TRACK DAYS are fantastic fun, but they can be a bit hard on the gear. Very, very few standard production cars can withstand a full day at the track without needing a new set of tyres, brakes or both, not to mention the heavy fuel consumption. Thankfully, there are myriad other ways to get a competitive fix that are easier on both your car and wallet. These include autocrosses, motorkhanas and this month’s topic, hillclimbs.
Generally slow speed and short in duration, brake and tyre wear are minimal and temperatures are always under control. The annual Kyneton Car Club hillclimb at Bryant Park – more commonly known as Haunted Hills – in Victoria’s Gippsland region is the perfect example. For the grand total of $100 each competitor receives eight runs of around 60-70sec split evenly across two different track layouts.
The low level of mechanical stress is evident in the incredible variety of cars competing, everything from wellworn Subaru WRXs on semi-slicks to a Holden VE Calais family hauler to various Japanese and European 1980s rear-drivers. And a showroomfresh Hyundai i30 N. A helmet and an internally mounted fire extinguisher are the only safety requirements and if entering a brand-new car in a competitive event seems risky, consider that unlike a track day, where there are other cars and drivers to worry about, at a hillclimb the only way damage could occur is if the driver makes a major mistake.
Mistakes, minor ones at least, are hard to avoid in hillclimbs. Kyneton’s format is such that each competitor’s best run on each track layout is combined for their final time, alleviating the pressure of nailing every run. Nevertheless, the need to push hard from the very first metre, usually with cold tyres and brakes, requires focus, especially as the times are often close enough that an overshoot or half-spin will result in tumbling down the order.
MOTOR long-termers have previous form at the Bryant Park Hillclimb; I ran my Peugeot 208 GTi here in 2014 and it finished a credible sixth outright. The track’s tight confines and constant turns favour grip, agility and traction, though a bit of power doesn’t go astray. With such a diverse array of cars, it’s almost impossible to have expectations, but I was hopeful the i30 N’s turbo torque, electronically controlled LSD, strong brakes and outright grip would allow it to be at least competitive.
Two slow sighting laps are allowed in convoy to understand the track layout, but the first competitive run is still conservative, with braking points and outright grip levels still unknown. Still, its 66.61sec opening salvo is quickest by 1.21sec, raising a few eyebrows.
The nearest competition is Ian Johnston’s home-built Toyota Lexcen, which doesn’t sound too impressive until you discover it has a 6.6-litre supercharged V8 producing well over 500kW, a custom all-wheel drive system, independent rear end, ABS, traction control – the works. It’s a monster, but Bryant Park brings to mind Nelson Piquet’s quote about driving an F1 car at Monaco being like “riding a bicycle in your living room”.
The i30 improves to 65.05sec on the second run, but Ian closes the gap to 0.54sec – too close for comfort. Thankfully, a little extra commitment results in a 63.67sec to secure the quickest time. Onlookers are shocked at the speed of this humble Hyundai, but they underestimate the capabilities of modern performance cars and the pace of their development. The i30 N’s effort is 3.7sec quicker than the 208 GTi – itself a reasonably potent little hot hatch – managed four years ago in almost identical conditions.
On the second track layout that gap widens to four seconds. By now, the Nissan R33 GTS-t of Matt Beardall has joined the fight at the front. Unfortunately, the i30 N is relegated to third on this track layout, but it’s incredibly close, just 0.25sec separating the best runs of a stock front-drive four-cylinder hot hatch, modified rearwheel drive six-pot coupe and wild V8 all-wheel drive sedan, the common thread being drivers doing their best to squeeze the maximum out of themselves and their machines.
In the final results, the i30 secures victory, its combined time – the best run from each track layout – edging Beardall by just 0.96sec. The true hero of the day was the Hyundai’s ESP system. On cold tyres, the i30 N wasn’t afraid to wag its tail on Bryant Park’s initial fast downhill run; set to Sport the ESP provided enough leeway to prevent time loss while straightening the ship on a couple of occasions when the driver’s ambition outweighed his ability. Without that safety net, I simply wouldn’t have had the confidence to push as hard. Speaking of pushing hard, next month it’s time for some track work. –
PROS and CONS
2. Sports ESP
3. Driving home
1. Being beaten
2. Power understeer
3. Post-racing blues
Road tripping to Perisher in Honda’ hottest hatch
THE VERY LONG DRIVE (VLD) is a bit of an Australian thing. Every so often, an opportunity comes up to drive some four-figure distance, one that would cause the eyeballs to pop from the head of any European. But you take said opportunity, because there is something soothing, cathartic and quietly soul-satisfying about the boredom of a long drive in Australia.
This month, we put our Honda Civic Type R to this very test with a VLD from Melbourne to Jindabyne, NSW, and the Perisher ski slopes. Six hundred kilometres doesn’ sound very far until you consider that a great deal of that is on twisty roads with a relatively low average speed. In theory.
The Hume Highway out of Melbourne was our first opportunity to get to know the long-distance cruising capabilities of our bewinged snowwhite hot hatch. And the big, fat ticks come rolling in.
There’ the ride for a start, which we’ ve banged on about multiple times, remarkably compliant and supple for 30-profile tyres and truly more comfortable than many dedicated, new luxury cars. Mercedes-Benz Magic Body Control? Erm, a Civic Type R might actually be more comfortable. No joke.
This is great for the Type R’ ability to get its occupants a great distance and out the other end feeling relatively fresh. Which would be the case, if it wasn’ so noisy.
Okay, so the Type R doesn’ roar like an old 747 at 38,000 feet, but a lot of tyre noise gets into the cabin on a coarse-ish chip freeway. Sometimes, at 110km/h, it’ necessary to raise one’ voice ever so slightly in conversation. As unpopular a thing it is to say, another 25kg of very strategically placed sound deadening could be worth the weight penalty.
Very interestingly, the Type R has the ability to drive itself down the motorway if you so wish. Clever radar cruise control with so-called Lane Keep Assist System controls speed relative to other cars, but also picks up lane markings to steer the Type R without input, surprisingly effectively. On a straight dual carriageway with gentle curves, bumps and dappled light, the LKAS system “drove” the Type R for 10 minutes without us touching any control – including the steering wheel – and could have gone for longer. Impressive, yet its utility, other than letting you take lids off water bottles with both hands, is not entirely clear.
Meanwhile in the fuel stakes, the best range we saw after a fill of the 47-litre tank was 461km and our best highway economy was 7.6L/100km.
Helpfully, the Type R will take 91-95RON fuel if push comes to shove. Which it did, as we arrived in Corryong, the last real fuel opportunity until Jindabyne a couple of hours later.
What we couldn’ be helped with was chains, which you must carry in your non-AWD vehicle during the ski season. A lady who rented snow chains in Khancoban, NSW, took one look at the 245/30 ZR20 wheels and tyres and wished us luck. As it was nearing the end of the ski season and on the warmer side, and with a favourable weather forecast, we pressed on.
Between Khancoban and Thredbo lies approximately 75km of fantastically scenic roads, winding through a rocky gorge before plunging up and down through thick forests, opening back up for glimpses of an Aussie alpine landscape tempting you to pull over for a photo, before spitting you out into a winter wonderland nearing Thredbo.
On the dry bits, with surprisingly light traffic, we were reminded yet again of the Type R’ lovely, addictive, easy handling and the way it relishes being driven up a twisty road. It is a hugely fun and satisfying car on a mountain road. And extremely quick, too. Yet it was here we rued an annoyance, that being you have to stop and apply the handbrake, and dig around the infotainment menu, to switch the rev match on and off. There’ a blank button right next to the manual gearchange – why not make this the rev-match on/off button?
As the temperature plunged near Thredbo and snow blanketed the landscape, we were glad for the Type R’ feedback and communicative controls as we anxiously drove over what could have been icy patches. We wouldn’ have wanted any other tyre but the Continental SportContact6, either, for these conditions, with their proven wet-weather ability.
Having enjoyed Perisher for a few days we headed back to Melbourne. And perhaps enjoyed the Type R’ turbocharged performance a little bit too much, almost running out of fuel – or so it seemed, with “8km to empty” there was still 4-5 litres in the tank.
Still, you wouldn’ want any inaccuracy around the other way. There was also a scare as we hit a monster pot-hole, the passenger front wheel thudding like a shock was going to pop through the bonnet. In the USA many owners have buckled the 20-inch rims in pot-holes and have had to make warranty claims. Also, there is no spare tyre. If I owned the Type R, I’ d be curious to know what it would be like on 245/35R19s for the improvement again in ride, but also for styling. And I’ buy five.
Next month the Type R goes back and for this, we are genuinely sad. Time has helped to distil our thoughts on this car. Those being, quite simply, it’ a magic car to drive if you can get over the boy-racer styling and what is a bit of a plain and slightly cheap interior with a fiddly infotainment system. The Type R is also a bit dull to drive at low speeds. As for its VLD ability, the Type R has us tempted for the VFLD.
PROS and CONS
1. Amazing ride
2. Sensational seats
1. Freeway tyre noise
2. Busy styling
3. The infotainment