Merli on the Cusp of FIA European Hill Climb Glory in Slovenia | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

Merli on the Cusp of FIA European Hill Climb Glory in Slovenia

01.09.22

Christian Merli can claim Category 2 title at Ilirska Bistrica, penultimate round of the 2022 FIA EHC season

Production-based Category 1 cars bring fierce competition for titles across all classes

Historic Hill Climb Championship contenders roll out style and speed in Slovenia

The FIA European Hill Climb Championship is coming to the boil, with the sustained level of success being achieved by the front-runners in both Category 1 for production-based ‘Closed Cars’ and Category 2 for sports-prototype ‘Open Cars’ making for high overall scores as the field enters the Ilirska Bistrica this weekend (September 3-4) in Slovenia.

Unsurprisingly, the Category 2 cars for thoroughbred competition machinery have dominated the fastest times at each of the seven rounds to date, with Italy’s Christian Merli having claimed seven victories overall in his Osella PA 30 contesting Group D/E2-SS. 

Merli’s success in the most powerful Category 2 division has seen his nearest challenger in the points rise from the CN/E2-SE division in the form of Czech hero Petr Trnka. So far, Trnka has been second to Merli on four occasions in the 2022 season; in Portugal, the Czech Republic, Poland and Switzerland.

In Slovenia, Merli only has to start in the practice sessions to be crowned champion. Even if he should he fail to take part in either this weekend’s event or the final round, the Buzetski dani in Croatia on September 13-14, there is only the slenderest margin for Trnka to aim for.

With three EHC Category 2 titles already to his credit in 2018, 2019 and 2021, Merli’s run of success in the series has only been interrupted by the hiatus brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Last season, second place on the demanding Ilirska Bistrica course was sufficient to put the title effectively beyond reach of his nearest rival, 11-time EHC champion, Simone Faggioli.

With Faggioli absent from this year’s championship, Merli’s closest contenders in Slovenia are likely to be Trnka and Germany’s Alexander Hin, who has finished as runner-up in the D/E2-SS division three times to the Italian so far in 2022.

The course at Ilirska Bistrica is one of the shortest of the season, measuring just over five kilometres and climbing from 425 metres above sea level at the start to 580 metres at the finish. This puts a premium on every fraction of a second that can be won or lost through the series of 14 corners, with the outright record currently standing at 1minute 59.6 seconds.

While Merli may be dominating Category 2 so far in 2022, the battles among the Category 1 divisions have also seen several drivers accumulating huge scores, with all to race for overall and within each Group, numbered 1-5 in order of the most modification and performance.

Group 1 has been dominated by Karl Schagerl with his wild Volkswagen Golf Rallye. Three wins from the first four events put the Austrian well out in front but rescuing a second place finish at the Trento-Bondone in July after engine trouble has led to a pair of third place finishes behind the Ford Fiesta of Poland’s Sebastian Stec, winner of his home event, and the incredible little Fiat X1/9 of Italy’s Manuel Dondi in Italy and Switzerland.

In Group 2, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX of Croatian ace Tomislav Muhvić heads the standings, having also put three wins on the board early in the season. Since then Muhvić has sought to defend his lead by taking the maximum points possible while other contenders have battled to the individual victory, including Giusepe Aragona (Italy), Karol Krupa (Poland) and Nicolas Werver (Switzerland).

Group 3 sees a pitched battle between the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX of Italian Antonino Migliuolo against the Hyundai i30 TCR of Macedonian Igor Stefanovski. The difference between them is only their lowest score so far, with Stefanovski having failed to finish in Spain, whereas Migliuolo still managed to bring home 8 points at the Ecce Homo Sternberk in May as his lowest score.

While all three of the top Groups in performance terms have seen big scores being built, the overall lead in Category 1 is held by the Group 4 points leader, Montenegro’s Vasilije Jaksic, who has powered his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX to five wins and two second places so far this season. The big question now is whether he can hold on to take the overall Category 1 title for the first time.

In Group 5 for two-wheel-drive cars it is the Renault Clio Sport of Poland’s Maciej Serafin which has set the pace all year, although one or two mechanical dramas have intervened through the middle of the season, two wins in a row at the last two events in Poland and Switzerland have restored his dominance in the class.

Alongside the championship contenders and local heroes of the EHC, the Ilirska Bistrica will also see the cars and stars of the FIA Historic Hill Climb Championship in action. With three rounds gone and two remaining, the HHC is divided into five categories with a Nations Cup also uniting the friendly competitors in a ‘Ryder Cup of motorsport’.

Marcel Benik arrives on home soil in Slovenia with his BMW 2002 eager to close the gap on Category 1 points leader Harald Mössler’s Daren. With only seven points between them, the prospects are good of a battle down to the wire.

Rear-engined cars have dominated Category 2 with the advantage being held by Italian Brando Motti’s sonorous Porsche 911 Carrera RS but facing stern competition from the Škoda 130 RS of Czech racer Peter Strnad. Porsches also proliferate in Category 3, with Giorgio Tessore’s 911 SC holding out against the fabulous 935 of Jean-Marie Almeras, who won the overall EHC title with this same car twice in 1979-80.

Piero Lottini heads Category 4 for sports-prototype machinery at the wheel of his Osella PA9/90. With two wins from three starts the Italian is in a dominant position, having only been bested by fellow countryman Mario Massiglia’s similar car at the Trento-Bondone in July.

In the open wheel Category 5 it is Frenchman Jean-Marc Debeaune who holds a narrow advantage over the MYXs of Slovenian František Kmet and Czech Aleš Gänsdorfer, with Kmet sure to be pushing the home ground advantage this weekend.

All of which means that Italy holds a strong lead in the Nations Cup over the Czech Republic, with France currently third in the standings ahead of Slovakia by just a single point. With practice runs on Saturday and competitive action on Sunday, the penultimate round of this year’s premier hill climb series in Europe will surely provide a memorable spectacle.

For event news and coverage please visit HERE (https://ghd-ilirskabistrica.com/track/

For full standings and championship information please visit HERE (https://www.fia.com/events/historic-hill-climb-championship/season-2022/2022-standings

Live timing of the event will be available HERE (https://fiahillclimb.chronomoto.hu/ehc2022/index.php)