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Salzburg, 29th - 31st of May, 2014

Back in 1929 the first Hill Climb at the Gaisberg in Salzburg, Austria was organized by the Salzburg Automobile Club. Before the war the Gaisbergrennen had a very short history as the last event was held in 1933 before reappearing in 1952, in the following years the race became more and more important as the “International Hill Climb of Austria” became part of the European Hill Climb Championship. Up to 25000 visitors saw the light and nimble Maserati and Porsche Spyder racing up the hill or international racing stars like Hans Herrmann in the 1950s, the late 1960s saw one of the few appearances of the famous Porsche 909 Berg Spyder. It is not a surprise that the light 909 masterminded by Ferdinand Piech was used especially in Salzburg as the Porsche/Piech clan is deeply linked to Austria were his grandfather Ferdinand Porsche did not just work for Austro-Daimler early in his career but also started the production of the cars with his own name in Gmünd after the war. Porsche Salzburg was also importer for the Volkswagen and became later famous for being the livery of the first Porsche 917 to win Le Mans and Salzburg is still the base for the Porsche Holding today. So both Porsche and Piech have a strong relation to the Gaisberg and when the Gaisbergrennen for historic cars was invented in 2003 both were early supporters and still are.

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The Porsche museum does open its treasury year by year to show some of the legendary models of this era like the 550 Spyder and the 356 Abarth GTL that was driven this year by none less than Walter Röhrl. Röhrl is still considered by many as the best rally driver ever and being associated to Porsche in the development and representation it was a pleasure to see him drifting around on the city grand prix.

Ernst Piech on the other side just opened a museum with the work of his grandfather last year in Mattsee near Salzburg and every year he is showing one of several Austro-Daimler in the collection, this year he arrived in a model 28/32 from 1908 wearing jacket and tie just like the gentlemen did back in those days, a coat and hat to protect from the rain that was purring down again that day.

After a very rainy event in 2013 the three organisers Gert Pierer, Hermann Schwarz and Thomas Matzelberger were seen at last year’s award ceremony in wellies and surely they did not expect to need them again this year but the weather forecast was again very bad. So it was not a surprise that the scrutineering at Schloss Hellbrunn (famous for its water garden) proceeded a little bit trudging as few of the 150 entered cars were brought by their owners outside earlier than necessary. After all of them got their race number and the essential transponder the cars were escorted to the Residenzplatz at the Dome were they were expected by an interested crowd despite the increasing rain. Traditionally the Ascension Day is the first day of the Gaisbergrennen as this is the only day that allows a closure of the roads and the bridges over the Salzach for the city grand prix where the cars are sent out for the first regularity trial, fortunately all of the drivers were very disciplined on the slippery roads and so it was left to Röhrl to entertain the spectators with some wild drifts.

The second day is divided in two parts, the first group of race and touring cars did take the hill two times in the morning whereas the sports cars were on a rally through the region just to change in the afternoon. Especially on the Gaisberg the conditions were very bad, the rain was not as heavy as last year and the temperatures were a little bit milder but the fog made the job at the light barrier very difficult as the visibility was limited to a few meters. Many of the cars had to fight with fogged windshields so it was not just a question of talent but also of experience as the regular entrants already knew where to expect the finish line; it is even more remarkable that still some of them were driving with accuracy on a fraction of a second. At least the conditions were equal for everyone as the afternoon was not better.

The third day starts early in the morning at the Salzburgring where every driver can set his own time that has to be repeated in the following laps. As the weather improved a little bit over the night several cars could be seen that were missing the day before, especially the open race cars and the brutish Lola T70 that would have been not driveable under those conditions. In five groups sorted by their intended pace the historic cars were released from the paddocks and after a few more showers the later groups even saw the sun coming out so the final day compensated a little bit for the two previous ones. After the intermezzo on the race track the convoy was led to the nearby Schloß Hotel Fuschl am See for a nice line-up in the garden and near the lake during the lunch stop.

After the lunch the final run up the hill was on the program for every car and for the first time within days the surrounding mountains could be seen in dramatic clouds from the finish.
So what is the conclusion of the three days in the Austrian rain? First of all the mood was surprisingly good as could be seen on the evening receptions. The organisers pointed out that they try to keep the group of entrants homogeneous and this shows latest on the opening dinner at the Zistelalm in very rustic ambience. Most of the entrants are regulars and the new ones are warmly welcome. Although a regularity event with winners the ambition seems to be less important than in other events. One of the favourites was driving a perfect time with no penalty point at the hill but because of a misjudgement of the distance to the light barrier he was penalized for speeding and being the first to loose places after a perfect time he was the laugh of the evening but sympathetically he was laughing himself the most showing that the joy of the company with like-minded was more important than the position in the classification.

Nevertheless there was still a winners ceremony and what would be a better place than the famous Hangar 7 of Red Bull were the Formula 1 team celebrated more than one triumph. Not as fast but more regular were the winning teams of Georg Geyer and Gerald Hegenbart in a Porsche 914/6 in front of the Aston Martin DB4 of Florian and Sybille Kunz and the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL of Karsten and Monika Wohlenberg.

Next year most of them will be back at a very entertaining event consisting of four very different parts with the City GP through the crowds, the rally in the Salzurger Land, the Hill Climb and some laps on a modern race track. As diverse as the driving is are the receptions with a rustic evening on the alp, a gala dinner at the Schloß Hellbrunn and the final in the modern Hangar 7 leaving something for everyone. Hopefully this was the last time in years were the wellies were needed and after two rainy years a sunny 2015 event should reward the organizing trio for their efforts over the last dozen editions.

Report & Images ... Peter Singhof