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Linthal, 27th - 29th of September

When looking at the race calendar in the 21st century most of the activities are located at modern racetracks with state of the art safety facilities, be it sports car or formula races. Back in the last century during the dawn of motorsports a diversity of events were held on public roads, closed off hills or even airports, some of the most famous races were the Mille Miglia or the Targa Florio. One of the first important race series aside the European Grand Prix Championship was the European Hill Climb Championship started in 1930. Just as the Grand Prix Championship a few years later this included a variety of the most important events of its kind ranging from small events like the Shelsley Walsh to the large passes in the Alpes including the Klausenpass in Switzerland.

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First held in 1922 the Klausenrennen was the International Hill Climb event of Switzerland attracting the best drivers of this era both on two and four wheels to take the 156 corners on the way from Linthal to the top of the pass with a total altitude difference of 1237 meter on 21.5 kilometers.

Unlike today, where the top drivers are bound to manufacturers and race series by well-paid contracts the drivers of this time had to earn their living with price money, so the most famous of them drove on a variety of events. Within a short period the Klausenrennen gained a superb reputation with a winners list reading like the who-is-who both on the drivers and manufacturers side including Otto Merz and Rudolf Caracciola on Mercedes- Benz, Louis Chiron on Bugatti or Hans Stuck on Austro Daimler so the Klausenrennen was one of the 10 races to form the first European Hillclimb Championship in 1930.

Held every second year by then 1932 was one of the most spectacular events with top drivers in all different race classes, Tazio Nuvolari was driving Alfa Romeo 8C in the Sports car class against Hans Stuck on Mercedes-Benz SSKL, in the race car class three times winner Louis Chiron and Achille Varzi on the four-wheel driven Bugatti T53 were chasing Caracciola in his Alfa Romeo P3 setting a new record with less than 16 minutes on the unpaved road up the hill.

1934 saw the last race up the hill on the Klausenpass, the speed on the bumpy road (especially on the Urnerboden) made the race to dangerous with top speeds of more than 200 km/h on the straight but the final chapter was also the highlight of its short history. Despite a difficult journey up the hill to the most sought after places at the final serpentines thousands of spectators watched an epic duel on the nature tribunes. Both Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz have sent their new Silver Arrows driven by their leading drivers Hans Stuck and Rudolph Caracciola to Linthal to win this prestigious hill climb although the Hill Climb Championship no longer existed this year. Finally Caracciola in the W25 succeeded with about 3 second on the “Bergmeister” Stuck in the 16-cylinder AU to set a new record time of 15:22 minutes.

Like with many other legendary races of the time a revival for classic cars was intended during the upcoming boom of the classic car scene in the 1990s but the Klausenrennen remained a wishful dream for many years. Not just the ban of racing in Switzerland after the Le Mans crash in 1955 but also the special topography and importance of the Klausenpass made the organization a nightmare. Being the main road between the Kanton Glarus and Uri it is difficult to get a closure for an entire weekend, special rights of the farmers on the Urnerboden made a date necessary after the “Almabtrieb” (the take down of the cows from the alp to their winter quarter), the planning for the first event took about 5 years to see a glorious premiere in 1993 with about 400 cars and bikes at the hill. Since these early days four more memorials were held to the present day, the last one in 2006. Although the organization changed over the years, the main concept and the problems stayed the same, being restricted to the era 1922-1934 this is a spectacle for fans but pre-war events seem to have problems attracting sponsors compared to the more glamorous 1950s racing events. After a cancellation of the 2011 event finally this year saw the fifth edition, officially the 11th Klausenrennen following the original 10 edition as this was the first “race” compared to the previous regularity editions.

On Friday morning about 270 cars and bikes were displayed on the crowded main place in Glarus for the scrutineering including the main attraction of the event, the Mercedes-Benz W25 wearing the same race number as back in 1934. In cooperation with Swiss watchmaker IWC the classic department of the oldest car manufacturer in the world brought the only running example of the first Silver Arrow in existence having one of its few outings on selected events. Restored back to former glory a few years ago this was the first possibility to bring this car back to the venue of its triumph, the invaluable gem was driven by Roland Asch on the following two days. Former DTM driver Asch apparently had fun driving the W25 up the hill as one could see by a huge smile under the jet helmet, wild slides around the corners and the unique sound of permanently engaged supercharger heard all the way up the hill entertained the crowds especially on the steep and sparse “Vorfrutt” near the finish. As this section if very difficult to reach, most of the spectators stayed on the first corners in Linthal as the top was just reachable from the Uri-side due to the missing of some shuttle buses. Although the W25 suffered some gear box problems on the second day obstructing the straight 8 on his way this was the undoubted highlight of the event and worth alone the troublesome ascent.

Unfortunately Audi was not willing to bring one of the former opponents but preferred to demonstrate some Audi Quattro driven by the Swiss Le Mans winner Marco Fässler. Although this is certainly a good sight not few did not see the connection to the event, this would have been a great opportunity to give the Auto Union C/D-Type a rare outing just as back in 1998 when it was driven by Emanuele Pirro.

With few support from the other manufacturers and museums it was the enthusiasm of the private entrants to make this weekend special. After the long scrutineering process the cars and bikes drove up from Glarus to Linthal for the three practice and race runs on Saturday and Sunday.

In four classes for bikes and cars in regularity and race category the first run was held on Saturday morning. The first corners after the start in front of the grand stands are the only part of the hill climb that still wears its original surface cobblestone before the road leads through the forest to the Urnerboden half way up. The long (about 8 Kilometres) alp is normally the fastest part of the run up the hill but like in previous year it was neutralized for safety reasons because of the bumpy surface so the race is restarted at its end for the second and more interesting part of the run. Soon after leaving the treeline the view is spectacular over the serpentines, the Urnerboden and the surrounding mountains. As intended earlier it is a big shame that this was just enjoyed by some photographers and few spectators, a bigger cheering crowd would have been also in the interest of the competitors as the thin air and the surface were a problem for some of the cars, with every run up the hill the amount of cars (especially in the race car class) making it up the hill was reduced.

Fortunately the weather was just perfect most of the time as it was neither to hot (to become a problem for the coolant) nor as cold as a few weeks earlier when the Klausen already saw the first snow of the year. Just with the end of the last run on Sunday a rain shower accompanied the last cars on the 21.5 kilometre.

Although every entrant who made it up the hill was a winner that day there is certainly a final result as well, fastest of the cars was the 1939 Talbot Lago driven by Christian Traber followed by Rainer Ott in the 1936 ERA B-Type. Almost as fast was the first of the Morgan Three-wheeler with less than 14:30 minutes in both times runs.

There are a lot of events to visit every year and most of them are repeating themselves so an event every 5 years is already special as it is a rare opportunity. Furthermore there are few mythical moments like a rare 1950s racing Ferrari in Tuscany during the Mille Miglia, a Porsche 917 during the night at the Le Mans Classics but the sight of a Mercedes-Benz W25 or an Alfa Romeo P3 on an alpine pass with this surrounding landscape might be even more special. Certainly some people will talk about the experience of seeing the Silver Arrow at the Klausenpass in the years to come, hopefully even more will have the same chance near future to do so. The Klausenrennen is certainly an event that deserves a proper main sponsor for the next editions making this a more calculable risk for the organizers. With the experience of this edition and the enthusiasm of all participating drivers and 500 helpers we can hope for a strong future of the event, almost 30000 visitors prove that this traditional hill climb attracts a lot of interest. Maybe in five years Audi will join in to revive the duel of 1934 to even surpass this edition.

Report & images ... Peter & Wolfgang Singhof