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Hillclimbing is all about pushing yourself to the limit, beyond your comfort zone. Sure, there’s a whole list of things that I love about this form of motorsport, but when you strip away all the other elements, it’s about taking risks, conquering your fear and trying to go faster than anyone else that day.
This race felt akin to something Ethan Hunt might attempt in Mission Impossible, but risk and reward are two things that go hand in hand. Attempting the impossible is something that resonates strongly with me and someone has only got to say ‘you can’t do that’ before I’m already thinking how I can try to prove them wrong. In terms of the most unlikely things I’ve ever tried to pull off then, Glasbach was perched proudly at the top of the list. You’ve already seen the picture so you know the outcome, but I’ll rewind a little to Monday afternoon. I’ve waited as long as I can so I tentatively send a text to the team doing the rebuild asking how it’s going.
A few moments later I receive a photo of an engine, sat on the floor of a workshop. ‘Ok for collection Thursday afternoon then…?’ I ask.
I’ve never raced at Glasbach before, so I’ve done my usual routine of learning the sequence of corners with a map and YouTube. It’s something, it means I arrive with a basic idea, but the reality is always different. The fact is that just to get to there I have to take a taxi, train to Luton, bus to airport, flight to Lyon, tram, train for 2.5hrs across France, taxi, load the car, then… drive 650km to Germany. And that’s assuming it’s ready when I get there. A delay in baggage reclaim halted my progress and I arrived at the workshop for 9pm, the sight of the car sat ready on it’s wheels was a huge relief. We loaded it before eating dinner and I was on the road for 10.30 (it was being setup as I boarded in Luton), pulling over at 1.30 before hitting the road again at 7am the next day. I did the 5hr drive without stopping, doing my makeup while I crawled along in heavy traffic and pulled into Bad Liebenstein just after lunch. I spoke with Kevin Ferner en route as the electrical coupling for the tail lift broke during loading and thankfully he’d sourced one that dated back to the GDR, nothing like a bit of old school tech!
I found my friend Fabien Bouduban with Team Faggioli who are running his Norma this season and installed myself at the far end just as the heavens opened with the kind of crazy rain that soaks you in seconds. Paride Macario took me for a few runs up the course and pointed out turn in points (pallo, pianta, cartella). It’s a long, fluid track that doesn’t give you a great deal of time to think between corners, especially the beginning as it flows so quickly once you’re actually driving at race pace. Once you start to learn it it’s incredible, but it certainly takes some time to feel like you know it well enough to drive hard.
That evening we all went for dinner at an Italian restaurant, it’s kind of strange being unable to communicate since my French has come on a long way this season and I’m fine in a large group these days, but even so it was great fun to join everyone and Andrea Bormolini speaks very good English.
Come first practice the next morning though and I was not in a happy place. I’d been fine at breakfast, but as I sat strapping myself into the car all kinds of thoughts were going through my head (what am I doing here…?) and I was questioning the logic of throwing myself back in at the deep end after such a big accident. I was panicking, and being in an unfamiliar country where I don’t speak the language was magnifying everything that I was feeling in that instant… Leaving the start line you go straight into a right hander, and even though I took off slowly the rear stepped out making me think there was something wrong with the setup (everyone said later that the bottom section had no grip), so I drove very gently. Upon reaching the finish line I felt a huge wave of relief though, 100 times better in fact, the worst was over.
VIDEO DIARY #8: GlasbachrennenThe highlights from a very special weekend in Germany for the FIA European Hillclimb Championship at Glasbachrennen so happy to be racing again! Thank you to everyone who helped, all my sponsors and Marcel Möller for the shots of the car in action :D #NGK #MotorsTV #Eurocarparts #PistonHeads
Posted by Charlie Martin on Thursday, August 4, 2016
On the second run I went a lot quicker, almost 20 seconds to post a 2:47 before finishing for the day. Back to the restaurant for dinner before trying to get an early night, I was up at 4.45am to reccy the track with Fabien & Andrea since it would open from 5 until 7am and although tired, I’d had way too little time on the hill to learn it properly and Team Faggioli have an endless supply of expresso! Having said that, hearing 3ltr Zytek V8’s being warmed up just a few feet away in the paddock is enough to get your blood pumping…
The first run of the day went well and I took off 4 seconds, I was holding back in the fast 5 & 6th gear corners (which should be flat) but upping the pace and the car felt good, the only issue being a reluctance to downshift from 4th in one corner. Over lunch I got chatting to Timo Bernhard (he broke the class record in a 911 GT3 Cup) and was more than a little star struck to be in the presence of a Porsche factory driver who’s raced at Le Mans, but as he was happy to chat and helped make one of my most memorable moments from the weekend.
Run two went better still and I dipped under 2:40 to set a 2:39:496, I was over the moon to be holding 3rd place in group, rain was threatening and it looked like the positions were all settled for the day…
In the FIA European Hillclimb Championship it’s your two best times combined that count, and although the rain came, some hold ups meant that the track was drying fast. We waited and waited, the day was drawing to a close and 6pm came and went as I found myself lined on the start line for the final run. I went for it, finally the box down changed where it had stuck (it happened on the other run too in the same place) but yellow flags were out for oil and I slowed a bit to finish on a 2:40:090 – a better run in terms of my line but I knew I’d given a few seconds away.
Glasbachrennen 2016My final run from Sunday, slightly slower (0.5) due to yellow flags but the best drive and enough for 3rd in group and fastest lady! Such an amazing race, it’s long (5.5km) and soooo fast, my first race in Germany for the FIA European Hillclimb Championship and I can’t wait to return :D HillClimbFans.com #NGK #Eurocarparts #PistonHeads #AvonMotorsport
Posted by Charlie Martin on Wednesday, August 3, 2016
To be stood on the podium as fastest lady (I hung onto 3rd in E2 SS) that evening was a very emotional moment for me, it’s always an amazing feeling but this time it meant so much more. To work so hard, risk so much and travel so far felt like a crazy idea and at times I really wondered if I was pushing myself too far and asking too much, especially on Saturday morning. The crowd and marshals at Glasbach gave me a huge boost, especially the guys at post 35 (thank you Daniel Beyer Schulgasser) who waved a huge Union Jack at me every time I returned back down the hill! Having so much support definitely helped me when I had to dig deep.
With my confidence back to where it was a month ago there’s a long list of people I’d like to thank, the team who rebuilt the car, my sponsors, everyone who helped and donated, sent kind messages – there are so many of you who helped put the ‘Go’ back in GoCharlie :D