Inside Revolution: Lessons Learned with Wallace Menzies

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Four-times British Hill Climb Champion Wallace Menzies began competing in 1999, in the Scottish Sprint Championship driving a Subaru Impreza, then on the British Championship scene in a Westfield, often competing in the same class as his wife-to-be, Nicola. His first single-seater came from DJ Race Cars, with whom he spent a happy and successful eight years before switching to Gould in 2014. He won his first British crown in 2019, doubled up in 2021 and has not been beaten to the title since. Here are some of the lessons he has learned along the way. 

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Don’t waste money over-developing a car, Kames, 2001 

I was driving a Westfield with a Ford Crossflow engine against a field that included my future wife and her father in far superior machinery and was being well and truly beaten. Throughout the season, I spent too much money trying to get more performance but only by the end did I realise it would have been cheaper to sell it, take the money and build my own car – which is ultimately what I did with a Westfield Hayabusa, going on to win the Scottish Sprint Championship twice in it. 

Get the best car – and make it work for you, Doune, 2014 

I had two big offs in 2014, first at Shelsley Walsh, requiring medical attention, and then at Doune. I sustained some pretty heavy damage to the car and after the second one, I was sitting there in the trees with smoke coming up from between my legs and I just wanted to get out of there. It made me reassess what I wanted to do. 

Soon after, I read an article similar to this one. One of the pieces of advice was to look at the car that is winning and get it, because there’s a reason that car’s winning. Although I had been having a great time with DJ, with various outright wins, we were never close to a championship so I decided to take that advice. 

I went to see David Gould, who produced the Gould chassis that was on top at the time, and told him I wanted to get a Gould GR59M and put my XD engine in the back. He said he could do it, but as it was no longer their core business it would take a couple of years, so he suggested I buy Martin Groves Gould car in the meantime and get used to driving it, which I did in 2015 for the next two seasons, initially sharing it with Tom New. 

True to his word, the car was ready for the start of 2017, but we could not get it handling to suit my style of driving and we struggled for two seasons. We worked really, really hard as a team, but whatever we did we just could not get it working. Eventually, in 2019, we did manage to get things right – but it just showed that doing something new often means you’ve got a hell of work to do. 

If you trust in someone, let them lead, Gubbio, Italy, 2018 

At the end of the second season with the GR59M, we went to the FIA Hillclimb Masters event and the weekend summed up the entire season. We had done two runs up the hill and I came down and said, ‘I can’t go any faster’ but the boys were saying ‘yeah, you can.’ There was a lot of swearing, and I knew I could drive around some of the problems, but not all of them. 

Once we all calmed down, we got through the weekend, but I went home gutted having had two years of a brand-new car and all the blood, sweat, and tears we’d put into it, to end up pretty much last. I also had to cope with my wife getting on the plane alongside me, holding the European Ladies trophy! It was either end of the spectrum! 

It was when I was sitting in the truck after those two runs that I had a defining moment that triggered a change in my approach. I’d been listening to too many people and trying to keep them all happy. But to make a step change on the set-up, I realised I had to believe and trust in Russ Walton, of MGR, and the team and let them go entirely in his direction. 

Russ had been helping me a little from 2009 while Tom New and Duncan Barnes had been with me at every event since 2015. When we got back from Italy, they did a huge amount of work on set-up. The next year, the penny dropped that to win we needed to learn fastest, so we were always out really early, working on a different way to set the car up, and we have continued to develop that very successfully ever since. 

 Be comfortable being uncomfortable, Shelsley Walsh, 2011 

This was the first outright win I ever got for DJ, but I had been beaten in the wet by DJ’s smaller-engine car driven by Alex Summers – who has now become probably my number one competitor as well as a very good friend. I did not like being beaten, especially by a car with more-or-less the same design and a much smaller engine! 

It was during that event that I realised you have to able to be uncomfortable to win. That means driving right on the very, very edge of your ability. I was driving within myself, having two percent spare, and not taking it right down to the last half a percent. I realised I had to mentally challenge myself to get to the point where I could push those edges, and it worked. 

Arguments can be healthy, Loton, 2013 

During my time with DJ, I realised just how hard you have to work at it with the car and the manufacturer to get anywhere. I learned so much working with Del Quigley and Andy Smith, going from a bike engine to a supercharged bike engine then a big V8. They were hugely instrumental in me being where I am and we got on great – but we fell out a lot too! 

Del would happily tell you that today, and we still get on brilliantly because we learned and appreciated that you have to be able to have disagreements to get further forward. This event was towards the end of the relationship, and the more successful we had become, the more I put pressure on them. 

I felt privileged to compete against, and occasionally beat, Scott Moran and Trevor Willis but I was really pushing for more development to close the gap on them. We had massive words but always made sure we never ever fully fell out – and one of the first texts I got this year, after beating Alex in the DJ for the third time in a row, was from Del, so fair play to him. 

Friends not enemies, Loton Park, 2014 / 2021 

After my two crashes in 2014, there was one event left in the calendar, but I was done for the year. My car was in pieces and I needed to take a step back but Will Hall – who is still competing and is still a good friend – phoned me up and said ‘you’re driving my car in the final rounds.’ I said no, but he fully bullied me into it! 

It was a moment that really made me understand the closeness and the friendship you get in Hill Climbing, because I was at a very low point there and he saw me, he had been there, and he really, really pushed for me to get in the car. I had a brilliant weekend, no pressure, and just enjoyed driving the racing car again. 

Two years ago, it was the opposite way around and Will was having challenges with his car and set-up at the same event, the last event of the year at Loton. He decided to park it and I was able to go and return the bullying favour by putting him into my car for the weekend, as he had done years before! 

He had a great weekend too, and it took it full circle in the Hill Climb friendship for me. As a result of that, though, he’s now gone and bought the same car as me, albeit with a different engine – so he is going to be a nightmare to try and beat now! 

Read more from this month’s edition of Revolution