Hill-climbs, almost as much as drag racing, are really about the cars – and there was an awe-inspiring line-up at Simola, from showroom-specification hot hatches to exotic supercars and some of the wildest track-attack machines in South Africa.
This was the first time that the King of the Hill title had been split into three categories – Single Seaters and Sports Cars, Modified Saloons, and Road and Supercars – and the result was closer racing, and an all-out effort from the top runners in each category.
Single Seaters and Sports Cars
But in the end there can be only one, as they say, and that one was Andre Bezuidenhout. His Cosworth-powered 1989 Dallara F189 Formula One car was sidelined by a minor electrical failure at his first visit to Simola in 2016; this year he was back with his sights set on the big prize – the outright course record.
And that’s what he got, breaking Franco Scribante’s 2016 record of 38.646s by almost a second with a Top 10 Shoot Out run up the intimidating 1.9 kilometre course of 37.695s – that’s an average speed of more than 181km/h, including the standing start!
He actually went faster in qualifying, posting a blistering 37.162, but as the track temperature dropped for the Class Finals he couldn’t find quite the same level of grip.
Defending champion Franco Scribante put in what he described as a near-perfect final run in his 1972 Chevron B26, but admitted there was no catching the Dallara. He also posted his best time of the weekend – 39.387s – in qualifying, and finished second in the Final with a 39.754.
Robert Wolk took third in class with his Formula Renault V6, posting a final run of 39.807s.
Wilhelm Baard’s 2014 R35 GT-R became the first tintop to break 40 seconds. Picture: Rob Till
Modified Saloon Cars
If the single seaters are all about precision and agility, the Modifieds do it on sheer brute power – in the case of the top runners, more than 1100kW of it!
This class produced a flat-out showdown between two former champions – 2011 winner Wilhelm Baard and 2015 title-holder Des Gutzeit – each driving a radically tuned Nissan GT-R. And it went right down to the wire as Baard’s 2014 R35 GT-R became the first tintop to break 40 seconds, taking the win with a 39.892s run in the Shoot Out.
“During qualifying and the class finals the car was cutting boost, but it all came together and I gave it everything in the Shoot Out,” said Baard. “Now it’s time that we see more manufacturers on the course.
“Dawie Joubert was here with an incredible Lotus Exige, and I have to give him credit for an amazing time of 39.055 seconds in qualifying, but he had an engine problem and couldn’t make the Shoot Out.
“It’s a shame, but that’s motorsport and it’s happened to us before. It’s just the way it goes.”
Ultra-competitive Des Gutzeit took his wildly modified 1992 R32 GT-R to a new personal best of 40.114s to clinch second while Anton Cronje became something of a giant-killer, taking third with a 40.754s run in his Subaru Impreza WRX.
Regard Roets posted the fastest time ever by a street-legal car. Picture: Rob Till
Road and Super Cars
There were more GT-R fireworks in the category for street-legal machinery, with two 2017 models, in the hands of Reghard Roets and outgoing street-car king Jaki Scheckter taking on the equally new Jaguar F-Type SVR entries of American racing ace Randy Pobst and Jaguar’s Dawie Olivier.
They were in a class of their own throughout the weekend, but it was Roets in the NXGen-prepared car who posted the fastest time ever by a street-legal car of 44.766s to win the category at his first attempt. It wasn’t all plain sailing, however; Roets damaged the rear suspension of the GT-R on Saturday, and his team had to work late to get the car ready for Sunday’s finals. Roets gave them all the credit.
“The car was faultless today,”he said. “The team did an amazing job after a late night and very early morning.
“This is an unbelievable event – the cars and drivers are amazing, the times are unpredictable, there’s no margin for error. It’s one hell of an exciting drive up this hill!”
Guest driver, multiple US racing champion Randy Pobst, gave the title sponsor something to celebrate, finishing second in class with a time of 44.999s in the F-Type SVR.
“It took me a while to figure out the electronics of the F-Type, but I found the best set-up for the final three runs and I’m really happy with the results.
“The course is very challenging but extremely exciting, and I was surprised at the level of the cars here, particularly Andre’s Dallara and Franco’s commitment to winning Classic Car Friday and finishing second on Sunday in those two amazing Chevrons.”
Third and fourth in class went to Scheckter and Olivier with times of 45.171s and 45.286 respectively.
Classic Car Friday
And as Pobst has already given away, Classic Car Friday belonged to the immaculately prepared 1970 Scribante Chevron B19, which clinched its third consecutive class title with a run of 41.671s, just outside Scribante’s own course record of 41.432. Second was Charles Arton’s 1979 March Formula Atlantic single-seater, who shaved more than 2.4s off his 2015 personal best to post a 43.471.
Third – in his first ever hill-climb – was Peter Jenkins in another B19. Jenkins picked up a misfire off the line on his final run, only for it to clear as he went into the fast right-hand Turn 1 – so he put foot and salvaged third in class, having posted a best time of 46.558 in qualifying.