“First and foremost, I’m racing the hill” – Wallace Menzies in profile
Wallace Menzies is a two-time Motorsport UK British Hillclimb champion and, judging by his recent form, never a man to rest on his laurels.
After a record-breaking run to the second of his British titles in 2021, including the new benchmark times at five British venues, the Alloa-based racer has returned in fine form this year, recovering from a frustrating season opener at Prescott to win four straight run-offs, and with it accelerate himself to the top of the championship standings.
Following a dominant weekend at Harewood in which Menzies broke the outright course record four times, we caught up with him to discuss, among other things, hillclimbing, his Gould GR59-M challenger and how others can follow in his footsteps and get involved in the discipline.
Motorsport UK Q: “So, Wallace, where and when did you first get into motorsport, and hillclimbing specifically?”
Wallace Menzies: “A friend of mine who still completes to this day, Stuart Dow, started competing in sprints in Scotland. And it was that route in of somebody else having a car, going along, and watching, then fancying a go. I had a Subaru road car, and started off in that just doing sprints, and then quickly realised I couldn’t either afford or fix it!
“And then it inevitably got crashed, so then I went to a 1700 crossflow at Westfield, and I think like most people spent more than I should have to get an extra three brake horsepower. I competed at Scottish sprints, then Scottish hills. I then looked to go faster, as everybody wants to do, and then moved on to a DJI single seater, a 1600 Fire Hawk and then started using that.”
Q: “What is it about hillclimbing that you really enjoy? What keeps you coming back each year?”
WM: “It fits well with family life; my wife competes as well. You are racing against others, but you’re racing against the hill first and foremost. You’re not going into the same corner at the same time, so you end up with a lot of the paddocks being really, really friendly, family-orientated, nice places to be and to spend a lot of time in. And you end up with really good mates through it, over the years.
“The thing with Hillclimb is the track, at a lot of places, changes every run. And if you go at the start of the season, be that April, and it’s 11 degrees, then you go back in August and it’s 18 or 19 degrees, there’s a bit more rubber and it’s a lot cleaner. It’s very different. At the end of the day, everyone’s there to do the best they can, and ultimately to win their class. But you know what time to shoot for, so it’s quite painful if you go somewhere and don’t do the time that you know you can, which has happened to me this year already.”
Q: “To have broken all these records, you must be driving a pretty formidable piece of kit. Talk to us a little bit about the car you use to compete?”
WM: “Mine’s over two litres, so it’s pretty much unlimited on engine, gearbox. There are obviously rules that Motorsport UK set out for things like aerodynamics, suspension and so on. My car is a Gould GR59-M, so it’s got a Cosworth XD engine in it, which is an ex-IndyCar engine, albeit with the turbos off of it, because I couldn’t cope with 1000bhp! It runs on methanol, so it’s actually not in its most powerful guise, the power is back to about 670, 680bhp at the minute, the car itself is weighing about 425 kilos. It’s wings and slicks, obviously, so the power to weight ratio is pretty high for any form of single seater.
Q: “You’ve already won two British titles and taken a whole host of course records to go with them. What are your long-term aims within the sport?”
WM: “I think just to do as well as I can and keep enjoying it. The primary aim of this is to enjoy ourselves and have fun. This year looks like it’s going to be an absolutely outstanding year for hillclimbing, with the competition we’ve already seen. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this year, and beyond that I don’t have any great plans, I just want to enjoy it.”
Q: “Among those course records now is the outright best at Harewood, which you broke four times in one weekend last month. Talk to us about that weekend.”
WM: “So, we did some work over the winter and made some setup changes. We went to Prescott at the start of the year and learned a fair bit about them but didn’t get the times that we’d hoped for. So, then there was a bit of a change again for when we went across to Craigantlet in Ireland, and it was wet all weekend, but the car felt really good, and the results matched.
“Coming into Harewood I was a little bit nervy to confirm that the setup we had was even going to work in the dry, with the changes made from Prescott two weeks earlier. We struggled for tyre temperature on our first run on Saturday, and we were miles behind, but understood why quite quickly, there’s a lot of data available from the car. Then, it’s almost a case of planning where you’re going to use your new sets of tyres for the weekend, as I think most of the guys in the top ten did.
“Sunday was as much about tyre management, and peaking at the right time, but also constantly building and chipping a bit off the times but taking into account which tyres were on each time – front, rear, or both, to then ultimately have the last run of the weekend be the fastest one, which is what you want. So, it was very satisfying to be able to just keep chipping away at it, under a chunk of pressure each time because all the other guys were going quicker.
“We went under the record in practice, which doesn’t happen, in simple terms. That’s happened once before, that I’m aware of, maybe twice. We didn’t go to Harewood on a dry weekend last year, and I think it’s testament to where everybody’s gotten to with their setups, their cars, and their performance.”
Q: “It’s impressive stuff – is there more performance to come from these setup avenues you’ve been exploring?”
WM: “No. I think we’re back more to where we were in 2021. And there’s always little tweaks for each different venue that we go to, but there isn’t standout amounts of performance to come. There will be in the car, but not in the car-driver combination!”
Q: “And lastly, what advice would you give anybody looking to start out in hillclimbing?”
WM: “Come along and ask questions. You won’t find a more friendly paddock and you’ll find nearly everybody has started off in their daily drive or nicked their Mum’s car and had a go! It’s very welcoming, very inviting and it’s really easy.
“The difficult bit, and where we and most sports struggle, is just to get everybody to try it that once. Just come and chat, and somebody will be more than happy to give you as much time as you need to help you. A set of overalls, a helmet, a couple of stickers and you can get going, and see if you enjoy it.
“Nearly everybody comes back.”
Gurston Down in Broad Chalke, Wiltshire will host Championship Rounds 7, 8, 9 and 10 on 28 and 29 May 2022.
One of the fastest hill climb courses, the course record produced an average speed of just over 85 mph and the fastest recorded speed over the finish is 159 mph. The course starts down-hill, dropping down to Hollow, where the fastest cars around doing around 120+ mph, round a sweeping left hander of Little Hollow and Hollow Bend, braking very hard in to the sharp and steep uphill section of Karousel.
Speeds though Karousel are down to 25 mph. After the second right hand part of Karousel there is a short straight with a bump, Deer Leep where cars and bikes can get a little air, before the hard left hand corner of Ashes. After Ashes, it’s up-hill again to the finish.
For more information on the British Hillclimb Championship, click here.