Hill Climb - Sébastien Petit, a prophet in his own land

18.04.18

Sébastien Petit’s win at St-Jean du Gard is a victory that will go down in history for having beaten the Italian firm favourites Merli and Faggioli in the combined final classification.

2018_fia_euro_hill_climb_round_1_st_jean_fra_s_petit_photo_jb_denis_.jpg

The FIA European Hill Climb Championship has already taken an unexpected turn, with the classification of the first event having revealed an unusual winner in the person of Frenchman Sébastien Petit. This year Petit, the reigning French Champion, is eligible to take part in both his national Championship and the European Championship. In recent years he raced a Norma with a 4-litre BMW engine, specific to the French regulations and not eligible for the European Championship because its cylinder capacity was greater than 3000 c. Thanks to a change to the regulations of the French Championship, now aligned on the FIA regulations for prototypes, he is now entering a Norma M20FC with a V8 3-litre Mugen engine. Finishing twice in second place during the race climbs at Col St Pierre last Sunday, Petit demonstrated a regularity that his rivals were lacking, to the point where, when the times for the two racing heats were added together, the final victory fell to him!

In the first round, ten times European Champion Simone Faggioli managed to set the best time, establishing a new absolute record for the course, whereas Christian Merli, erring on the side of caution, was 2 seconds and 7 tenths slower. It is true that the drivers set about their racing heat on the Sunday morning without any real reference points on a dry track, as the practice heats the day before had been run under heavy rain.

Merli picked up the pace on the second climb, breaking the record that had just been set by Faggioli. But Merli’s final rush was not enough to enable him to beat Sébastien Petit in the combined times classification. As for Faggioli, he made one of his rare errors and struck some straw bales on the inside of a bend. Although he managed to carry on racing to the finish, the accumulation of straw in the front wheel arch made him lose around 5 seconds. Faggioli ended up in third place – and second in Group E2-SC behind Petit. The points Faggioli lost out on here could prove very significant at the end of the season, especially since he will sacrifice at least one Championship event in June when he will go to the United States to take part in the legendary Pikes Peak hill climb.

For their European debuts driving an Osella FA30, Italy’s Diego De Gasperi and Austria’s Christoph Lampert gave quite similar performances and were classified fourth and fifth respectively. Popular Spaniard Javier Villa did a great job in his little BRC 53 with a 1000 cc turbocharged Suzuki engine: he pulled off a magnificent 6th place, ahead of all the F3000 and F3 cars! Placing 11th in the final classification, Andrea Bormolini took the victory in Group CN.

Unsurprisingly, the youngster Pierre Courroye outrageously dominated Category 1, even placing his McLaren MP4 12C GT3 ahead of the best three cars in Group E2-SH, namely the Porsche GT2 of Nicolas Werver, the Audi TT R DTM of Vladimir Vitver and the Renault RS01 of Philippe Schmitter.

In Group N, a tiny difference of 281 thousandths of a second handed the victory to Italian Antonino Migliuolo, leaving Czech Tomas Vavrinec to settle for second place. Lastly, in Group A, Lukas Vojacek took an easy win in his Subaru Impreza over the Honda Civic Type R cars of Italy’s Tonino Cossu and Luca Zuurbier.

Many of the drivers in the European Championship left France for Austria on Sunday evening, knowing that they did not have time to go home first as the second round of the season, the Rechbergrennen, is to take place this coming weekend at Tülwitz in Austria.

(Photo credit: @JB Denis)