Having not managed to hold a championship in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic it was all to play for when the 2021 Northern Ireland Hillclimb Championship finally kicked off.
Previewing the season at the start of this year, I noted that the championship may not actually get underway until the end of June. I wasn’t far off reality, as the lack of easing of restrictions meant that Konockagh, Drumhorc and Spamount were all cancelled well in advance of the scheduled event dates.
The Thoroughbred Sports Car Club of Northern Ireland pulled out all the stops to make Croft happen mid-June, after a successful PR along the course and paddock area. This event is traditionally the opening round of the championship, so maybe fate was on their side to keep this tradition alive.
Reigning hillclimb champion, Graham Thompson led from the start in his GTR Turbo while Ryan McGimpsey struggled to get close. That was until the final run of the day, when Ryan found enough grip and bravery to finish just over half a second behind Graham, in second place.
Third place went to former series champion, Christopher Houston who only managed one timed run. With less than one second separating the top three at the end of the day, this year’s championship was looking set to provide some nail-biting action.
David Kane and Chris Nelson, sharing a Casmat Buggy had an absolute ball sliding up the hill in a manner that almost denies physics, whilst both managing a top-10 finish, coming seventh and eighth respectively.
Two weeks later saw Larne Motor Club host the Cairncastle two-day hill climb, an event that is becoming a season favourite with competitors and one that sees the entry list Phil faster than anyone can get to the top of the climb.
With Friday’s practice runs completed in the dry, rain set in to mix it up for the competitors, with many of the big single seaters opting to miss their first timed run, they took to the line for run two and three.
Graham Thompson finished on top, setting a 69.95 on his third run to secure the win from Gerard O’Connell with Richard McGimpsey in third overall. In the modified category Ian Lancashire took the win from David Francis with Daniel Campbell in third.
In the roadgoing category Philip Cardy took the win from Andrew Robb with Adrian Mullholland in third. The specialist category was a family affair with Steven Hawthorne taking the win from David Hawthorne with David Mutch in third.
Saturday was to be a better day weather wise, with the times tumbling compared to the Friday. Graham Thompson was the pace setter with a 66.70, Richard McGimpsey finished in second with a 68.12 with John Donnelly rounding off the rostrum with a 69.38.
In the modified category Daniel Campbell took the win from David Francis in with Ian Lancashire in third. The Roadgoing category was won by Andrew Robb with Philip Cardy in second and Adrian Mullholland in third. The specialist category was won by David Hawthorne, with Jack Boal in second and Steven Hawthorne in third.
After two gruelling days, competitors were afforded a 6-week lay-off before heading to Mid Antrim Motor Clubs Garron Point hillclimb for what was to be a record-breaking round number four.
With a large entry of machinery from standard road cars to high powered single-seaters and everything in between, it was set to be an entertaining day. Looking at the initial practice times, it was going to be a quick day indeed, with the loose stones from road surfacing last year clearly gone.
Graham Thompson led from the word go and was on the pace immediately, smashing his own hill record set in 2015 on his second run of the day DE1 that time of 35.37. In second place overall was Richard McGimpsey with a fastest time of 37.02 and in third place was John Donnelly with a 37.61.
In the modified saloon category, Daniel Campbell took the win, with Garry Campbell in second in their Toyota Starlets, with Ian Lancashire in third in the Subaru. On his way to winning the modified saloon category, Daniel also stole the class 9a hill record from David Francis, which has been unbeaten for the last six years.
In the road-going saloon category, Philip Cardy took the honours in his Subaru, with Conor Hamill second in the BMW M3 and Adrian Mullholland finishing third in his Escort. The Specialist Category saw Jack Boal take the win in his Graham Thompson build ‘Seven’ with jack also beating the class record by almost 2-seconds. In second place was Paul Hamill and in third Scott McMullan.
Other record-breaking times included Andy Hawthorne in class 5, Dara Fay in class 6b, and Gerry McGarrity breaking the class 16a record.
With the cancellation of Eagles Rock hillclimb, it was almost four weeks before competitors took to the closed public roads again. This time it was the hills surrounding East Belfast that reverberated with the sound of engines revving and tires screeching at the Craigantlet hillclimb, which hosts are round of the British hillclimb championship alongside regular local competitors.
It was here that Antrim driver, Graham Thompson clinched the championship in his GTR turbo
Graham Thompson from Antrim, in his GTR Turbo, clinched the overall championship honours at this, the final round of the Millers Oils ANICC Northern Ireland Hillclimb Championship, despite being beaten up the hill by rival Alan Cassells.
Despite the cloudy weather and one very heavy rain shower on the second practice run, three class records were broken, congratulations to all winners but especially these three. Gordon Fogarty in his Fiat X1-9, topped Class 6A on his second timed run with 54.27s, shaving 1.23 seconds of his own previous record of 55.50s set in 2019.
David Hawthorne from Belfast, sharing his Westfield Megabusa with his brother Steven, reduced the Class 7 record by 0.9 seconds bringing it under the 49 second barrier to 48.88s, a record which had stood since 2010.
This fantastic drive on run three resulted in him winning the Specialist Category from Jack Boal in his GTR Hayabusa. Colin McDowell in his Morris Mini set a new Class 16A record of 57.29s on his first timed run, shaving 1.41 seconds of the previous record set in 2019.
Daniel Campbell from Ballymena, in his Toyota Starlet, won Class 9A taking 49.53s to climb the ‘Hill’ which netted him the overall Modified Saloon Championship from the Escort Cosworth piloted by Davy Francis. In the Roadgoing Saloon Championship Philip Cardy, a native of Downpatrick, driving his Subaru Impreza won Class 3 with a time of 54.01s and secured his Championship title from second place driver Adrian Mulholland.
There was even more celebration on this event as local motorsport legend, Tom Lawther, who was competing in car #71, celebrated his 80th birthday on the actual day of the event, I can’t think of a better way to spend such a historic birthday.
1 – Graham Thompson
2 – John Donnelly
3 – Richard McGimpsey
Modified Saloon Championship;
1 – Daniel Campbell
2 – David Francis
3 – Ian Lanchashire
Roadgoing Saloon Championship;
1 – Philip Cardy
2 – Adrian Mullholland
3 – Andrew Robb
1- David Hawthorne
2 – Jack Boal
3 – Steven Hawthorne
Words: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY | Photos: Gary Craig Motorsport Photography
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