Track days are fantastic fun, but they can be a bit hard on the gear. Very, very few standard production cars can withstand a full day at the track without needing a new set of tyres, brakes or both, not to mention the heavy fuel consumption.
Thankfully, there are myriad other ways to get a competitive fix that are easier on both your car and wallet. These include autocrosses, motorkhanas and this month’s topic, hillclimbs.
Generally slow speed and short in duration, brake and tyre wear are minimal and temperatures are always under control. The annual Kyneton Car Club hillclimb at Bryant Park – more commonly known as Haunted Hills – in Victoria’s Gippsland region is the perfect example. For the grand total of $100 each competitor receives eight runs of around 60-70sec split evenly across two different track layouts.
The low level of mechanical stress is evident in the incredible variety of cars competing, everything from well-worn Subaru WRXs on semi-slicks to a Holden VE Calais family hauler to various Japanese and European 1980s rear-drivers. And a showroom-fresh Hyundai i30 N.
A helmet and an internally mounted fire extinguisher are the only safety requirements and if entering a brand-new car in a competitive event seems risky, consider that unlike a track day, where there are other cars and drivers to worry about, at a hillclimb the only way damage could occur is if the driver makes a major mistake.
Mistakes, minor ones at least, are hard to avoid in hillclimbs. Kyneton’s format is such that each competitor’s best run on each track layout is combined for their final time, alleviating the pressure of nailing every run.
Nevertheless, the need to push hard from the very first metre, usually with cold tyres and brakes, requires focus, especially as the times are often close enough that an overshoot or half-spin will result in tumbling down the order.
MOTOR long-termers have previous form at the Bryant Park Hillclimb; I ran my Peugeot 208 GTi here in 2014 and it finished a credible sixth outright. The track’s tight confines and constant turns favour grip, agility and traction, though a bit of power doesn’t go astray.
With such a diverse array of cars, it’s almost impossible to have expectations, but I was hopeful the i30 N’s turbo torque, electronically controlled LSD, strong brakes and outright grip would allow it to be at least competitive.
Two slow sighting laps are allowed in convoy to understand the track layout, but the first competitive run is still conservative, with braking points and outright grip levels still unknown. Still, its 66.61sec opening salvo is quickest by 1.21sec, raising a few eyebrows.
The nearest competition is Ian Johnston’s home-built Toyota Lexcen, which doesn’t sound too impressive until you discover it has a 6.6-litre supercharged V8 producing well over 500kW, a custom all-wheel drive system, independent rear end, ABS, traction control – the works. It’s a monster, but Bryant Park brings to mind Nelson Piquet’s quote about driving an F1 car at Monaco being like “riding a bicycle in your living room”.
The i30 improves to 65.05sec on the second run, but Ian closes the gap to 0.54sec – too close for comfort. Thankfully, a little extra commitment results in a 63.67sec to secure the quickest time. Onlookers are shocked at the speed of this humble Hyundai, but they underestimate the capabilities of modern performance cars and the pace of their development. The i30 N’s effort is 3.7sec quicker than the 208 GTi – itself a reasonably potent little hot hatch – managed four years ago in almost identical conditions.
On the second track layout that gap widens to four seconds. By now, the Nissan R33 GTS-t of Matt Beardall has joined the fight at the front. Unfortunately, the i30 N is relegated to third on this track layout, but it’s incredibly close, just 0.25sec separating the best runs of a stock front-drive four-cylinder hot hatch, modified rear-wheel drive six-pot coupe and wild V8 all-wheel drive sedan, the common thread being drivers doing their best to squeeze the maximum out of themselves and their machines.
In the final results, the i30 secures victory, its combined time – the best run from each track layout – edging Beardall by just 0.96sec. The true hero of the day was the Hyundai’s ESP system. On cold tyres, the i30 N wasn’t afraid to wag its tail on Bryant Park’s initial fast downhill run; set to Sport the ESP provided enough leeway to prevent time loss while straightening the ship on a couple of occasions when the driver’s ambition outweighed his ability.
Without that safety net, I simply wouldn’t have had the confidence to push as hard. Speaking of pushing hard, next month it’s time for some track work.
No short stints on MOTOR long-term reviews
2018 Hyundai i30 N Pros & Cons
Three things that we're falling for:
1 - Winning
2 - Sports ESP
3 - Driving home
Three things that we're not fond of:
1 - Being beaten
2 - Power understeer
3 - Post-racing blues