Hebecrevon: Hitting the Ground Running

There were butterflies in my tummy as well as the ones on my helmet as I set off for the first hillclimbing race of the season.

Hébécrevon is race against time in more ways the one. For starters, it’s the only fixture on my calendar that sees me take an overnight ferry on a Thursday evening only to board the same boat late on Sunday evening for an early morning arrival back in Portsmouth, and this alone puts me under a lot of pressure before I even start competing.

Now throw in the following: the fact that I’ve barely driven the car in over 6 months, the need to remember all my routines on how to run it and finally things like how the hot water in the van work – it’s hectic.

Charlie Martin hillclimbing

As we docked in Caen I made my way down to the rear of the cargo deck where I was greeted by one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen – getting up at 5am isn’t generally something that puts a smile on my face but today felt different. I took it as a good omen and set off among a huge gathering of bikers, the hull of the ship reverberating to the sound of their engines.

Seeing everyone in the paddock that morning I’m once again reminded why I love racing so much, and how much I’ve missed it (and the people) throughout the winter. It’s like a huge extended family that you only see for 6 months of the year, the moments you all share bond you together and it’s a time of great happiness for me.

The weather was also helping and we were looking at a hot weekend, perfect after the cold that’s dragged back home and a chance to really push the car after the wet non starter of a test day in March.

Charlie Martin Hillclimbing Car 2016

And we’re off… eventually

I set up camp with a group of friends from Guernsey who were all driving F3 cars, apart from Paul who’s engine was sadly not back from rebuild so he’d come along to help pit crew and enjoy a few refreshments now freed from the constraints of driving.

Having still not found the exact source of my battery problems I was relieved to have someone helping out as a race car that won’t start is a nightmare – you can’t leave it running or it overheats meaning that without a slave battery on hand I was going nowhere fast.

Saturday morning started with free (untimed) practice, then timed runs meaning we got four drives up the hill. I’d been up it on the scooter on Friday and also ran up and down it on foot having missed my chance for a run in the week.

At 2.1km it’s the shortest hill on my calendar, being the first this suits me as it’s easy to remember as opposed to a 6km circuit that can catch you out. The limits of a Formula Renault are so far removed from a road car that it takes a little time to tune into the car’s ability. The turn in is super sharp and the grip when cornering blows your mind after a winter away from it – you have to build up your confidence and belief in the car once more.

Charlie Martin Hillclimbing Car

Both Estel Bouche & Sarah Louvet had already completed three events so I knew they would be setting the pace from the off, having both finished on the podium. Nonetheless I told myself to stay calm and take it easy on the first run, so I was surprised to feel the back of the car sliding around through the faster fourth and fifth gear bends.

Everyone was saying the track was slippy though, and as the pace increased it became harder and harder to keep the car from drifting (slightly alarmingly) especially through the flat fifth gear right hander!

I finished the day midway between Sarah in first and Estel in third, pleased to have started on the pace but all too aware that tomorrow was when it all counts, they were probably sand bagging after all…

Sunday came earlier than expected as my iPhone hadn’t adjusted it’s time despite me changing the time zone. I therefore missed my chance for a shower if I wanted to take advantage of the two free practice runs on offer.

“Helmet hair”, cereal and coffee – ready for hillclimbing

I consoled myself that it was going to get pretty hot and that I’d already woken up with ‘helmet hair’ so a quick bowl of cereal and a coffee later I was in the car with the new slicks on. Rain had helped clean the dusty tarmac overnight but the new tyres made a huge difference. With the car now glued to the track I was focussing on attacking every apex and getting as close to the railings as possible.

Charlie Martin Hillclimbing

Come the competition runs I set two identical times of 1:05:9 despite having tried harder (I thought) on the second attempt. In truth it was stiflingly hot come early afternoon and after an arrête de course I was flaking out in the car as we waited; my brain slowly cooking inside my helmet, so it’s not surprising that I lost my edge.

Still holding P2 but knowing that Estel would be pushing hard from only 0.1 secs behind me I needed to find some time. Sarah was nearly 2 secs ahead but I desperately wanted to hold my place, and gave it everything to go nearly a second quicker. As I pulled up in Parc Fermé I checked and sure enough my hands were shaking slightly, I knew I’d driven hard but was it enough…?

Packed up and loaded I hurried back to Caen, panicking just miles from the docks that I’d in fact booked from Cherbourg for the return leg. Dog tired and having only eaten cereal all day my van was subjected to a thorough search from a faintly baffled customs official at 11pm.

Now on auto pilot, I made my way to the canteen among herds of hyperactive French school children, ate the best hot meal I’ve ever tasted  before showering and collapsing into bed.

I’d done it. 2nd place AND I’d made the ferry home.

Come back to the Euro Car Parts blog soon to see how Charlie is getting on with preparations ahead of the next race at La Pommeraye.