By: Colin Mileman
Knysna: The first day of King of the Hill at the 2022 Simola Hillclimb was a highly unpredictable and challenging one for all of the competitors, as cold and wet conditions descended on Knysna on Saturday.
Heavy overnight rain tapered off for the early practice sessions, but persistent drizzle kept everyone on their toes until the weather cleared up by mid-morning and times started tumbling.
Andre Bezuidenhout set the benchmark for the Single Seater and Sports Prototype category by posting a time of 37.466 seconds in the fourth and final practice – a mere 2.5 seconds off his record time from last year, despite going out on intermediate wet tyres. He had trouble in the first qualifying session though, when the 2007 Gould GR55’s cut-off switch was knocked down by a heavy impact with one of the bumps on the run up the 1.9 km Simola Hill, and he was forced to abandon the run.
Bezuidenhout returned to the action in the second qualifying session, making some aerodynamic and ride height changes to the car, and switching back to intermediate tyres as a little drizzle returned after his short-lived Q1 attempt on slicks. Thus, his only qualifying time of the day was four seconds slower at 41.420 sec when he did a cautious shakedown run to check if there was any damage to the car.
“It was a mixed bag for all of the competitors, with a very small window when it was dry,” Bezuidenhout said. “If it’s consistently wet then it’s fine because you can run wet weather tyres, but when it’s changing all the time it’s very difficult, and you just don’t know what the right option is for the conditions.
“I was very happy with my quickest time in practice, but the issue with the cut-off switch left me stranded,” he added. “At least the weather for tomorrow looks good and we’ll be back to a level playing ground.”
Following Bezuidenhout’s hassles, Robert Wolk emerged as the fastest of the Single Seater and Sports Prototype competitors in qualifying, crossing the line in 40.221 seconds in the much older 1989 Pillbeam MP58 – although it has been fitted with a new-generation Infinity 4.0-litre V8 IndyCar engine.
“We’ve had a couple of issues to work through, including a crank sensor fault on the engine,” Wolk said. “We are also working on the balance of the car, as it’s bottoming out a lot in the bumpy sections and some of the corners. Also, with a four-speed gearbox it’s quite a challenge to drive compared to the six-speed gearboxes I’m used to.”
In the Modified Saloon Car category, an exciting battle is brewing between the two leading competitors, comprising multiple and reigning King of the Hill, Franco Scribante in his radical multi-winged 2016 Nissan R35 GT-R, and a new protagonist in the form of Reghard Roets.
As a former production car racer and three-time winner of the Road Car and Supercar category at the Simola Hillclimb, Roets has an impressive pedigree. Now, at the helm of the ex-Wilhelm Baard BB Motorsport 2014 Nissan R35 GT-R, he is a formidable title contender. Following today’s opening qualifying runs, Roets holds the advantage with a best time of 40.296 seconds, just over three-tenths quicker than Scribante.
“I am very happy with our performance so far,” Roets said. “The car is very quick, and we’re making some small changes to the suspension, but I’m confident that a 39-second time is definitely on the cards. I’m loving the rivaly with Franco, as we’ve been trading fastest times, so I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
JP van der Walt continued to stamp his authority on the Road Car and Supercar category, this time switching to a 2016 Porsche 911 Turbo S after winning last year’s event in a 911 GT3 RS. The four-wheel drive system certainly helped him in the slippery conditions today, and he ended with a best qualifying time of 45.626 seconds - 0.2 sec quicker than his winning time last year in a 911 GT3 RS, and 1.2 seconds faster than Gordon Nicholson in the 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus.