Euro Hillclimbing: Beaujolais Villages

Intense. That's how I'd describe the weeks following St Goueno, with a good measure of exhaustion too. It seemed there was ample time to source, repair and fit all the parts required, only to find myself loading the car onto the trailer at 2200h on Monday! On a positive note, it's been a good opportunity to learn more about the car and how to set up the geometry, although having said that it's really not an exercise I can afford to repeat this season. Not only is there the financial burden but also a logistical issue with the car now remaining in France. I will proceed with a dash of caution from now on!

Flat in fifth and sixth in parts - gulp!
Flat in fifth and sixth in parts - gulp!
Despite having burnt all my midnight oil though, I was absolutely determined to get to Beaujolais Villages come Thursday - at four kilometres it's the longest hill I've ever driven with fast sixth-gear sections, all set in amazing scenery. This is how I had pictured a European hillclimb, and the reality was even better than I'd hoped for.

I had what is becoming the usual 'will I make it' hiccup 20 miles from the Chunnel when the van lost all power and slowed to a crawl. Turning it off and on again (of course!) while rolling thankfully cured the sticky turbo problem. I was then told my ticket was invalid because the van isn't a motorhome, but I think the look of imminent physiological meltdown on my face saved the day. Up at 0700h the next morning I travelled through the Champagne region, Dijon and Besancon before the first signs of mountains loomed into view. Soon I arrived in Marchampt to the familiar sight of liveried trucks and gazebos popping up like daisies.

After unloading the car I followed Paul Buckingham and Colin Le Maitre up the hill on my scooter to get a first look. Although useful for learning the sequence of corners, YouTube never prepares you for gradients and cambers, let alone the breathtaking view as you reach the finish line and look back down on the village in the crease of the valley below. At that moment the hard work and the late nights all seemed worthwhile; it really feels like I'm living in a dream at times.

Charlie's not the only female driver in the series
Charlie's not the only female driver in the series
After 10 or so runs that afternoon, Martine Hubert kindly offered to take me up the hill in a car she had borrowed to show me the lines, turn-in and braking points. It was reassuring to be shown the right way to drive what is a very fast and demanding hill. Following advice from other Formula Renault drivers I softened the car a lot that evening, changing the springs and damper rates in the hope of making the car more forgiving and easier to drive. I'd had some good chats with Ski Academy Switzerland and had a plan worked out, part of which was to go at a steady pace all of Saturday and focus on my lines until I was happy to up the pace on Sunday, rebuilding confidence in the car as I went.

I got up early the morning and ran the hill on foot, stopping to look at each corner and cement Martine's pace notes in my head; I just hoped to recall them a few hours later! The course starts with an uphill section into a bumpy braking zone for a very tight hairpin that has an imposing granite wall on the exit. Not famed for its turning circle, I was apprehensive about getting the Formula Renault round it - sure enough, it took me quite a few goes to get it right as I would end up crawling to a stop and coasting past the final few inches of wall before accelerating. Thankfully a chap called Martin Jones had recorded some of my lines through it and this helped immensely - the transition from no lock to full lock has to be instant for a good run as any initial half turns simply pushes the car too wide.

The hill is a real test of nerve, as are several corners that can be taken flat (apparently...) in fifth and sixth gear. While you know the car should do it, committing fully requires some serious courage and I did feather on a few of them.

Cautious run but one in the bank
Cautious run but one in the bank
Saturday finished well, my two timed runs were down on the rest of the 12-strong class but this was to be expected - following St Goueno I just wanted to build my speed gradually and learn the softer set-up. Come Sunday morning I pushed harder in free practice and felt comfortable to ramp up the pace; there is just so much to remember and get right that it's like trying to recite a poem in your head while driving a car. With the sequential 'box I must keep a mental record to know how many downshifts are required for each corner; looking down at the display is just dangerous! Next season I will have a big digital readout installed right in front of the wheel, which should be a huge help.

Sadly my camera packed up again so I only have the practice runs, which is a shame as on the first competition run I knocked six seconds off. I managed to take another second off on the next to finish on a 1min 53sec, which given the circumstances I was happy with. The majority of the class seemed to be hovering around 1min 49-50sec with the top guys posting a couple of 47s. Crucially the car was in one piece and I'd certainly given it my best shot so there were a lot of positives to take, along with the fact that the car now feels much more stable and drivable at speed.

Returning back down the hill after the final run was a memory I'll never forget; the views into the valley, the crowds of people walking home in the road, all waving, clapping and smiling as we wound our way to the village. I really needed a camera to capture the scene here - race cars enthusiastically picking their way through the crowds as they return from parc ferme, trucks squeezing by and all mixed in with people cheering and enjoying a beer in the early evening sunshine. It was fantastic.

As I write it's only a fortnight until Vuillafans Echavannes, which is five kilometres and apparently even faster (long, flat parabolic corners changing up from fourth to sixth) so I'd best get on YouTube and do some homework!

Charlie Martin - Formule Renault 2... by

Practice run at Beaujolais (with dodgy camera)

Previous reports:
Euro Hillclimbing - a dream realised
Euro Hillclimbing - gearing up
Charlie Martin on PHTV
Euro Hillclimbing - Hebecrevon
Euro Hillclimbing - La Pommeraye
Euro Hillclimbing - St Goueno


Photos: Clement Luck

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (8) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Mark B 25 Jun 2015

    Well done Charlie, great result after the weekend at St Goueno!! Makes me want to attend more French Hillclimb weekends, but first I need to get my car to St Goueno 2016!

    Good luck in 2 weeks time.

  • Mark-C 25 Jun 2015

    Haven’t commented before on these but I’m really enjoying the series thumbup

  • sad61t 25 Jun 2015

    Trying to get my head around the courses. They're closed public roads?

    Assuming Charlie isn't lost in translation, it appears the locals are supportive of the events, and not waving placards about the noise and that they can't drive 50 yards to the local supermarché, spreading nails on the road and throwing urine on the participants. Or is that only at cycle events in the law abiding, and ridiculously parochial, UK.

  • dbanes 26 Jun 2015

    That's long for a hill climb, more like a tarmac rally special stage!

  • GoCharlieM 26 Jun 2015

    Yes they're closed public roads, but everybody loves it and just really enjoys the event - not seen any sign of negativity. Cars can still get around, sometimes I've driven back through a village after a run on a section of road with other cars, nobody minds and race cars have right of way (bien sûr!), its a bit chaotic at times but somehow it just all works smile I guess if you live on the closed section you're a bit stuck - it's closed normally from mid morning until about 7pm. Sadly I couldn't ever see it happening in England, France rocks!! biggrin

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