Take a prototype or GT car normally built for the track and unleash it on some of the most spectacular roads in Europe and you’ve got the recipe for one of the most thrilling motorsport events in the world. Hillclimb. But the year has not been kind to the sport, like so many others. French and European Hillclimb champ Sébastien Petit runs and races in his own team, Team Petit Auto Sport, and fields some very interesting machines, including the legendary GTR-powered RS01 as driven by Philippe Schmitter. Ahead of their third race of the recently-restarted season, we gave Sébastien a call to find out more about their return to racing.
When did you and the team get back to racing? You mention you’re on your way to the Czech Republic. Is this your first race post-lockdown?
We started racing again at the end of July. We went to a race in the Czech Republic and I won the race. I was driving with a new Nova NP 01-4 prototype. Philippe Schmitter was driving the RS01. He finished third. Two weeks ago, we raced in France and now we’re off to the third race, again in the Czech Republic.
How was lockdown for you and the team? Were a lot of your events cancelled/rescheduled? Did that give you time to focus on personal and mechanical improvements?
It wasn’t good. We lost too much time, too many races and too much money for the team. I have rented a lot of cars and I wanted to do the European Hillclimb Championship to develop the new car. It’s really difficult right now to get sponsorship money and it’s a very tough year for our team. I hope this winter all our partners will continue to help us, because if not I think it’s the end of the team. It took me 10 years to get the team to this level and now, in a single year, COVID-19 could destroy it.
We hope to see your team back in hillclimb next year. What is it that attracted you to the sport?
I do hillclimb because it’s my speciality and I always wanted to put all my power and energy into this. I’ve been double French champion and was European champion last year. Sure, I could race in rally or track, but I’ve always wanted to put all my effort into developing a professional hillclimb team. We take part in the French Hillclimb Championship and European HillClimb Championship. Normally, we take part in 20 races in six months. We are always on the road. Sometimes we don’t go back to the office or the garage. We just go from race to race.
Can you tell me more about your hillclimb cars?
Last year I was using a Norma V8 Mugen. Now I’m using a Nova four-wheel-drive with a Honda turbo engine. This is the first car like this in hillclimb. I’d like to do Pikes Peak in this car. Philip’s car, the RS01, is like an LMP1 car. It’s a Renault monocoque with a Nissan V6 bi-turbo engine. It’s really an incredible car. The chassis was made by Dallara in Italy. You have a lot of aerodynamics and power (we have 650hp) with so much torque and rear-wheel-drive. When I drive this car to do set up, it’s a really crazy experience. Renault has only made 25 of these for a cup and it was homologated for the GT3 championships. The car was faster than every GT3 out there. It’s the fastest RS01 in the world because Renault did a special map for it.
What does it feel like driving powerful hillclimb cars like the RS01 and the Nova?
Driving them is incredible because we have a special grip. They use soft tyres, and it’s a short run, so we can’t make any mistakes from the start. The sensation of speed is amazing through the trees.
Is hillclimb closer to track or rally driving?
I’d say it’s both. You must have the improvisation of a rally driver and the smoothness of a track driver. Our cars are more like track cars than rally cars, so we must adjust the set-up to suit the mountain roads. That’s a very difficult thing to do.
What’s your involvement with Motul?
I put Motul oil in everything. I put it in my car, in the RS01, and in our other cars. The gearbox oil is Motul. The steering fluid is from Motul. You get the idea. I only use Motul. Motul’s 300V is the best. We have a really good technical partnership with Motul and we never have any problems with anything because we use nice products.
© Picture credits: Aurelien Vialatte, Sylvie Bouchereau