Paula Elstrek discusses the Rob Roy Hillclimb
Paula Elstrek discusses the Rob Roy Hillclimb
Producer Sophie Boord
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In 1996, racing driver Paula Elstrek competed in the Victorian Hillclimb Championship at the Rob Roy Hillclimb in her home-built Suzuki-powered Piranha Formula Libre open wheeler.
She smashed the record, held by Leo Bates, who had previously set three records at Rob Roy in his self-built Lobito F3 open wheeler, in 1993,1994 and 1995 when he made a time of 21.91 seconds. Elstrek’s new record, at 21.57 seconds was held for a period of 8 years, when it was taken by Andrew Howell in 2004, in a Pilbeam MP82 at 19.06 seconds.
In this video Paula Elstrek discusses the Rob Roy track, including an account of the day she set the record, as well as her racing history in general.
The Rob Roy Hillclimb, Australia’s oldest purpose-built Hillclimb, was established in 1937 at Christmas Hills, about 30 kilometres from the centre of Melbourne. Hillclimbing, in which cars are driven uphill one at a time against the clock, is one of motorsport’s oldest events and was first held in 1897 in France.
Cut out of the bush, the Rob Roy course included an uphill, half-mile, graded dirt road. In 1939, the track was sealed and became one of only three bitumen-surfaced purpose-built hillclimbs in the world, the other two being the Shelsley Walsh and Prescott courses in the UK.
The Rob Roy Hillclimb attracted professionals, enthusiasts and amateurs, along with their often specially modified Bugattis, Elfins, MGs and Holdens, and has a special place in Australia’s motoring history. Drivers who competed here include Jack Brabham, Harry Firth, Stirling Moss, Jean Behra, Reg Parnell, Stan Jones, Lex Davison, Bill Patterson, Doug Whiteford, Peter Whitehead, Reg Hunt and Len Lukey, drivers who also tackled and in some cases vanquished the Formula One circuit.
In 1962, bushfires ravaged the Rob Roy course, and it lay in disuse for 30 years until the MG Car Club of Victoria secured a lease on the property and faithfully restored the track to host a bustling schedule of Hillclimb events every year.
Sources: Leon Sims, A history of Rob Roy Hillclimb - 1937 to 1961 - The Hill, The Drivers, The Cars. And, the MG Car Club of Victoria
-Hi. My name is Paula Elstrek, and I'm the fastest woman in four wheels. Yeah, I did a lot of local hill climbing. But Rob Roy was a hill climb track that had a great history. One of the events I inquired and they gave me permission to bring my car down. I don't think they thought I was going to break their track record. With hill climbing, they have fastest outright time, and then they always have fastest woman.
Back then, it was like, I hope they have the fastest man of the day, like turn it around, because now, a female holds the track record. But they were really supportive when our family went down there. I had trouble with the car. It had broken welds. They got a farmer down the road to turn up in this old car that looked like that needed to be welded and fixed, not mine.
And people helped me get it ready to actually compete and able to run a couple of extra runs. So that, I think, made it an more special victory. I've driven many different types of motor sport, from go-carting, to sprints, to dirt racing offered, salt lakes with jet cars. But I think the thing about hill climbing is you're racing against yourself really. You need to get everything ready and make that one perfect run.
And it's very easy to make a mistake, and you've lost a couple of tenths of a second. We might have lost a championship because of one corner or leading into one corner. If you want to be a good driver, you need to be a good mechanic and understand your car. The car I was driving, the Piranha was 1,100 cc, GSX motorbike engine, former libra cart. I did a lot of body modifications and just tailored it, I suppose, to suit my driving style and myself.
Then the next step, I was supposed to get more speed, just make the engine bigger and faster, so I did a lot of modifications and worked with an engine developer, and we built a really strong hill climb engine. Your best hill climb engine is something that's really quick, but only for that short distance. So if you did a lap of Bathurst with it, it would blow up and destroy itself. So you want something like a drag engine. Once that was then designed and finished, then I did body modifications.
So I changed the suspension, did different aerodynamics with the body work, just tailored little bits and pieces to suit different tracks too at times. Spending time in that garage, it's like therapy. You've got to get everything right. And if you know about how your car's going to handle, then you've got more chances of succeeding or knowing if something's going to go wrong.