Cultra Hillclimb makes long-awaited return at sun-soaked festival


AFTER an absence of six years, the historic Cultra Hillclimb returned on Saturday as part of  the Cultra Motorsport Festival. 

And what can we say except sorry to all the people who came to the event and couldn’t get in through the gates due to it being a full house, with pre-booked tickets having priority. We’ll all learn a lesson for next year, pre-book your tickets. Thanks to the generous support of headline sponsor, Porsche (and in particular Porsche Centre Belfast) and to the several other sponsors.

In all, it was a cracking day of competition, thankfully with no major incidents, no cars wrecked, an impressive display of Porsche cars and memorabilia, rows of displayed classic cars, a Samba band, clowns, facepainting and the glorious sunshine and atmosphere that makes North Down and Cultra in particular the place to be.

It’s hard to beat lying on a well-manicured lawn (thank you Museums NI) sipping a cool drink and watching and listening to competition cars going past as fast as they can be steered.

With 90 cars in the hillclimb line-up, ranging from a 1920s Austin 7 to modern single-seater racing cars with 400+ horsepower, the speeds, times and noises varied throughout the day. On noise, our thanks also to the commentating team of Clifford Auld and Chris Fair who between them managed to speak almost non-stop for six hours, with only one ‘Murray Walkerism’ by Chris which enraged one woman in the audience.

Even though this event is not a round of the hillclimb championship, competition was furious, with every driver launching off the line with gritted teeth and a grim determination. Various driving styles were witnessed, from tucked in clean racing lines to arm-wrestling opposite lock into and out of each corner. Wayne Clyde in his MX5 experimented with the mathematical style, the shortest distance between two points being a straight line, it was just unfortunate that the second point he chose ended in a large bank. No great damage and he and the car survived to do another couple of runs.

Almost everyone would also have been unaware of an incident about five minutes from the end. One of the last runners of the day was Nicholas Gibson, lining up for his third timed run, the intense sunlight and heat of the day finally had its toll and he burst out of the zip of his racing suit like an over-roasted Cookstown sizzler.

The startline team grabbed a roll of duct-tape and got to work, initially fighting a losing battle as with every bit they tightened and fixed, pink flesh oozed out from a different point. After two to three minutes, they had him trussed up like a Christmas turkey and off he roared for his final run, crisis averted.

Gerard O’Connell in the somewhat suspiciously noise legal Red Bull Dallara spun at the manor house, before starting up again, spinning again, starting again and then the red mist descended and on the third time, he wheelspan the whole way to the finish line. His slowest but most spectacular run up the hill.

So, apart from a few minor offs, spins and mechanical breakdowns, most competitors had a great time. The full results are available to be viewed at, and there are now several good videos on YouTube, but here are a few highlights of the day.

Fastest Time of the Day, Class 6, Single Seater racing cars, Tim Woodside in his Pilbeam MP82 with a new hill record of 31.17s, shaving 0.4s off the 12 year-old record set by Seamus Morris.

Class 5, Specials & 4WD, 1st place went to Dermot McCullagh in the tiny 1000cc Casmat buggy with a time of 32.87s (which also gave him 5th overall), fighting off Ian Lancashire in the snorting 600bhp but much heavier 4WD Subaru.

Class 3, 1st place went to Stephen Donnelly in the rare little Renault Twingo RS with a time of 37.99s.

Big old Tom Lawther, 81 years young, in his big old Rover SD1, still giving it lots of elbows and rooty-toot to a time of 41.60s and 63rd overall. It may not be one of the fastest now, but it’s all done (in my opinion) to the best sound-track of the event, with the big sonorous V8 resonating up through the trees.

Ali Carver, out in the 1928 Aston Martin Le Man car, worth a sum which includes 6 zeros, given strict instructions by its owner (Tudor Roberts) to drive the wheels off it. Ali did just that, getting a first in the vintage class with a time of 44.07s and an overall place of 78th, only half a second behind a modern Ford Mustang and an Audi TT, both driven by grumpy pensioners almost as old as the Aston Martin!

That sums up the ethos of the Cultra Motorsport Festival. Men and women, old cars driven by a youngsters, old pensioners in young cars, cars worth several million pounds, cars worth just slightly more than the fuel put in the tank, cars with an impressive racing pedigree and history, cars that will be used to go shopping next Friday night – all competing on an even basis and no quarter given.

My favourite hillclimb, an old man in an old car, but unfortunately, by the Motorsport UK rules, you are not allowed to partake in an event that you are named in as an official, so I have to take one for the team, help to organise and then watch jealousy from the sidelines. There’s always next year, I have a cunning plan