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Limonest: One Last Hill

As season finales go, this year was a little different. Ordinarily I’d be finishing my year off at Turckheim, the 6km epic hillclimb set in the beautiful heart of Alsace, but I’d committed to racing a MINI Cooper the same weekend and my calendar was rearranged once again…

2017 has been all about new experiences, after all I started the year with a new car on a new hill at Col St. Pierre, so why not roll the dice once more and finish on an unknown?

vue-sur-lyon-depuis-lAt 2.7km Limonest is one of the shorter courses in the Championship, and not particularly fast so on first glance I’d overlooked it a number of times. It’s only a stone’s throw from St. Éxupery airport, not far from le Monts d’Or which is kind of like the Beverley Hills of Lyon. The houses are packed in tightly and the roads are pretty crazy as the whole area is like a rabbit warren, it’s very picturesque though, and driving the Norma through the spectator lined streets made me smile form ear to ear. From high up you have a commanding view of Lyon in the valley below, which on a hazy autumn evening is really something special.





Leaving the start line you’re off into a fast 4th gear (blind) left, you’re then into a series of very tight hairpins that don’t give much chance to get out of 2nd, this then flows into some faster 3rd & 4th gear sections that are equally technical before you tackle a fast chicane with a large fort on the outside left that resembles the flint wall at Goodwood FOS. It definitely gets you focussed before the faster (almost) straight that takes you into the final couple of hairpins before the arrivée… in summary its a technical hill that requires you to perfectly judge your (ideally last minute) breaking into the hairpins, it’s easy to overdrive the car too so your fastest time hear can be a little elusive.

Saturday started well, we had dry weather all day so I took the untimed practice pretty gently to get my eye in before setting a 1:39:486 on the first timed run. There are a few corners here that tighten and I got caught out a couple of times, winding on a full lock at one point to catch a big slide midway down the course… run no. 2 was better and I took 4 secs off. It left me around 1.5 seconds away from the guys I’m normally fighting for position with, so I was feeling fairly happy about Sunday, we’d softened the car up halfway through the day which had definitely helped too.

The issue that was really going to force the times was of course the weather. With rain due from lunch time onwards, the first run of the day might be the only dry one.

Being well aware of the mistakes I’d made at Chamrousse by pushing just that bit too hard in the hairpins, I was all too aware of the need to walk a fine line…

I pushed hard enough to find a couple of seconds, setting a 1:33:564 and putting me in 8th and fastest lady for the time being, something I was determined to try and hang on to. With rain now a dead certainty, the directeur de la course Marc Habeusy made a swift and popular decision to tale the second run before lunch. I knew this was my last chance and started out well, I’d had camera problems meaning the video kept jumping forwards and missing out chunks, but I knew my run well enough by now to have it clearly mapped out. I took the first left well, but approaching the first hairpin I scrubbed off to much speed going down into second, jumping back on the gas before the apex. I pressed on carrying more speed on every approach and focusing on what was in front, not what I’d done wrong… another second off and 1:32:582 but would it be enough?!

Limonest Course de Côte – Norma M20 FCThe last hillclimb of the season at Limonest, first time at this very twisty course! #NGK

Posted by Charlie Martin on Saturday, October 14, 2017


I ran up to the finish line to see the other cars coming by, straining to hear the commentary over the car noise as the timing board momentarily stopped working. The next thing I saw Sarah my team mate crossing the line on a 1:31:879 in her Dallara F3 car, I had a sudden face to palm interface as the thought of the first hairpin sprang to mind. I narrowly missed out on 6th place too, with both Bruno La Monica & Emmanuelle Arbant pipping me by just 0.1 to leave me in 8th. Both are CN2 regulars with years of experience on this this hill, so matching their pace still an achievement, but when it’s so close you can’t help but kick yourself.

The rain came down hard soon after and run number three was a washout as predicted. Knowing it was my final hillclimb in the Norma I refused to go quietly – 7th on scratch made me smile, as did having a deliberate sideways finish over the line on full opposite lock! I would have loved to be on the podium but all was well, the car was intact and I’d driven much better than at Chamrousse.

As we drove back down it was raining cats & dogs, the team were all waiting and cheering at the start along with a lot of spectators, which really meant something given the fact that everyone was now soaked. At the end of the season it’s the moments like this that you always remember, even more so the feeling.

I was a little emotional at one point on Saturday (sorry Thomas!) explaining to a friend why 2017 would be my last season hillclimbing in France. I’m normally a little sad at the final round as I know that I’ll miss everyone through the winter, but this year was especially hard… inevitably quite a few people had asked me about plans for 2018, and I felt bad telling them it was unlikely I’d be running in the CFM next year. The last few years have been an incredible adventure, something genuinely profound in terms of my perspective and understanding of what is actually possible when you really want it enough and work hard. But three years have flown by, and inevitably you reach a point where you have to keep moving forwards and pushing towards new things if you’re serious about getting to where you want to be… 

The determination that brought me to France in the first place is the very same thing that’s now motivating me to move into circuit racing.

In any case it’s not the end, just a new beginning. I’ll be back racing in France next month, only this time it’ll be for three hours instead of three minutes, and I’ll be on a circuit ran by the ACO…

Part 2 of my season Hillclimb: Flat-out in France will be going out on Motorsport.TV in November on Sky UK, so please keep an eye on my Facebook page for the latest TV schedule.

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