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EHCC - Italians steal Category 2 glory in French hills

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Hill Climb: The first FIA European Hill Climb Championship event kicked off in France and set the scene for what promises to be an extremely high-level 2016 competition
2016 EHCC Saint-Jean-du-Gard Faggioli

Since 2011, the FIA European Hill Climb Championship opening event has always been in France, located between Saint-Jean-du-Gard and Col Saint-Pierre. The race has also been won by the same driver every year since then – Italian Simone Faggioli. As 2016 competition got underway, eight-time European Champion Faggioli endeavoured to add a ninth title to his cap to match his fellow countryman Mauro Nesti’s incredible record scored between 1975 and 1988.   

Faggioli started the campaign driving the same Norma-Zytek as last year, not the car he had prepared over the winter, which was still experiencing electronic problems during its latest testing run. Faggioli immediately took control at the first practice heat on Saturday at Saint-Jean-du-Gard, three seconds ahead of the best French driver (Nicolas Schatz), and outpacing the first of the drivers entered into the full European Championship by more than six seconds. During the second practice climb the Italian’s intentions became clear, shaving four seconds off his own personal best performance.

Despite Sunday morning drizzle things remained the same at the top of the time sheet. Faggioli went quicker still, with his closest competitor, young Italian driver Paride Macario (27 years old), eight seconds further back. Though the gap may seem huge, Macario’s performance (Osella FA30-Zytek) was commendable, since he was the only one of all the provisional top ten drivers not to have taken part in the Saint-Jean-du-Gard race before and was only just discovering the complexities of the “Corniche des Cévennes” route for the first time.     

After a few hours the track was once again dry and Faggioli dealt another major blow as Round 2 got underway setting a new record time, even faster than on the previous day. Then, for the first time in a long while in the European Championship, Faggioli faced a serious challenge. After a rather half-hearted practice run, Christian Merli made a breathtaking second climb at the wheel of his single-seater Osella FA30, powered by a RPE V8 engine – finishing the five-kilometre course only 1.8 seconds behind the leader. Even though there was little at stake for the victor by the third climb, as the race once again took place in the rain, Merli made a point by getting ahead of Faggioli by 1.1 seconds.

After the results of the two best rounds were added up, Faggioli clearly remained the fastest. As Faggioli and Merli compete in different categories (Faggioli in the 2-seater E2/SC prototype and Merli in the single-seater E2/SS category), they both left Saint-Jean-du-Gard with 25 Championship points and will have another go next weekend in Austria. While Faggioli doesn’t seem troubled by the competition in his own category, Merli will have to contend with the promising European Championship rookie Paride Macario, who put in a solid performance at Saint-Jean-du-Gard in spite of the weather conditions.  

The CN group, re-introduced as a group in its own right, was dominated by the young Andrea Bormolini at the wheel of his Osella PA21, powered by a Honda engine. The Italian anthem was also sounding at the prize-giving for the final group in Category 2, the E2/SH group for silhouette cars. Fulvio Giuliani launched a full European schedule this season, giving the public a chance to see his extraordinary Lancia Delta Evo in action. Despite being in a cold sweat on Saturday morning because of a failing gearbox, Giuliani was able to get it repaired and go on to win the competition after an exciting battle with Czech driver Vladimir Vitver’s Audi TT-R DTM.

Category 1 closed cars saw three winners of different nationalities. In Group N, Serbia's Nikola Miljkovic’s used the experience he gathered in his 2015 rookie campaign to topple Italian driver Antonio Migliuolo, who is taking on the continent’s hill climb courses for the first time this year. The gap between them was fairly narrow in France, boding well for some good battles as the season progresses. The three Group A favourites know each other well: they all have similar levels of experience, drive Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8 cars, and are always nail bitingly close in terms of performance. In the difficult conditions of this opening round, Austrian Christian Schweiger had the final say against Czech drivers Jaromir Maly and Lukas Vojacek. Lastly, in the GT Group, French driver Nicolas Werver (Porsche 997) quite clearly outpaced the Lamborghini Gallardo cars of Philippe Schmitter and Martin Jerman, in spite of his car spinning on a dry road during his second climb.

The next European meeting is scheduled for the weekend of the 23 and 24 April in Austria, and will see drivers such as Milos Benes (Osella FA30), Fausto Bormolini (who forfeited in France, as his Reynard K02 was not finished), Dan Michl (Lotus Evora V8), Renzo Napione (Reynard K02) and Joël Volluz (Osella FA30) arriving on the scene. Click here to view the full 2016 calendar