Knysna - “King of the Hill” is the ultimate accolade in hillclimbing, and for the eighth Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, on from 4-7 May, the organisers have introduced three separate King of the Hill categories with equal status for standard road and supercars, modified saloon cars, and single-seater or sports racing cars.
Sporting director Geoff Goddard explained: “It was clear from the 2016 King of the Hill that the single-seaters and sports racing cars are in a class of their own due to their light weight, exceptional power-to-weight ratio and superior aerodynamics.
“Even with huge power, the saloon-based racing cars are much heavier and simply can’t compete on an equal footing.
Franco Scribante dominated the 2016 event in his classic Chevron B26, setting a new record time of 38.646s, while the best of the rest in the final shootout was 2015 winner Des Gutzeit in his mighty 1100kW Nissan Skyline GT-R, 1.678s adrift.
But that was only after André Bezuidenhout in his Dallara Formula 1 car dropped out due to a failed engine crankshaft sensor, and Robert Wolk crashed his Formula Renault V6 in the class finals - other than Scribante, they were the only competitors to break the 40 second barrier.
The Chevron hotshot will be the man to beat in this fiercely competitive new category - and that’s the way he wants it.
“I’m going out to set the fastest overall time and win again,” he said. “The B26 is very much as we ran it last year, although we’ve done some work on its V8, looking for extra power.
“I think 37 seconds is achievable,” he added. “I could have gone quicker last year, but I was put off on the Sunday morning when the suspension failed, and never felt really confident after that.
“The biggest threats will definitely be Robert Wolk in the Formula Renault V6, it’s extremely fast and he’s a really quick driver, along with André Bezuidenhout in the Formula One Dallara.”
Indeed, Bezuidenhout has his sights set on the 2017 title in the screaming Cosworth V8-powered F189 - the same car that Andrea de Cesaris drove in the 1989 Canadian Grand Prix, and which holds the ultimate lap record of 58.839s at Zwartkops.
“We were on a steep learning curve last year with the tricky wet conditions on the Saturday,” he said. “We spent a lot of time finding the right suspension set-up, which is critical for a Formula One car.”
Bezuidenhout has fitted a later version of the Magneti Marelli sensor that failed in 2016, and will be using brand new super-soft race tyres.
“This car is tricky to drive,” he admitted, “especially because it has a mechanical gearshift, unlike the electronic paddle shift on modern race cars such as the Formula Renault V6, and which Franco has fitted on the Chevron too.
”The Dallara isn’t really suited to hillclimbs because the carbon fibre brakes need a lot of heat to work properly, while the engine also tends to overheat while waiting 30 seconds on the start line, but we’ll work around these problems and I’ll give it my best shot.”
One of the interesting additions to the line-up for Simola 2017 is the South African-designed and built Barnard BTR, a Le Mans Prototype-style sports-racing car that competes in Class C1 along with the single-seaters.
Veteran Izak Spies has entered his street-legal model, which has a 560kW Chevrolet LS7 V8, while Jacques Wheeler makes his third appearance at Simola in a full racing spec BTR powered by a twin-turbocharged Lexus V8 with more than 480kW on tap.
“The Barnard is designed for a top speed of 400km/h, with the right gearing,” said Spies, “although we’ll be using much shorter ratios for the Hillclimb. But what makes this car really special is the huge downforce produced by its aerodynamics.
“For Simola, it’s all about cornering speed - and that’s where the Barnard scores.”
Two Formula VW entries - with two-litre naturally aspirated petrol fours in Reynard chassis - will compete in Class C2, driven by Mike Verrier and Garth de Villiers, while there are also a group of track-day specials to watch out for in Class C3, including an Ariel Atom, KTM X-Bow and two Lotus 7s.
A few lucky visitors to the 2017 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb will win a ride in a Jaguar up the 1.9km course with one of Jaguar’s advanced drivers. If you bought your ticket online at www.itickets.co.za you’re in the daily draw.
The winners will be contacted by cellphone and invited to pit lane for an adrenaline-charged ride.