du Gard, the quintuple Champion of Europe won his fourth consecutive victory in as many participations.
However, the reality is that this year the outcome was by no means a foregone conclusion and even the man at the centre of the action, Faggioli himself, did not consider himself to be the overwhelming favourite. For so long associated with Osella, the make with which he won his five European titles, at Saint Jean du Gard Faggioli has now begun a new working relationship with the French constructor, Norma. New car, new technical associates, little practice before this first race: the climb of the Col Saint Pierre could so easily have turned into nothing more than a warm-up session with which to break in the tools of his trade and allow the driver to get to know his new machine.
But this was not to be: right from the very first race climb, Faggioli carved his name at the top of the classification, smashing, by a whole two seconds, his own absolute record for the course, which was set twelve months ago! Also the fastest in the second leg, he finished more than 5 seconds ahead of the Osella 2 litres driven by his fellow countryman Christian Merli and more than 9 seconds ahead of the Lola F.3000 of the Swiss, Eric Berguerand. In his first European appearance behind the wheel of a Formula 3000/Nippon, the young Federico Liber announced his arrival on the scene with a promising fourth place.
“To be perfectly honest,” declared Faggioli at the finish, “we didn’t expect to perform so well right from the start. When you are driving a new car for the first time, especially one that you have not been able to test, it is only natural that you expect to have to do a certain amount of fine tuning and to have to find your bearings. The engine used in this case was actually my reserve engine from last year, which has around 30 HP than the engine we will use in the next races. Our Marangoni tyres were also a new type and they were delivered to us just before the first practice climb. This meant that everything had to be discovered. The Norma M20FC appears to be identical to those that have been racing for some time in the French Championship, but this is true only externally. Underneath the bodywork many things are different, due, in particular, to the specific mechanical implantation required and rear suspension and track made necessary by the use of the Zytek engine. In spite of this, everything worked very sweetly and nothing had to be done on the car. The only adjustment that we made between the practice and the race was to the ground clearance. I just could not have dreamt of a better entry into the fray, and I am, of course, delighted with this new association with Norbert Santos, from Norma, as well as with the new tyres with which Marangoni provided me. The car is very smooth to drive. It is narrower than the Osella FA30 and I feel that it is more agile on the very winding sectors. Its weight is also very close to the minimum limit authorised by the regulations, which is a definite plus point for its performance, despite the optimal level of safety provided by the carbon bodyshell.”
When it came to the closed cars, the Frenchman Nicolas Werver broke in a Porsche 997 Cup, which he used to great effect to dominate in GT, where he was up against the Belgian Yannick Bodson, also in a Porsche 997 Cup. At the wheel of his original Lotus, Evora Silhouette (with a double motorcycle engine!), the Czech Dan Michl won the honours in Group E2/SH, whilst his fellow countryman Jaromir Maly, and the Macedonian Igor Stefanovskiboth in a Mitsubishi Lancer, won Group A and Group N, respectively.
The second leg of the FIA European Hill Climb Championship will take place this weekend in Austria, in front of some 20 to 30,000 spectators gathered along the entire 5 km of the Rechbergrennen. No fewer than 275 drivers are expected! The event will provide the perfect backdrop for a new double duel between Faggioli and Merli, and their respective Norma and Osella. For the pretenders to the throne, the Formula 3000 contingents will be bristling with nine cars. The Osella FA30 of the Czech Milos Benes, third in 2013, will be keen to play a decisive role this internal battle. The event will also see the launch of the 2014 edition of the FIA Historic Hill Climb Championship, in which 63 cars will be competing.