A chip off the old block; Coles takes first class victory at British Hillclimb Championship

Monday 30 May 2022

Hillclimb runs in the blood of the Coles family. After Alex Coles took his first Hillclimb victory in the Formula Ford category at Round 7 of the British Hillclimb Championship at Gurston Down on Saturday 28 May, he’s somewhat of a chip off the old block.

Having followed his father Neal around the Hillclimb circuit, the 17-year-old Alex is representing the Coles name in 2022, competing in his first full season in a Van Diemen RF86.

“Ever since I was young, I’ve always been coming to watch,” commented Alex. “I’ve been around the cars my whole life, ever since I was born. We saw an opportunity to share this [Van Diemen RF86] with someone else and we took it and it’s led us to where we are now.”

Coles’ is one of three Van Diemens, pre-1994 Formula Ford racing cars, competing at Gurston Down. His competitors include Sarah Bosworth in the RF85, Caroline Ryder, whom he shares his RF86 with, and Tom and Steve Morgan who are sharing an RF89.

Saturday’s action in Wiltshire saw clear skies and a beating sun to create optimal conditions on the 957-metre run. In the racing cars category, Alex Summers found peak performance, breaking the run record with a 25.62.

In a recent interview, two-time British Hillclimb Champion, Wallace Menzies commented, “First and foremost, I’m racing the hill.” A sentiment echoed throughout the paddock, Coles shares this mantra and his best run of 36.49 was enough for him to take his first class victory with his proud father watching on.

“We had got used to the track quite quickly,” explained Alex on his winning run. “I quite enjoy the high speeds of the track, considering some of the other tracks are slightly more technical. It’s nice to see what it’s like in a straight line.

“The track itself, considering it’s a farm road, is fairly grippy. The downhill start is completely different than anywhere else and it is quite fast coming into the hollow kink and then by the end it’s a confidence lift or depending on how you feel you can do it just about flat, which I came pretty close to on my winning run.

“I think I’ve got up to 88mph for the speed trap and 90mph over the finish line. So it is quite fast.”

Coles is a hillclimb competitor through and through, having only competed in the discipline. Speaking with passion and an abundance of enthusiasm, Coles expressed, “If you make a mistake on a circuit you’ve got loads of chances to get back into. Hillclimb is about that one run and if you mess up, it’s gone.

“You’ve got to get the perfect run and when you get it right, you get such a buzz coming over the line and seeing the time. There are fine margins on the tracks so to find the time is very difficult but when you find it, it’s a good feeling.”

Alex’s father, Neal is a regular in the paddock, and stepped away from competing to support his son in his first full season. But he will be back competing soon, as Alex explained, “My dad has an OMS 1600 high booster which hopefully I’ll move on to after this. This was just to learn the tracks. He would rather I learnt in something like the RF86 rather than something as fast and powerful as his car.

“This year is a sort of sighter year to get into it. He doesn’t want another season out because we can’t afford two cars. So, starting this year and then hopefully moving on from there.”

As for a father son rivalry, the youngster is just looking forward to continuing his passion, “I tend to be quite competitive, a lot of close people around me know that. I don’t really like to lose but sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. His experience will help, we’ll see how it goes.”

For more information on the British Hillclimb Championship, click here.