Words: Matt Master
We meet the 2017 Pirelli Ferrari Hillclimb Championship winner
Dave Snelson would tell you he is an ordinary guy. Dave not David, he insists, in his warm Midlands timbre, from the driver’s seat of his Giallo Modena 458. He has pulled over in a petrol station to chat, the rich rumble of that 4.5-litre V8 playing havoc with a crackly connection until it finally falls silent.
In truth, Snelson is anything but ordinary. A 55-year-old self-made man who cut his driving teeth in Transit vans, he has just won the 2017 Pirelli Ferrari Hillclimb Championship, becoming one of a small group to have lifted the trophy in the event’s 30-year history.
Company director Snelson bought his first Ferrari 15 years ago – a 355 – and from then things began to snowball. No fewer than 19 more have passed through his hands in the intervening years, with his current stable including a Rosso Scuderia F430 alongside the 458 he is in today.
It was in the F430, however, that Snelson won this year’s championship. He took the title in his second season, winning 13 of the 23 races he has entered thus far and setting a new British record at Brands Hatch in the process.
Snelson first became aware of the Pirelli championship, he casually reveals, while reading a car magazine in the bath. His wife encouraged him to take part and before long it became a devotion for the pair of them.
The series is open to Ferraris models of all ages, and competition is balanced with a handicapping system that guarantees remarkably close racing throughout the season.
The rules stipulate that the cars must be stock and road-legal. They are driven to the circuit without support, spares packages or trailers full of tyres.
It’s a straightforward way into entry-level motorsport, with the road-going requirement ensuring minimal outlay, and a friendly, supportive paddock always on hand for what few hurdles there are still to jump. This is amateur racing at its most democratic and accessible.
It is, nevertheless, quite feisty at the front as Snelson reveals. Two practice runs are allowed before two timed sprints, with hundredths of a second separating the top of the field and total commitment in evidence as cars hit blind crests at speeds nudging 190km/h.
Some rallying experience and repeat visits to the Nürburgring's “Nordschleife” have stood Snelson in good stead, but even he recalls various white-knuckle moments en route to his first title, including a 100-yard high-speed spin at Prescott, which he demurely describes as ‘a spot of mowing the grass’.
Predictably undeterred, he will return to defend his title in 2018, between the thousands of miles he racks up on European road trips – Ferrari-honed pilgrimages to iconic driving destinations. ‘I use them, I don’t polish them,’ he remarks of his cars. ‘I work very hard and I enjoy driving them.’
And in the truest sense, driving them as intended.