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Hill rounds off year in style
Hill rounds off year in style

After his busiest and most successful season so far, taking in a remarkable 45 races with 12 Wins and 19 Podiums, Kent’s Jake Hill rounded out his year in spectacular style, making his debut in the Gulf Historic Dubai GP Revival.

He was racing one of his favourite cars, the svelte Lotus Elan 26R in the ‘Le Mans 60’s’  three-hour race, along with the huge bonus of being given the incredible opportunity to make his single-seater debut in style – racing the beautiful 1973 Ensign N173 Formula One car in the ’70’s F1′ event  in two races over the weekend.

29 year-old Hill  headed out to the Middle East having been invited to share Colin Sowter’s nimble 1963 Lotus Elan, taking to the circuit in Free Practice on Thursday to learn the 2.66 Mile circuit and help set the car up, and through his regular work with Historic preparation specialists John Danby Racing was also asked to ‘shake down’ not one, but two Formula One cars.

“I have been so looking forward to this event – taking on a new circuit, and  visiting Dubai for the first time ever – and I am hugely grateful to Colin for inviting me to join him in his Lotus. Then I was asked on Thursday morning if I would shake down the Ensign – which I had driven previously at Donington and loved it – and also the 1987 Leyton House 871, which  was just incredible. The Leyton House is just a gem of a car, I enjoyed it so much, and the Ensign is so much fun, the more confident you get the more it ‘talks’ to you and I was getting quicker and quicker – just a brilliant experience!”

However on Friday morning Hill was asked if he would race the elegant British Racing Green Ensign in the two 25 minute races, meaning that he would make his single-seater debut in a Formula One car….

“I got the call on Friday a little while before Free Practice that they would like me to race the Ensign – it took me about a millisecond to say yes of course! A huge ‘thank you’ to my good friend John Danby for being such a huge supporter and putting me forward for this, and for Fred and the team at GPX Historic for making it happen – not many people can say they made their single-seater debut in an F1 car!

Setting solid times in both practice for the Le Mans 60’s and 70’s F1 sessions, the all-important qualifying for F1 came first, with Hill getting more confident with the 500bhp Cosworth DFV V8 power, and putting the car a superb 6th overall, and fastest of the 1970’s cars on the 18-car entry list.

“To be only half a second off of a legend like Thierry Boutsen in a 1980 ‘Ground Effects’ Arrows A3 in my first-ever session, and fastest of the older cars is pretty special. The car rewards commitment, so I’m having to take some deep breaths and get braver every lap!

Later in qualifying for the Le Mans 60’s, Jake and Colin putting the Lotus 13th overall in a field including the brutally powerful Ford GT40’s and E-Type Jaguars, but second of the ‘smaller’ engined cars in the event.

“Pleased with that – Colin’s getting more and more used to the circuit and we made some changes after practice which seemed to have worked, so it should be good for the race”

Saturday saw Hill start the first 25 minute F1 race cautiously, completing the opening lap in 10th position but quickly putting pressure on the cars ahead. As his confidence grew, Hill battled past the Wolf of Yutaka Toriba then the Hesketh of Max Werner, also gaining a place when Stretton spun and another when Grogon’s Arrows hit trouble.  Then when Webb’s Fittipaldi retired with a puncture, bringing out the Safety Car, Hill now sat in fourth place, immediately behind Thierry Boutsen’s Arrows.

At the restart Hill was caught and passed by the 1983 Tyrrell of Jamie Constable, just as Boutsen retired with engine issues, meaning Hill was now fourth as the laps wound down.

Another late Safety Car saw the field bunch up and a recovering Stretton – also in a 1983 Tyrrell – catch and pass the Kent-based driver, with Hill taking a hard-fought 5th, and the first of the 1970’s cars.

“Wow – that’s what it’s like to race an F1 car! Quite tough in 29 degrees heat, but I’m buzzing after that – just absolutely loved it. Some good battles with Max, Yutaka and later with Jamie and Martin, and I learned a lot and lapped half a second quicker than in qualifying which is great. So much fun…”

As dusk began to fall, the 20-car Le Mans 60’s grid of truly superb machinery took the rolling start for a 3 hour battle, with mandatory stops being required and all the leading teams running two drivers for the duration.

Hill started the race, quickly working up into the top ten, lapping fastest of the smaller cars, and as the pit stops began handed the car to Sowter after an hour and now up to 6th place.

Driving smooth and consistent laps, Sowter maintained a solid position on track, and with just over an hour and fifteen left handed back over to Hill to try and close the gap on the similar Elan 26R of Andrew Haddon and Mark Drain.

With their rivals still needing to stop, and Hill able to lap faster than Drain, it was looking positive that the No.26 machine would be able to get ahead of the No.79 machine, however a long Safety Car period enabled the rival car to make their stop and lose the minimum of time, and when the race restarted there were too few laps to run to close the gap, meaning Sowter and Hill ended up a well-earned 8th overall and second of the small engined cars.

“Colin did a great job, and without the Safety Car we would have been right on the other Lotus, but most importantly the car ran faultlessly and handled brilliantly. Huge thanks to Colin, plus Lewis, Steve and the crew for looking after us and for having me on board – I’ve really loved it”

Sunday afternoon’s second 25 lap F1 race saw Hill make an absolutely superb start, running four abreast into Turn One, Hill sweeping around race one winner  Stuey Hall and Jamie Constable and into Third Place.

Hall quickly raced back past, but Hill stayed in touch with the lead battle involving Hall’s March 821, Stretton’s Tyrrell 012 and Cantillon’s Williams FW07B, closing on Stretton mid race before setting into a rhythm in fourth place.

Late on oil dropped caught Hill out, and allowed Constable in the 1983 Tyrrell 011 to rapidly close, the BTCC star having to use all his race craft to keep the quicker car behind, as the pair raced to the line with Hill just hanging on by 0.07 seconds to take a fantastic 4th, and again first of the 70’s machinery.

“Oh my word, that was just amazing! Firstly the opening lap I really went for it, and I think surprised the ‘big boys’ that I was up amongst them, and then staying in touch for quite a while was really pleasing. But those last couple of laps battling with Jamie were intense – so, so pleased to have held on. This has been an incredible weekend both on an off track.

“A massive thanks to JDR and GPX Historic for the Ensign run and the laps in the Leyton House, and of course to Colin and his crew for having me on board, such a memorable experience.

“On top of that my Dad, Simon, and one of my personal partners Dean Cockrell came out on Thursday and spent the weekend – which was also Dad’s birthday – so to have them here was really lovely – I know they had a great time too.

“And what a way to end my 2023 racing year – racing an F1 car in Dubai! Add that to my 6 BTCC wins in the BMW, the 4 Super Touring wins in the Nissan Primera, Wins at Goodwood in the Capri and the Skyline and brilliant races in the BMW CSL, Chevron B26, Ford Mustang and HWM Jaguar it’s been about as busy and varied as I could have ever dreamed of. Plus the absolute best part of 2023…becoming Dad to my little Jude”

“I’m back in a car again next week at Pembrey, where I doubt I’ll be wearing shorts like this week, but will be just as busy in 2024 I’m sure”

Hill will soon announce his 2024 programme, but for now reflects on a remarkable year.

“So many people to thank – you all know who you are – a massive, massive thanks to everyone for making it possible and their support along the way”

Pictures supplied by Simon Hill.