Wilhelm Baard’s 820kW Nissan GT-R is one of the early pre-race favourites.
Knysna - Preparations for the 2018 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, which takes place from May 3 to 6, are running at a feverish pace amongst the organisers and competitors alike.

All eyes will be on the fiercely competitive Modified Saloon Car category in the King of the Hill challenge which will feature 49 cars spread across nine classes. This category hosts the true beasts of the Hillclimb, with all types of mild to totally wild creations set to attack the 1.9km course.

One of the pre-event favourites is double champion Wilhelm Baard in his radical Nissan R35 GT-R with its outlandish aerodynamic package that was developed for the famous Pikes Peak Hillclimb in the US. With around 820kW on tap from its highly tuned 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 engine, the former Group N racer powered the GT-R to a new class record of 39.892 sec last year to become the first road-based car to officially break the 40-second barrier.

“We are aiming to be quicker this year and, with serious competition from several other drivers, our target will be to go under 39 seconds,” Baard says. “We’ve done quite a bit of work on the car, introducing the upgrades that we didn’t have time to finish before the 2017 Hillclimb. This is mainly focused on the chassis with the GT-R now slightly wider than before, and we have also improved the efficiency of the aerodynamics.”

Baard predicts that his biggest rivals for the King of the Hill title will come from the likes of Franco Scribante who is new to the Modified Saloon Car category this year, along with the Joubert brothers in their exceptionally fast Lotus entries. Plus, there’s a strong contingent of other Nissan GT-Rs that are ready to pounce, featuring established challengers such as Darron Gudmanz, Edrich Zwiers and Quinsley Sale.

Unfortunately, one of the Hillclimb’s most spectacular and popular contenders, 2015 winner Des Gutzeit, will be missing from the field this year as he is recovering from recent surgery.

As for Scribante, he is the most successful driver to date at the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb with three Classic Car Friday victories and two King of the Hill titles to his name. He is set to make his debut in the road-based race car class this year in a rapid turbocharged Porsche 911 GT3R built by his highly experienced Scuderia Scribante Racing team (pictured below).

Dawie Joubert also poses a real threat, after setting an unofficial new record for the category of 39.055 sec during practice at the 2017 event. A blown engine sidelined his campaign, but with his wild and extremely light Lotus Exige powered by a turbocharged 2.4-litre engine producing around 560kW, it is recognised as one of the fastest race cars in the country.

Dawie’s brother, Charl, will be joining the fray with another Lotus Exige, in this case employing a modified Honda 3.5 V6 engine, making it a fascinating family affair to determine which driver and engine combination is quickest.

As always, Anton Cronje is sure to be in the mix in his mighty Subaru Impreza WRX STi, along with the likes of Stuart Kidgell in the spectacular Alfa-powered Ultima GTR.

Fans can also look forward to the thunderous V8 entries of Willie Hepburn in the 7-litre Opel Rekord, Craig Czank’s Lexus-engined Corvette, the one-of-a-kind Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG DTM of Thouca Mechanicos and a Ferrari 488 GTB driven by former Production Car driver Shaun Duminy.

The brace of V8 Masters entries includes the ever-popular Enzo Kuun, along with two US-based drivers, Kai Goddard and Steve Kimpton, who return for their second Jaguar Simola Hillclimb.

It’s also worth keeping an eye out for some of fastest female drivers in the country, comprising Tanya Watts in her hot Subaru Impreza WRX STi, and Clare Vale in her distinctive Subaru BRZ.

Adding to the excitement and intrigue for the ninth edition of the Hillclimb, two new classes have been added to the line-up. For the first time in South African motorsport history, an all-electric vehicle will be going head-to-head with its petrol-powered counterparts.

Nissan has revealed that it will be exploring the all-electric avenue with the Leaf Nismo RC, which has been brought in from Japan specially for the Hillclimb. Although it is essentially based on the standard road-going Leaf and uses the same 80kW electric motor, this full-blown racing model was built by the Japanese manufacturer’s famed Nismo division.

For more information on the event and online ticket sales visit www.jaguarsimolahillclimb.com.

Drive360