Invaded by thousands of enthusiastic spectators, the Luxembourg village of Eschdorf dedicated this particular Sunday to the winners of the first FIA Hill Climb Masters. The Belgian Yanick Bodson (Porsche) took the gold medal in Category 1, the Swiss Eric Berguerand (Lola) in Category 2 and the Frenchman Nicolas Schatz (Norma), also posting a new course record, in Category 3. As for the Nations Cup, that was won by Italy.
The first FIA Hill Climb Masters will have left fond memories in the minds of all fans of hill climbing. Massed in their thousands alongside the 1,850 metre climb near Eschdorf, they could not fail to be highly delighted by the performances of the specialists in the discipline who had come from all over Europe to play out the best show ever seen on a modern hill climb course. As the day went on, the excitement mounted. After a first climb contested on a surface made tricky by damp patches, the second took place under optimum conditions and times were extremely close. Unfortunately, heavy rain fell during the third and last climb, leaving both spectators and competitors a little disappointed as the wet track forced the Clerk of the Course to close proceedings with little hope of conditions improving later.
Category 3: gold medal and course record for Nicolas Schatz
The fastest in Category 3 (cars not complying with FIA homologation regulations) throughout the weekend, Nicolas Schatz knew that he had little margin for error. With his Norma M20 FC V8-BMW, the five-time French champion still had to be wary of his compatriots, who also had 4-litre prototypes, and also the British with their powerful single-seaters. Not used to tracks so wide, Scott Moran (Gould GR61X-NME), Will Hall (Force wh-xtec-Nissan) and Trevor Willis (OMS 28-RPE) probably had the greatest chance to progress. What would have happened if the weather had not stopped them from contesting the third climb? We will never know! Aware that there was a risk the weather would be a problem towards the end of the day, Nicolas Schatz gave his all on the second climb. Smashing the old course record by more than six tenths to clock a time of 48’’344, the new French master of the discipline also won himself the gold medal for his category… and probably took the best win of his career! But the time differences were reduced with Scott Moran less than three tenths behind and Will Hall less than a second… In fourth place, Trevor Willis confirmed the strength of the British contingent, ahead of the Frenchman Cyrille Frantz.
“Quite honestly, I didn’t expect to win today,” said Nicolas Schatz. “There was such competition! The cancellation of third climb was both a frustration and a relief, because the Brits were coming ever closer and I might have had some difficulty in improving my time. In any event, I congratulate the FIA and the organisers. This Masters concept is brilliant and you couldn’t dream of any better publicity for hill climbing than we had this weekend, with all the best drivers together.”
For closed non-FIA non-homologated cars, the German Herbert Stolz and his Porsche 935 DP2 had the last word against the Italian Fulvio Giuliani (Lancia Delta Evolution) and the Austrian Andreas Gabat (Ford Escort Cosworth), who finished the weekend particularly well after being the victim of a minor “off” on Saturday. On the other hand, the Austrian Karl Schagerl, fastest in practice, was somewhat too enthusiastic on the second climb and rather seriously damaged his superb VW Golf Rallye TFSI-R.
Category 2: Berguerand surprises Faggioli
The wonderful uncertainty of the sport was again clear for all to see on Sunday during the first FIA Hill Climb Masters. Everyone agreed that Simone Faggioli was most probably the favourite in Category 2 (single-seaters and FIA homologated prototypes) with his Norma M20 FC-Zytek. A true hero of the sport thanks to his seven European crowns, the Italian in fact remained unbeaten during the continental competition, but this time he had to be content with a silver medal after suffering all day from driving difficulties. Already fastest in practice, Eric Berguerand and his Formula 3000 car, a Lola B99-Cosworth modified for hill climbing, left nothing to chance! Although he had to cede the course record to Nicolas Schatz, the Swiss won the gold medal for Category 2.
“I had a very slight chance,”the Swiss driver confided, with great humility. “Simone did not have an easy day. Personally, I was not entirely satisfied with my second climb, but that was still enough, despite everything, to win me the gold medal.”
On the podium Eric Berguerand met Simone Faggioli and local hero local David Hauser, also winner of the Junior classification (for drivers under 25) with his Wolf GB08F1. The gap between first and third was less than 26 hundredths of a second! In his Reynard 95D-Mugen, Geoffrey Schatz just missed a podium place ahead of the Slovenian Milos Benes (Osella FA30-Zytek) and the European runner-up from Italy, Christian Merli (Osella Pa2000-Honda). In a fine 14th place in Category 2, the French girl Martine Hubert (Norma M20F-BMW) won the ladies’ prize.
Category 1: Bodson practically at home
As Eschdorf is only a few kilometres from the Belgian border, Yanick Bodson was practically at home and his supporters were out in force. The fastest during practice for Category 1 (FIA homologated saloon and GT cars), the Porsche 997 Cup driver had to bow before the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8 of the Czech Jaromir Maly on the first run, on a track still very wet in places. But in the second heat, the Belgian took back the advantage before improving further, just before the rain arrived on his third climb. With a lead of more than a second over his closest rival, Bodson well deserved his gold medal!
“In my long career, this will be a day I shall never forget!” he confirmed. “Winning this gold medal in an event as tough as this, with so many countries represented, and such competition … I thought about a podium place, but the highest is just marvellous!”
At the wheel of his Mitsubishi, Jaromir Maly could not beat the Belgian but succeeded nonetheless in taking silver ahead of another Porsche 997 Cup, driven by the four-time French “Production car” champion, Nicolas Werver. The Austrians Christian Schweiger (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8) and Stefan Wiedenhofer (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9 R4) were also in the top 5.
Nations Cup: Italy takes revenge
Considered one of the leading nations in European hill climbing, Italy indeed expected to leave the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg with an individual gold medal for team leader Simone Faggioli. But that hope was dashed! However, the transalpine delegation gained some consolation with the Nations Cup, a competition based on the regularity of the four drivers selected. With Simone Faggioli (Norma M20 FC-Zytek), Omar Magliona (Osella Pa21 S Evo-Honda), Christian Merli (Osella Pa2000-Honda) and Fausto Bormolini (Reynard K02-Mugen), Italy was the team whose drivers posted the smallest gaps between their two best times, to the great joy of their team captain, Fiorenzo dal Meri. The Swiss team (Eric Berguerand/Roger Schnellmann/Albin Mächler/Ronnie Bratschi) and the Austrian team (Andreas Gabat/Herbert Pregartner/Ferdinand Madrian/Christian Schweiger) were the other two nations represented on the podium of a competition in which no fewer than 12 countries took part.