European Hill Climb Championship: A season of change

The FIA European Hill Climb Championship commences this weekend in Saint Jean du Gard, in France.

Although not totally revolutionised, the FIA European Hill Climb Championship will be marked this year by several notable developments. In terms of the calendar, the programme has changed from 13 to 12 events. From now on, each country shall host a single competition – as opposed to two in France and in Italy until 2013. In addition to the eleven countries visited last year, Poland will feature this season with a climb scheduled in Limanova in mid-June.

As for drivers and cars, the winter saw a great number of changes. Having dominated in past seasons, the Osella FA30 could be scarce in 2014. Not a single example of this Italian single-seater prototype of Group E2/SH will take the start at the event taking place this coming weekend in Saint Jean du Gard. Nevertheless, the driver who built its reputation will be among the starters in France. Five-time European Champion Simone Faggioli has left Osella to join the ranks of French team Norma, who dominated recent French Championships with their prototype M20FC. Of the same model as that driven in France by the quadruple Champion of France Nicolas Schatz, or by Sébastien Petit (with a 4-litre engine), Faggioli’s car will differentiate itself through its 3-litre Zytek engine which complies with the FIA regulations.

Since mid-season 2013, Enzo Osella has been placing great hopes in his new prototype PA2000, driven by Italian Christian Merli. The car−powered by a 2-litre Honda engine−more than makes up for its lack of power compared to the cars with greater engine capacity thanks to its unrivalled agility and significantly lower weight. In the absence of Faggioli and his FA30, Merli took the lead in the European Mont Dore event in August 2013, outstripping the 4-litre prototypes and Formula 3000s.

Still very visible with his Dallara GP2, David Hauser of Luxembourg decided to start a new chapter with Wolf, who have designed a new single-seater, closed-wheel prototype that goes by the name of GB08F1.

While the prototypes remain favourites to win, the single-seaters hold on to their dedicated followers. The Formula 3000s lie in wait, with Swiss driver Eric Berguerand, Czech driver Otakar Kramsky, French drivers Alban Thomas and Geoffrey Schatz, and  Italian Federico Liber, who will be teaming up for the first time with a Reynard K02 after his magnificent performances over the past two seasons with a small Gloria of a mere 1400cc.

As for closed cars, the category E2/SH of Silhouettes should reveal a duel between Czech driver Dan Michl’s Lotus Evora and the Porsche 911 GT2 RSR of Austrian Herbert Pregartner. Winner of the Group SH at Saint Jean du Gard in 2013, Belgian driver Yannick Bodson has swapped his Mitsubishi Lancer for a Porsche 997, which he will enter in GT. In Groups A and N, the majority of names from the previous seasons are back again, led by 2013 European Champion Tomislav Muhvic from Croatia.

The 184 drivers entered (joined by the some 30 competitors entered in the Championnat de France historique) will take part in practice climbs on Saturday 12 April and three race climbs on Sunday 13 April. The course, which is 5.3 km long, will take the tourist route called “Corniche des Cévennes”, characterised by a first section which is slow, steep and winding, followed by a panoramic road climbing at a lower gradient, but in an extremely quick succession of turns.