Iconic Kyalami circuit up for auctionComment on this story
Johannesburg - South Africa's premier racing circuit is scheduled to be auctioned - without reserve - to the highest bidder on 24 July, after years of legal wrangling between the Theodosiou brothers, who hold the management rights to the Kyalami facility, and Nedbank and Imperial Holdings who, not unreasonably, want at least some of their money back out of an investment which is currently sitting there, quietly deteriorating.
Which, according to former general manager Dennis Klopper, is a great pity because, while he was at the helm from 2006 to 2011, the circuit was fully booked every weekend - often seven days a week! - and actually made a tidy profit which, had it not been for the protracted litigation, would probably have enabled it to keep its air intake above water.
While he expressed an almost fatalistic sense of relief that there would now be a resolution to the longstanding dispute - before the iconic circuit simply crumbles away from neglect - he believed that not all hope was lost.
If Imperial - which already owns a reported 30 percent of the shareholding - staves off the bank's claim by taking up the rest of the equity in a private deal with Nedbank, then the circuit could be cleaned up at reasonable cost and be put back into operation.
The circuit has, in fact, been rescued in a somewhat similar fashion at least once before, hence the use of the word 'scheduled' in the first paragraph.
LEAP OF FAITH
But this, said Klopper, was not Imperial's core business, and would require a real leap of faith on its part. In purely cash terms, its best bet would probably be to let some property developer pay them for the ground and turn in into a shopping mall. Kyalami - the name means 'My Home' in Zulu - was out in the country when it was opened in 1961 but its 72 hectares is now a prime location in Midrand, one of the fastest-developing areas in South Africa.
But even that would not be without its pitfalls - the site has a lot of groundwater and, in a true irony, the skidpan is actually built on top of a swamp!
However, Lance Chalwin-Milton, director at the High Street Auction Company, told eNCA.com he'd already received a number of enquiries.
“We've had calls from America, London, Europe,” he said. “If you've ever wanted to own a race track…”
AND WHAT A RACE TRACK
Klopper pointed out that if the circuit were to be lost it would be a huge blow to South African motorsport; there was a great demand in car-crazy South Africa for racing venues, but Kyalami could not be replaced at today's building costs.
The spiritual home of South African motorsport was financially viable, he said, only because it was there and it was all paid for.
The original Kyalami was a fast, flowing circuit with one of the longest main straights in the world, well suited to lead-footed South African motorsport giants such as Bob Olthoff, John Love, Dave Charlton, Tony Viana and Sarel 'Supervan' van der Merwe, who raced against the best in the world there in the annual Nine Hours for sports cars and in the South African Formula One Grand Prix - until politics interfered after the 1985 race.
The circuit was rebuilt in the early 1990s - and again in 1993 - as part of a commercial development, incorporating Sunset Bend, Clubhouse Corner and the Esses into a tight, twisty, very technical 4.26km circuit with 13 corners - all but one of them blind - and the steeply plunging Mineshaft Straight, next to Laguna Sega's infamous Corkscrew the most intimidating drop in world motorsport.
It has hosted 21 Grands Prix - most notoriously the 1977 edition, which claimed the lives of driver Tom Pryce and race marshal Frederick Jansen van Vuuren - four rounds of the World Superbike series between 1998 and 2002, the South African leg of A1 GP in 2008 and 2009 and many other international events.