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Mont-Dore: As good as it gets?

I’m pushing the stick hard away from me, nope. Ok gently this time, but that doesn’t work either so I push it harder a final time, steering round the corner with one hand on the wheel in 4th as I’m now at the apex, waiting forever for the revs to pick up from 2,500 rpm. I can hear an angry muffled voice inside my helmet, I should be in 2nd…

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But let’s not be despondent, I’m at Mont-Dore, arguably the most spectacular setting for a hillclimb in Europe (it might struggle to pip Pikes Peak if I’d said the World) and we’ve had three days of unbroken sunshine and blue sky – a very rare thing in the Auvergne. I arrived late on Wednesday evening, pulling over beside a lake in what felt like a wilderness, the feeling exaggerated as I tilted my head back to gaze at the stars one final time before bed. I love a starry night sky, and out here a long way from the city lights the depth of space is truly apparent, the shimmering dust of the Milky Way makes your brain hurt if you stare for too long into infinity.

On Friday morning I met up with Yann Marchand and his family once more, they had a big group of friends & family staying who would all be helping out over the weekend. Yann let me borrow his Golf to drive the hill for a couple of hours and this was a huge help – Mont-Dore must be one of the hardest hills to get in your head. On some courses you have a moment to think between the corners, perhaps a straight where you can refresh your mind about what’s coming next, but here it’s relentless and the corners are packed together so tightly that you have no time at all, you need to know it like your phone number.

That afternoon we drove into the centre of town for scrutineering, Jean-Michel Bayen who performs commentary at every round chose the moment to interview me in front of the crowd. It was great fun, and a reminder of how well I’ve come to know and love everyone in the CFM, it’s amazing how quickly a few years fly by.

With the car and van installed I met up with a camera crew from the UK along with Gilles Huntzinger from Pilotes TV to shoot some interviews in front of the car, being as we were only shooting above the waist I threw on my race suit and put my flip flops back on, which of course prompted a few friends to capture the moment on their own cameras!

We woke to blue skies and chilly air as the altitude makes it cool at night, and before long I was out in the car sat queing for the first practice. As always I used it as a siting run to get my head up to speed and gauge what difference the shorter box would make to my gearing this time round, I was getting into 5th and although it was an improvement it was too long for the twists & turns here. As usual Rémi went off like a rocket and set a 2:45, leaving me trailing by 10 seconds, but I’d rather build my speed here and the second run saw me down to 2:50 despite misjudging a hairpin. I came in two fast and thought the car was going into the undergrowth as I fought desperately to stop the front tyres from locking, the car turned in at the last moment and found it’s way onto the next straight! 

AUTO - MONTAGNE - LE MONT DORE 2016I was feeling good on Sunday, I’d brought some vinyl with me and managed to more or less recreate the white stripe that was missing from the side of the cockpit since the crash. I know it’s a race car and they take bumps and scratches from time to time but things like this bother me! With the sun climbing in the sky the track was perfect, it seemed to be the consensus that it would be too hot by lunch time and grip would drop off, before returning for the final run in the afternoon.  I went off well, braking too early for the first hairpin yet again, but the run was tidy and I was happy to set a 2:46 – still 6th but it was a good banker.

Sadly my new battery charger packed in meaning that I was going to be completely reliant on someone starting me off the booster every time, but fortunately there was no shortage of helpful people on hand. However, the VHC were running up the hill behind us each time meaning that we hardly had any time to turn the cars around between runs.  But for the absence of 40+degree heat it was reminiscent of Vuillafans last year, I was glad of my tyre machine as the slicks were taking a beating and needed a thorough going over. Even so I was having to work my socks off and wishing I had some help, I had just enough time to eat something and have an expresso while watching the onboard before I was off again.

VIDEO DIARY #9: Mont-Dore Course de CôteIt’s rare you get to race at Mont-Dore in such beautiful conditions for the whole weekend, despite some glitches it was an incredible experience :D

Posted by Charlie Martin on Sunday, August 14, 2016

 

The second run, well you’ve already read about that one. I was on it 100% for sure, maybe that’s why I couldn’t downshift if I was rushing the box. It’s normally completely compliant, sure I did have this issue a couple of times last year and put it down to technique. I was really gutted, at 2:47 I was only a second slower but considering how much time I’d lost I knew it would have been fast. Hey ho, still in 6th. I check the linkages & oil level whcih were all fine, but there was no time to investigate any further – we were off again.

Shortly into the final run and engine let go and dumped oil in the lower section of the hill, I alsways have a course map with notes to hand and managed to beckon someone over and establish exactly where it had happened.

“Interieur, millieu, exterieur?” I asked hopefully. “C’est partout” came the reply. Everywhere, oh joy.

The organisers were understandably concerned as we were all primed for one last banzai run and the day was already behind after a BMW M4 demo car had gone off at lunch time (enjoy explaining that on Monday morning), and the message being repeated over the tannoy was something along the lines of ‘it’s insanely slippery, you will definitely crash unless you crawl through this section at 10mph.’ As if to bring the point home a prototype went off just before the danger zone and returned in bad shape on the back of the break down truck. Faced with increasingly high stakes I went on the side of caution, I’d liked to have tried to catch Guillaume in 5th place but I couldn’t risk an off for a couple of points. 

Mont-Dore Course de CôteMy fastest time up Mont-Dore, first morning run on Sunday at 2:46:702 finishing in 6th place :D

Posted by Charlie Martin on Thursday, August 11, 2016

 

AUTO - MONTAGNE - LE MONT DORE 2016The oil turned out not to be so bad, but of course you only know that once you’re there on top of it, and I gave it hell for leather afterwards but the time was lost and I finished in the 2:50’s… It was a strange feeling, I was frustrated with the gearbox, with the circumstances and matters that were out of my hands, but equally I’d had a fantastic weekend with a lot of friends in possibly the most beautiful setting imaginable – I guess sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it. Didier Chaumont took the win, ahead of Rémi who’d had a commendable comeback drive after a nasty crash here last year, Sarah taking a close third, Estel, Guillaume and yours truly. 

That evening as has now become customary, a large group of us all went for dinner and it was fitting ending to what have been 11 incredible days in France & Germany. When I consider how I left things only a month ago following Vuillafans, my confidence in the car has returned and a 3rd place/podium finish has been a great boost to moral too. By the time this post goes up you’ll probably have read that I’m driving a 2ltr Norma prototype up St-Ursanne in August, so things are definitely moving in the right direction as we come into the final stages of the season! :D

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