Motorsport road racing circuits and events have been banned in Switzerland since 1955, as a reaction to the infamous Le Mans disaster occurred that June. While this explains the lack of classic racing circuits in the country, it doesn’t mean the Swiss don’t have other formats that allow for fast driving: time-trial events such as rallyes, hillclimbs, and slaloms are exempted from the ban and have a long tradition here. With busy starting fields of historic and modern cars mixing together, enthusiastic fans and packed calendars demonstrate that the Swiss motorsport scene is very much alive in 2018. Some events are strictly competitive with all the necessary regulations applying, others are more laid-back and open to a wider audience.
The GP Mutschellen Hillclimb, which took place for the 6th time at the end of April this year, is of the latter sort. It gets its name after the Mutschellen-Pass, which is often recognized as the lowest mountain pass in Europe, due to its summit elevation of only 551 meters above sea level. For many in Switzerland, the Mutschellen GP is traditionally the first motorsport event of the year, even if it’s not technically a race—more of a demonstration without timing.
Arriving in the charming town of Rudolfstetten, one can’t help but quickly realize that this event has a different vibe to it than a Milla Miglia or a Monaco Historique. The residential streets of the village are temporarily transformed into a big open paddock, where participants and spectators blend in a friendly and laid-back atmosphere. Between priceless race cars, spare parts, and plenty of tools lying around, this is where old friends meet again and new friendships are born over talks of carburetor settings and tyre pressures. The hands-on and uncomplicated spirit carries on to the registration process: announce yourself, receive starting number, sign liability disclaimer, and you’re good to go.
Walking up the hill, the atmosphere becomes more and more like that of a village festival, complete with food stands, music and thousands of people slowly filling up the grassy hillsides around the course in search of a good vantage point.
Many things are quintessentially Swiss too: in a repurposed cow barn, the national sausages Bratwurst or Cervelat are served, while beverage options always include domestic beer and the typical Rivella soft drink. Only meters behind the protection barriers, a group of cows is quietly grazing in the meadow, unimpressed by the noise echoing through the idyllic scenery. Taking place on a Sunday, at 10:30 in the morning, all racing is interrupted for the church service. “Dear motorsport fans, I welcome you in the name of the father, and the son and of the holy spirit” is heard from the speakers. Down at the start, the next group is ready for its run up the hill.
The variety of vehicles participating is stunning, spanning 100 years of history. There are of course the more sensible choices like Porsches, Alfas, and Alpines, but also single-seaters, muscle cars, sports-prototypes, pre-war machines, and rarities like the Ferrari 250 GT Boano, a Jaguar Lister Knobbly, or the Swiss-made Sauber C-2, one of the first Sauber creations that was single-handedly restored by the current owner in his own workshop nearby.
Rounding up the already impressive display are numerous historic motorbikes on two or three wheels, a firetruck-parade, and an incredible number of microcars. These tiny cars were built in Europe after the war, answering the need of cheap mobility and a roof above the head. With their unusual sizes and shapes and vibrant colors, they absolutely deserved the attention they got during their admittedly slower-paced run up the hill.
While fast and scenic, the course is not particularly long nor challenging. But as one participant rightly said: “It’s also important to just be here, put on a good show for the people and let the children get close with the cars, share our enthusiasm with them, so that they’ll hopefully someday take it on from us.”
In a scene where focus is often put on exclusivity and luxury, genuine events like the GP Mutschellen remind us that motoring is a passion that can be enjoyed by everybody, regardless of which blend or brand they prefer.