Robot Racing began in March 2016 as a partnership between Killarney International Raceway and the City of Cape Town. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)
Robot Racing began in March 2016 as a partnership between Killarney International Raceway and the City of Cape Town. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

PHOTO ESSAY: 'We'll bend over backwards to accommodate streets racers, just go through the correct process'

By Theolin Tembo Time of article published Feb 4, 2019

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“I think we’re at a point now where Robot Racing has been running for a while, and participation figures are between 6 500 and 7 500, which is encouraging, but there are still a lot of people dicing on the roads.”

This was according to JP Smith, Mayco member for Safety and Security, who attended the Robot Racing event at Killarney International Raceway last Wednesday.

Smith recently participated in the Robot Racing event as a way to highlight the alternative avenues to illegal street racing, which has been placed in the spotlight since the horrific crash on the N1 in the early hours of Monday, 21 January.

“We have to ask ourselves what do we need to do to make this more appealing. Before we came here, we’ve been talking over the last few months on how to make this event ideal."

The Robot Racing event at Killarney International Raceway slowly filling up with drivers ready to either watch or get behind the wheel at the event. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)
The Scrutineering Bay, where vehicles are accessed before taking part in Robot Racing. Video: Theolin Tembo/Cape Argus
After the safety tests have been conducted, and the cars deemed ready to participate, they then leave the Scrutineering Bay and join the others lining up. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

Smith explained that there are a few factors that can be seen impacting on the level of attendance of Robot Racing:

“Capacity - the fact that the strip isn’t long enough for some of the guys to race here. There is the possibility of extending the strip out of the property and have a longer area for guys to race, and then taper off at the end.”

“Conventional drag racing is held over 400 metres, but there is strong demand among Cape Town street-racing community for an 800-metre strip where more powerful cars can compete in top-speed runs. Killarney International Raceway and the City are exploring the feasibility of creating a longer strip at the present facility or alternatively, finding alternative venues where Killarney could host tops speed runs.

“The alternative option, which is probably easier, is to go host this at Wingfield or Ysterplaat. That would depend on Wingfield and Ysterplaat’s willingness to have it there.”

“By and large, these events lose money. Unfortunately, many of the participants aren’t appreciative of what it costs to run events like this. Killarney loses money, even with what the City contributes, it’s not profitable as a whole. It loses money,” he said.

JP Smith with Des Easom from Killarney International Raceway where they addressed the media. Video: Theolin/Cape Argus
Cars all lined up at Killarney International Raceway, ready to test their car's power. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)
It's mandatory that all participants at the Robot Racing wear helmets as a safety precaution. There are also medical personnel on hand. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

“We have to have 70-80 marshalls here, participants to run this event and that generates a lot of costs. You have to have crash barriers, medical personnel and crews to help... It’s not profitable to run.

“The City contributed when Robot Racing started in 2016, but has not contributed since then. Almost three years of successful weekly events can be regarded as proof of concept but Killarney has been carrying the costs for most of that time, and these events have been running at a loss.”

James van Rooy, 27, a regular spectator and street race at the Robot Racing shed his insight on the matter saying that he enjoys the event.

“I enjoy coming here every Wednesday night, paying the R70, and then I can do as many runs as I can,” he said.

“There is also Saldanha drags which is all the way in Saldanha Bay, which is about 800 meters but I think what the guys normally want is a kilometre straight line track where they can fully test out their vehicles.”

“Killarney has been there all the years, we only know about times and speed on this short track, but if it is a possibility to extend it, then I encourage it because I would love to test out my car’s full power, which I haven’t yet,” van Rooy said.

Smith participated in the Robot Racing event as a way to highlight the alternative avenues in place to illegal street racing, which has been placed in the spotlight since the horrific crash on the N1 in the early hours of Monday, 21 January. Video: Theolin Tembo/Cape Argus
Marshalls are on hand to direct the drivers at the starting mark, and to keep the flow of participants moving steadily. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

Smith added that the other option is amending the existing agreement the City has with Killarney International Raceway - which they are looking into.

“We can see if the City can bring in more money, and perhaps get province to chip in as well, to reduce the entrance cost for participants. Then make that a little bit more cheaper and a little bit more affordable. That will tempt a little bit more people to come here, rather than let them keep racing on the street.”

“We’re increasingly partnering with Killarney to make more and more options, and we entertain applications from elsewhere.”

Smith then specifically touched on the participants within the motorcar racing scene, and how they should go about securing applications for events.

“We will accommodate you, we’ll bend over backwards, we have done so before - like for DJ Ready D’s events and other stuff. We have been more than accommodating, we’ll contribute funding, just go through the proper events application process,” Smith said.

On average roughly 400 people come along to watch the Robot Racing event every Wednesday. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)
And off they go...Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

“We’ll even help with the paperwork, but understand that it is probably more expensive to host these kinds of events than what you think it is.

“Which is why a purposeful venue like this makes more sense.

“The purpose here is to get people off the streets, out of illegal practices and into a safe and better-organised environment.

“We must make it possible for people to want to be here and to make it easier for them to be here,” Smith said.

Smith listed the following three points as his commitment to combating illegal street racing and making Robot Racing more appealing:

  • Looking into the issue of harassment outside the venue, or as it is perceived by the Ghost Squad.
  • Try looking at the length of the track, in as much as that is possible, or at an alternative venue to attract more of the top end racers.
  • Renewing the agreement with Killarney around Robot Racing particularly, and seeing if the City will contribute a bit more funding to make the cost of entry less of a barrier.

Smith added: “I understand what it is to be in the sport. It’s expensive and you are putting a lot of money into your tires and car, so we don’t want additional barriers that tempt people to go and do what happened on the N1 last week.”

Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

Des Easom, Executive Manager of the Killarney International Raceway, said that on average they have 400 spectators who attend Robot Racing and 200 racers taking part, who would otherwise be racing on public roads illegally. He also revealed that he is aware of the arguments racers have for doing it illegally.

“Robot racing has been going since 2016, but I think that people no see the benefits.

“It’s difficult to speak on the illegal street racer’s behalf but according to some of the Facebook posts, they appear to find the R70 entry fee a bit expensive, some of them prefer the thrill of doing it on the road - the cat and mouse chase - and there’s also an element that looks for the top end runs over a longer distance, which we currently can’t provide due to the configuration of the circuit that we have.”

“Motorsport is inherently dangerous, but when you come to a purpose-built facility like Killarney and with the infrastructure that we have in place - the trained race officials, the medical facilities, the recovery vehicle and etc, it is by far safer to come and do it here.

“The racing is under a controlled environment, and there are no other cars doing weird and strange things, and travelling at different speeds to what you are.”

@thelionmutters

[email protected]

Cape Argus

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