Paul Cowland and Drew Pritchard, aka “those blokes off the telly”, are warming up the engines of their respective wheels for the inaugural Hagerty Hill Climb.
Cowland, parked in garage 69 – apparently entirely by chance, though I’m not sure I believe him – blips the throttle of his race-prepared Mk2 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Alongside, Pritchard patiently answers questions as fans encircle his 1958 Beetle Deluxe, built, like the GTI, for circuit racing.
“Everybody says, ‘Oh, it’s got a Porsche engine’, but it hasn’t” he says. “It’s got two Porsche parts on there: the two rear hub nuts. They’re from a 356, so I can get enough torque in them, because the rear wheels were coming loose and the rear brakes were falling off…”
With a 2007cc flat four from engine builder Ian Clark – running unspecified power, but enough to be competitive at Goodwood – that’s no great surprise. Pritchard points out its twin 48s, highlights its straight-cut gearbox and Quaife diff, and notes a suitably powerful braking setup with Type 3 rear drums and front discs hidden inside the drums.
With the car recently running flat out at the Goodwood Members’ Meeting, surely there have been a few tweaks for this new, somewhat hilly and rather shorter environment?
“Changes for today are… zero!” says Pritchard. “I’ve put some fuel in it. And cleaned it. But really I can do everything with it. Next month I’m taking it drag racing. If I can get into the 15-16 second range, [over the quarter mile] I’ll be happy.”
Cowland’s steed is similarly mixed-use. Originally built and raced with a friend, Cowland had “a bit of a to-do at Paddock Hill bend” around 13 years ago and bought the car for a bargain price. Since then the presenter has raced it in various series including the VAG Trophy and Production GTI, plus taken it around the ‘Ring and more. “It’s like an old pair of slippers. It’s always looked after me, and I’ve always looked after it.”
The rivalry builds
We’re not here to compare paint jobs though. With both Salvage Hunters: Classic Cars presenters owning old VWs, what better opportunity to see who is faster (or, the loser might counter, who has the faster car) in the white heat of competition?
“Drew’s got a rear-drive, aircooled, light and powerful car. I’ve got a front-wheel drive, watercooled, not-quite-as-powerful and slightly heavier one” says Cowland, preparing the first of many Racing Driver Excuses we’d hear during the day. Pritchard counters with his own, adding “Paul’s got a lot more racing experience…”
Either way, it’s looking like a good scrap according to Cowland, and so it transpires. Running first and second on the road, both put on a show for the crowd in the tyre-scrubbing box, laying thick lines of rubber on the way to the start line. And after the first run at least, it’s Pritchard with the edge: He’s half a second ahead.
“I made a rookie mistake” explains Cowland. “You can see I’ve got brand new tyres, and I haven’t scrubbed them in… what you don’t realise too is that it’s quite bumpy here. And the car is really set up for the circuit, so it’s very stiff.”
Those sound like more excuses to me. “I’ve got them all mate. I’ve been doing this a long time. Tyres are wrong, setup’s wrong…”
Still, half a second isn’t insurmountable, and with the weather at Shelsley hotting up, perhaps Cowland’s sticky tyres will come into their own as the day wears on?
Just a second or two separates Pritchard and Cowland all day, but as their fellow drivers scurry to log in a final few runs, one man comes out ahead. And it isn’t Paul Cowland. “Drew managed to dip into the 39s, and I got a 42” he says, before preparing another excuse. “My gearknob fell off and i missed third gear!”
“So that’s three seconds behind, isn’t it?” asks Pritchard, rhetorically. “Which in racing terms, as you know, is like two years…”
“It was two seconds really” adds Cowland, but Pritchard is having none of it. “It’s nearly three. It’s closer to three seconds than it is to two.” Cowland parries with a savage volley. “Well, you’re used to working within three seconds…”
“Anyway,” returns Pritchard, stifling a laugh. “I think what we really need to take out of this for the day, both of us, honestly… is that I won and I’m the best driver.”
“So just how many months will you be an insufferable prick talking about this?”
“Years! 20 years. I’m going to tell everybody I know. It’s so good…”
To be honest, I’m not convinced we’ve decided much of anything here today, though both Paul and Drew’s eyes light up at the prospect of continuing their rivalry at another event in the future. Provided said event is weighted just enough in their own favour to guarantee victory, of course.
Both agree, however, that it’s about the most fun they’ve had in a long time. “We’ve all done trackdays, we’ve all done Run What Ya Brung at Santa Pod,” says Cowland, “but I can tell you we’ve never had as much fun as we’ve had today. And it’s so affordable – to me, this is the most accessible form of motorsport you can do.”
To bond with your classic and have the drive of your life, take it racing
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