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As he did in France two weeks ago, Christian Merli has made it a point of honour to match his domination of the Austrian event in the FIA European Hill Climb Championship with a new absolute record for the course.

Before Formula 1 and the DTM returned to the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg-Zeltweg, the Rechbergrennen hill climb was the motor sport event which in Austria attracted the most spectators and constituted the flagship event of the motor sport season. Even if it has now lost that privileged status, the Austrian classic, centred on the village of Tulwitz, continues to draw the crowds, who are well served by an always abundant field of diverse and varied cars. There were 240 cars in total at the start of last weekend’s event, including 87 historic cars.

Christian Merli and Simone Faggioli resumed their habitual duel in Austria. Although the two Italian drivers compete in different categories (ES22 for the first, E2-SC for the second), which are considered separately for the allocation of points in the European Championship, the fact nevertheless remains that outright victory, even if symbolic, also counts.

Merli and his Osella FA30, with its V8 Zytek engine, very clearly dominated the practice sessions on Saturday, but those who follow the competition know that Simone Faggioli (Norma M20 FC Zytek) always keeps something in reserve and never reveals his full potential during practice. Sure enough, the ten times European Champion improved his times considerably in the first race heat on Sunday; this was nevertheless to prove insufficient, with Merli setting a better time and even managing to clip two seconds off his own absolute record for the course – a performance to leave the commentators speechless.

Although unable to reproduce his perfect time of the morning, Merli again achieved the best performance in the second climb, with Faggioli only one second and six tenths behind. With each of them taking home 25 points from Austria, thanks to their respective Group wins, the two of them remain equal in the provisional classification of the European Championship.

While victory was beyond their reach, Frenchman Sébastien Petit (Norma M20FC Mugen), Austrian Christoph Lampert (Osella FA30 Zytek) and Italy’s Diego De Gasperi (Osella FA30 Zytek) fought an intense battle for the third step of the podium. The double Champion of France ended up having the last word over the local hero, by less than half a second in the combined times of the two climbs. Luxembourg’s Guy Demuth (Norma M20 FC Mugen) was unable to finish higher than sixth, through lack of experience of a course that he was discovering for the first time.

If Merli created a sensation with his extraordinary time, Austria’s Karl Schagerl also pulled out all the stops, improving the absolute record of the race for “closed” cars, with his ultra-powerful Golf Rallye TFSI-R – a car which, moreover, he placed seventh in the general classification, ahead of all the single-seaters and a fair number of prototypes. With an equally transformed Skoda Fabia, Czech Veroslav Cvrcek also produced an impressive performance, securing eighth place overall. Although currently not eligible in the European Championship as they correspond to the so-called “E1” regulations, their remarkable cars may become so next year, when the new classification of the cars according to the “Pf” Performance factor concept will be introduced.

One of the main curiosities of the 2019 edition of the Rechbergrennen was the first international appearance of Marek Rybnicek’s new Silhouette. Having already fielded a powerful Fiesta 4X4 prototype in recent years, this year the Czech is using for the first time a Silhouette with the look of a McLaren GT, with a carbon chassis and a turbocharged Mitsubishi engine under its bodywork. Improving his times considerably with each successive climb, Rybnicek finished by taking victory in Group E2-SH ahead of his compatriots Vladimir Vitver (Audi TT-R DTM) and Dan Michl (Lotus Elise), while Switzerland’s Reto Meisel, racing in Austria with his Judd-powered Mercedes SLK, had to throw in the towel after practice on account of technical problems, having set the best times in his group during the practice climbs.

As in France two weeks earlier, Marco Capucci placed his Osella PA21S Honda at the head of the Group CN cars.

Regarding the Production cars, Groups N and A were more generously represented this time, unlike the GT (won by Jan Milon and his McLaren 650S GT3). In Group N, Slovakia’s Peter Jurena headed the usual list of Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9s or 10s, ahead of Filip Saljer, Gabriela Saljerova, Antonino Migliuolo, Peter Ambruz and Tomas Vavrinec. Now driving a Renault Mégane RS, Jiri Los was classified in seventh place. Lastly, in Group A, Croatia’s Ales Prek managed to surprise the Subaru Impreza WRX of reigning Champion Lukas Vojacek on the first heat, but was pipped at the post after the second climb by barely three tenths of a second.

The caravan of drivers in the FIA European Hill Climb Championship is now preparing to make its longest journey of the season, to Portugal (Falperra, 11-12 May) and Spain (Al Fito, 18-19 May).


To consult the provisional classification of the European Championship, click here.

To access the Rechbergrennen photo gallery, click here.