Between twenty and thirty thousand years ago, volcanic activity formed Mount Leura and Mount Sugarloaf in Camperdown Victoria. Mount Leura's last volcanic eruption was at least five thousand years ago, yet days of violent explosions still occur on the mountain thanks to the internal combustion of racecars.
For fifty weekends of the year, Mt Leura is your typical lookout with views of the surrounding landscapes. However, for two weekends, the drive to the top is closed off, reserved for those competing in the Victorian Hillclimb Championship. Usually, it is just a single weekend in May, although this year, the championship also had a round of competition in March.
Drivers have been racing at Mt Leura since 1949, where it held two national events, sanctioned by the Australian Automobile Association. Since 1954, events at the hillclimb have been sanctioned by CAMS/Motorsport Australia, and in 1985 and 1987, Mt Leura held the Australian Hillclimb Championship. Those were probably among the times they parked cars in the shed among all the hay too.
So, automotive competition in the form of time trials have been around for a while in Camperdown, and during the second last weekend of May, the road to the top would be closed for Round 5 of this year's Victorian Hillclimb Championship. The track has become a staple in the Victorian Hillclimb scene and would be almost as recognisable as the Ballarat Light Car Club campervan.
Cars lineup at the bottom of the climb and are allowed a short distance of burnout space to clean/warm up their tyres. Once the previous car has crossed the finish line, the next car is given the go-ahead, with the timer starting only when the car moves off the line.
The long start straight sends drivers into Turn 1, a fourty-five degree uphill corner, and soon after accelerating out of Turn 1, they begin to brake for the first hairpin.
Drivers hug the inside of Turn 2, as they pass houses and accelerate onto the longest straight on the track.
Aiming to the right side of the track, hitting the apex at the right-hand kink, yet continuing to embrace that side of the asphalt as the drivers begin to brake heavily into the trickiest section of track known as 'The Cutting', a homage to Australia's greatest racetrack, particularly Bathurst's own famous corner with the same name.
This section, particularly the corner exit receives little sunlight, and add the rain the track over the weekend, the asphalt here is particularly slippery. Each run back down the hill after their completed laps, drivers would search for the dry and damp patches, especially at the braking zone into 'The Cutting', to see how conditions had changed throughout the days running.
In the final runs of the second day of competition, drivers were really pushing hard into 'The Cutting', locking up brakes and having to readjust their steering quickly through the corner. Push too hard and you'd lose time, or worse, end up in the armco, which claimed two victims on the Sunday.
Coming out of 'The Cutting', drivers accelerate through the tiny chicane, a bare right up the hill towards the finish line, 803-metres from the start, and only halfway up Mt Leura. This is the best spot to listen to each run. The sound of exhaust notes, squealing tyres and the agonising misfires from the MG's struggling to find third gear echo across the mountain, as the soulless clock at the start line counts up, its numbing clicks hiding the battle between man, machine and naturally formed landscape.
The cars immediately slow down after completing their lap, heading to the top to turn around and wait at the side of the road, before coming back down.
James Mcniven's AE86 Corolla was my personal favourite car that took on Mt Leura. The Toyota has been in Australia for fifteen years, after being a rallycross car in Japan. In that time, James has barely touched the still original engine and gearbox, only replacing the individual throttle bodies with twin side draft Webers. Even the five-year-old AVON slicks feel almost new. It's a car that James just puts fuel in and goes, and it is very competitive in hillclimbs, even winning its class at the Bathurst 6 Hour in 2017.
Hillclimb and other time trial based motorsports are probably the easiest to get into. You don't have to own a purpose-built race car, and like many at Mt Leura, you can race your daily driver. This Leyland Moke, which is a common sight at Victorian hillclimbs had three drivers assigned to take the wheel during the weekend, whilst this was the second tarmac event, after two dirt events for the 14-year-old in the no.72 Hyundai Excel.
More often than not, in hillclimb racing, you're competing against yourself and your previous lap times, and when you do compare times against other racers, it is again most likely going to be against similar cars yet competing in different classes. It's always exciting to explore a before unvisited racetrack, and also absorbing to experience and see a style of motorsport in a different way.