Written by Daniel James Parry
The Chateau Impney Hill Climb, an annual historic motorsport event held within the stunning parkland setting of Chateau Impney in Droitwich, triumphantly returns on 9–10 July following a tremendous first year. The story behind its revival is fascinating, and the competition’s unusual location and surprising heritage makes the Hill Climb one of the most exciting motorsport events of the summer.
Chateau Impney was built when the British Empire was at its height, and the motor car was becoming the fashionable accessory of the nouveau riche. Fittingly, Chateau Impney has gone on to develop a rich motoring heritage over the years, a tradition that began when the Hagley and District Light Car Club organised their first sprint in the grounds of the hotel on 29 September 1957.
Welcoming all the leading hill climb competitors of the day, the Chateau was hailed by car bible Autocar magazine as “easily the most picturesque of this country’s sprint and hill climb venues.” Chateau Impney’s original speed events were at the heart of the golden era of motorsport – when World War II ended and petrol rationing was lifted, motorsport became increasingly popular around the country and amateur and professional drivers competed alongside one another in the fastest cars of the day.
Over the years, a host of impressive pre- and post-war automobiles were put to the rest on a twisting 550-yard course, including Jaguars, Ferraris, Austin Healeys and Bugattis. The challenging sprint also attracted some of the biggest hill-climb and sprint personalities of the day, including Tony Marsh, Phil Scragg and David Good, as well as thousands of people who would line the drive in anticipation.
However, like many events of their kind, the popularity of the Chateau Impney trials dwindled and the sprints ended in 1967. Motorsport enthusiasts would hold fond memories of the speed trials for years, and several motorsport clubs continued to hold their annual dinners within the Chateau’s stunning setting, but for most, the hotel’s status as a motorsport venue was all but forgotten.
As a hotel, Chateau Impney has become something of a Cinderella story. Originally built in 1876 by local salt magnate John Corbett, the Chateau was intended as a family home, inspired by the beautiful chateaux of the Loire Valley. When Corbett died, it changed through various hands before World War II, when it was requisitioned by the army and used as barracks. Following the war, the Chateau was reinvented as a hotel and, throughout its motorsport years, became a hip hangout for the rich and famous. It is also famed for being the Midlands’ first nightclub.
However, throughout the late 2000s, the hotel began to go into decline and entered administration. In 2012, it was rescued and a multi-million pound refurbishment commenced, aiming to restore the hotel and its grounds to their former glory as a luxury Midlands destination for weddings, conferencing and luxury stays. And yet new owners Greyfort Hotels didn’t just have their eyes on revamping the hotel – they were keen to bring the high-octane thrill of the speed trials back for a new generation.
On 4 December 2013, a gala was held at the Chateau to celebrate the original speed trials, and to gauge public interest in the potential return of motorsport to its grounds. The event was a huge success, and over 2,000 people attended – much more than the few hundred that were expected. Veteran competitors were welcomed back to the grounds, and Formula 1 legend John Watson expressed his support for the revival of the grand event.
Not content with merely bringing the speed trials back, the team at the Chateau were determined to make the event bigger and better. The original course was extended to 1,000 yards, introducing a much greater challenge and officially classifying the event as a hill climb – thus, the Chateau Impney Hill Climb was born, almost 60 years since motorsport first came to the Chateau.
The Chateau Impney Hill Climb soon captured the attention of the press, including The Sunday Times, who declared it to be one of the ‘top 10 must-see summer motorsport events of 2015’, the Guardian and the Daily Mirror. With a date set of 11–12 July, and around 200 competitors in some of the most rare and unique pre-1967 cars invited to take part, the Hill Climb team waited with great anticipation to see if all their hard work and investment would result in success.
Over 10,000 people flocked to the grounds of the Chateau for the inaugural Hill Climb to witness pre-war titans like the Beast of Turin and over half of the world’s remaining ERAs, some of the rarest single-seater racing cars in the world, ascend the challenging new course, as well as a number of Jaguars, ex-Formula 1 Lotuses and iconic Mini Coopers. Every single one of the 200 competitors had their sights set on claiming the inaugural record, but it was first-time hill climber Jack Woodhouse that snatched the fastest time of the day with a spectacular 42.42 seconds, writing his name into the first new chapter of the venue’s illustrious motorsport history.
Visitors were encouraged to stroll around the open paddock and get up close and personal with some of the astonishing cars taking part in the event. The Chateau also played host to a stunning Concours d’Elegance, showcasing some of the most beautiful and evocative vehicles from the inception of the motorcar to the modern day, including Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s 1953 Ferrari 250 MM GT.
As well as the action on the track, guests were welcomed to a specialist classic car auction hosted by renowned auctioneers H&H, one of just five elite auction houses to sell a car for over $10 million. Corporate guests and competitors were invited to attend a glamorous black tie party during the weekend, and discovered Chateau Impney’s famed hospitality and luxurious dining for themselves.
The success of the inaugural event means that the Chateau Impney Hill Climb is fast becoming one of the highlights of the UK motorsport calendar, thanks to its friendly atmosphere, impressive line-up of cars and stunning setting. Already, the 2016 event has attracted some of the country’s most elite competitors, with rare American sports cars, Ferraris and one-off steam car specials confirmed to take part. And with overwhelming support from the historic racing community, the Chateau Impney Hill Climb looks set to be one of the most unique events in the motorsport calendar for years to come.
Key Facts about the Chateau Impney Hill Climb
• The original Chateau Impney speed trials were hosted by the Hagley & District Light Car Club, and took place from 1957 to 1967.
• Tony Griffiths set the speed trial record on the 550-yard course in 1964, earning a time of 22.07 seconds in his ex-Graham Hill BRM P48.
• In 2015, motorsport at the Chateau was revived after a near-50 year absence, and the Chateau Impney Hill Climb took place on 11–12 July.
• Last year’s Chateau Impney Hill Climb attracted over 10,000 people, as well as a number of local businesses and luxury exhibitors.
• Jack Woodhouse set the inaugural record for the new 1,000-yard course in his Lotus 20/22 with a time of 42.42 seconds.
The Chateau Impney Hill Climb takes place on 9–10 July within the glorious parkland setting of Chateau Impney Hotel in Droitwich. VIP and corporate hospitality packages are available and include exclusive access to the majestic Chateau, offering the best views of the Hill Climb course. To find out more about the Chateau Impney Hill Climb or to book a VIP or corporate hospitality package…