Noosa's fearsome hill climb from inside the cockpit
THERE'S a split second when your car's wheels lose grip, a rocky tree-lined bank fills the view through the windscreen and your heart stops.
In the racing business they call it a "moment". When your car stops doing what you've asked it to do - or expected it to do - and calls you to bring forth some talent to prevent the car re-designing itself against that large gum tree looming into view.
And so it was on Turn 4 of my blast up Noosa's notoriously unforgiving 14-corner course that makes up the twice-annual hill climb race event.
Perhaps I'd got confident too quickly? Perhaps I had too much optimism in the grip level of my tyres? Either way, my classic Peugeot racer was now sideways, I had an armful of opposite lock on my steering wheel and there was a decent dose of squealing rubber filling my crash helmet.
In that split second I'm sure my brain sent the message to my arms and legs: "Please, please find some ability and let's not end upside down in the bush."
Here I was, a hill climb virgin, trying to rekindle my younger days of amateur, fun-filled motor sport at race circuits where long run-offs, slowing gravel traps and cushioning tyre walls were blessed safety nets.
But hill climb events leave no margin for error. Get your driving wrong, especially on the Noosa stage, and in most cases you'll be introducing your race car to a concrete block, a tree, or worst of all, the unknown adventure or tumbling down a steep bank.
In this instance, blessedly, a few saws at the steering wheel and a stab back on the throttle and my little car gathered its composure and was again pointing in a happier direction.
Moment over. Time to breathe. Time to smile.
Discovering the limits of a car and taming it is a joyous challenge, perhaps explaining why man has been racing cars every since their invention 130-odd years ago.
As a hobby motor sport isn't the cheapest, and it's something many enthusiasts shy away from for fear of costs spiralling. The Noosa Hill Climb does bring out dedicated racing hardware where a six-figure spend looks inevitable - this year an Audi Quattro S1 and NASCAR Chevy Monte Carlo were particularly impressive - but I'd taken a more shoestring approach.
My steed was a 1989 Peugeot 205GTI hatchback, bought for $5000 and on the button race ready. I'd owned the same model ten years ago so knew it was one of the best bang-for-the-buck machines available.
Not powerful with 94kW from its 1.9-litre engine, but tipping the scales at a mere 875Kg it is a darty little point-to-point funster offering driver reward sadly missing on most modern cars. It certainly wasn't going to be one of the quickest things up Noosa's hill, but in my eyes would be one of the most enjoyable to throw around.
My Peugeot would be running in the Road Registered class, where basically as long as you have a CAMS racing license and your car has a fire extinguisher fitted you're good to go.
Each car is launched individually up the hill at about 30-second intervals, the clock starts and it's reach the top as quickly as you can. Motor sport at its purest.
Saturday morning of race weekend things moved quickly. Scrutineering and driver briefing over, my car had its stickers on and looked particularly racy; tyre pressures were at their optimum and driver was suited and helmeted.
A call over the loudspeaker had my group to the starting line, and there I was in a train of classic small-engined racers warming up for a dash up the hill.
In front of me a 1970 Fiat 124S. Beautiful thing, but spewing out 40 years of Italian muck from its exhaust pipe directly into my cabin and helmet. I decided being half poisoned before my run probably wasn't ideal, but hey, this is racing.
All too soon I was at the start line, being held until a green light signalled the start of playtime. A decent crowd was present no doubt expecting great things, so it was revs up, clutch dumped and a decent amount of wheelspin so as not to disappoint.
What followed were 80 seconds of pure joy. A delightfully twisty road all to myself, no speed restrictions and a little car darting from one corner to the next seemingly having as much fun as I was.
Over too soon, and the 14 corners dispatched, I was already working out where I could go faster on my next attempt. It's a complex course however, and some of those getting braver began slipping up as the day progressed. One car arrived back on a trailer, its front end bent inwards and wheel gone AWOL. That didn't look much fun.
About an hour later I was off again. Faster this time, then faster still the next, but what a tough track to commit to memory. It felt fast inside the car, but my times suggested otherwise. Up against some of the incredible racing machine on show, the little Peugeot looked very slow indeed.
Foolish pride led to me pushing too hard on the aforementioned "moment" attempt, and after my brief sideways excursion I decided to reign things in a bit. Nothing ruins a race weekend quite like a bent car.
Sunday brought more attempts up the hill, and encouragingly I was shaving time off each run, getting quicker as I learned the nuances of the 1.5km stretch of uphill road.
I was prepared for one final assault at day's end, but for some reason a lot of very nice cars with highly experienced drivers began leaving the road. No injuries thankfully, but enough mangled metal to have me sit the last run out.
It seems many others had the same idea and didn't register a time for their final run - the mind starts playing funny tricks when you witness accident damage first hand.
How did I do? Seventh in class sounds better than second last in class, so I'll go with the former. But my overall time didn't really matter. I kept getting quicker, and with each run I was getting more in tune with piloting an underpowered little car at its limit, rediscovering the joy of driving that most have forgotten in our over-nannying modern cars and ever-stricter road regulations.
And just being a racing driver in a pitlane with like-minded enthusiasts is a delight. We'd share stories, tools and advice - dreaming up new excuses why the next guy was faster.
It's an intoxicating formula, and despite the risk to man and machine over that slithery stretch of Noosa bitumen, the same faces keep coming back for more thrills time and again. This weekend it's on again, and I've already got my helmet and grin ready.
"The Hill" Noosa Hill Climb 2015
What? Timed hill climb race event over 1.5 kilometres.
Where? Gyndier Dr, Tewantin.
When? This weekend, November 7 and 8, racing starts at 8.30am each day.
How much? Day pass $15, weekend pass $20, under-14s free.
More info? noosacarclub.com.au