Saldanha Bay - The growl of upcountry Nissan GT-Rs has taken the day once again at this, the 11th year of the much-anticipated Saldanha Drags.
For years, a good-natured rivalry has existed between the Cape dragsters and the Johannesburg crews. Such a tension is necessary, and serves to heighten the excitement, especially when it comes to what goes down on the tar.
This year, Cape Town petrolheads could only look on with a mix of admiration and envy as Johannesburg’s Graeme Steyn posted a blistering 319.6km/h pass in his Alpha 12 GT-R as he crossed the 800 metre mark.
We spoke to Steyn after the event.
“From an event point of view,” he said, “it was absolutely amazing, wow, there were so many supporters.”
Graeme, who pilots his own car, sounds like a dyed-in-the-cloth dragster, commenting: “I’m always hoping to do more, it’s human nature.
“It’s taken us a year to get the car right, it has broken over and over at events and a big thanks to NxGen who have stuck with it and I think we have found the problem. And a huge thanks to my wife Simone who was by my side the whole event cheering me on.”Toop
Terminal speed is what matters
Saldanha is a top-end drags day, it’s not so much about acceleration off the line, rather the number that counts is the speed at which a driver is clocked as he or she hits the 800 metre line. Fortunately the event is hosted at the airfield - but stopping space is still crucial.
Each year Saldanha has seen bigger and better vehicles. For years it remained a tussle between Cape heroes such as Ralph Kumbier in his fire-breathing Can-Am, 2013 winner Shaheen “Suspect” Barmania’s Chevy Lumina and Zain Rylands in his twin turbo XR8, who has scored the most most podiums to date.
But the game changed in 2015 with the arrival of team NxGen’s Nissan GTRs, each fitted with an Alpha 12 performance package.
Bored out to 4.1 litres, and strategically strengthed to support its monstrous torque, the kit is said to transform a stock GTR into one of the fastest street legal cars yet unleashed, and they have become untouchable at Saldanha.
In November 2015 Stelios Sissou broke the 300km/h barrier and hit 323km/h in an Alpha 16 GTR and last weekend Steyn was just off that record, with 319.6km/h, taking the King of Saldanha title.
“And that car can go even faster,” commented organiser Lawton van Oordt. Steyn’s personal best at the ODI one-kilometre run is 340km/h.
It was a very successful event, said Van Oordt, attracting more than 10 000 spectators.
“It was sold out,” he added, “and the NxGen guys, I must admit are on another level. My top moment though, was when Shaheen Barmania’s Lumina posted a best-yet 293km/h with a Ralph Kumbier at the wheel, making it officially the fastest Cape vehicle.”
Barmania now inspired to upgrade the Chevy to break the 300km/h barrier over one kilometre at ODI, where he has previously teased out a frustrating 299km/h.
“Over the years we’ve invested in the power - up to 1000kW - but we struggled to put it down on the ground,” he said. “Now we’ve sorted out the American Outlaw back end, the car is going straight, bigger turbos are coming and we’re ready to turn the power up and catch those GT-Rs.”
Of the competition, he said: “I’m glad they’re here, they raise the bar so we up our game. Ralph is a very experienced driver, bit of a kamikaze guy, so I knew he could handle the power.”
Van Oordt said another highlight was a first-ever for top sport in the motorcycle category between Jaleel Firfrey and Garion Slamet, each of whom posted 306.6km/h.
“Besides the toilets, the event went smoothly. Apparently the only incident that required the medics was a bee sting!”