Knysna: The Suzuki Swift Sport has slayed the mythical Simola Hill with unexpectedly fast times and a place on the class podium.
The two Swift Sport models – a manual and an automatic – ended the class final race on Sunday afternoon with times of 54.913 seconds (Reuben van Niekerk, automatic) and 54.580 (Wesley Greybe, manual).
The time set by Greybe was enough to earn him a spot on the class podium. And it was a mere six seconds slower than the class winner, Jared Yeo, in a Porsche Cayman 718 S.
“We came to Simola to show that you don’t need to break the bank to have a truly competitive sports car, or great fun, on the hill climb. Wesley and Reuben did just that.
“We knew that if our two racers set a time of less than one minute on the 1.9-kilometre track, we would have proved our point. Both drivers kept improving as the weekend progressed and surprised us – and the crowd – with final times below 55 seconds,” says Brendon Carpenter, Brand Marketing Manager of Suzuki Auto South Africa.
Suzuki’s Simola campaign started with practice runs and the first qualifying drives on Saturday. Heavy rain during the night and an intermittent drizzle created slippery conditions on the twisty mountain road and kept several contenders in the pits.
Both Suzuki drivers participated in every single run, regardless of the conditions. Van Niekerk put in a first practice time of 1:06.135, while Greybe logged 1:01.811 up the hill. After each run, as the drivers became more familiar with their cars, they started shaving off second after second.
By the end of Saturday’s racing, Greybe was on a top time of 55.709 seconds and Van Niekerk breathing down his neck with a time of 55.901 seconds.
“It is testament to the quality of the car’s suspension and transmission that the manual and auto versions of the Swift Sport can run so close to each other,” says Van Niekerk.
“It is also very impressive to see how both cars could line up for a competitive run, time after time, without any fade or failure. Keep in mind that both cars came straight off the showroom floor to the start line.
“It is awesome to be at the Simola Hillclimb. The Swift Sport really impressed me and we both got into the 54s, which is incredible for a car that makes 103 kW and costs less than R380 000. It is such good bang for your buck, I don’t think you can get any better.”
Sunday’s racing started with drama as one of the heavily modified vehicles blew its engine and spilled a lot of oil onto the road. This meant that the first practice run and qualifying round of the morning had to be cancelled.
The oil spill also meant that a large part of the road, especially the fast sweeps towards the end of the hill, was covered in a fine powder to absorb any excess oil. The powder left a cloud of dust and changed the surface dynamics, which made racing more difficult.
“I was truly surprised by the Swift Sport’s prowess. The car is light and the chassis taught, which is ideal for any sports car, and it allowed you to keep your foot planted with confidence despite the dust on the road,” says Greybe.
Greybe continued to improve on his times as the track cleaned up and temperatures rose. His time of 54.580 in the class final was his fastest time of the whole weekend and faster than several much-larger cars on the hill.
“It sounds strange, but it felt like the grip increased as the day progressed. I think it was more a case of the car giving you the confidence to push it as hard as you can, knowing that it will reward you every time,” says Greybe.
Suzuki joined the 2022 Simola Hillclimb as a Tier One sponsor after supporting several Suzuki-powered racers in the 2021 event.
“We decided to join the event as a sponsor because it resonates with our brand’s love of fun and excitement. We also wanted to help the event return to its status as a fan favourite after the lockdown and regulations kept fans away last year,” says Carpenter.
“It didn’t take much for us to also decide to enter the Hillclimb as competitors, and we are very grateful that Reuben and Wesley agreed to race for us. Their gritty racing and constant improvement were a perfect foil for the Swift Sport’s nature.”
Two other racers also represented Suzuki power at Simola.
Devin Robertson returned to Simola with his Suzuki Hayabusa-powered Radical SR1. He set one of the fastest times of the day during the qualifying rounds and ended the race day with a time of 39.515 seconds. This was one of the fastest times of the day overall.
Megan Verlaque was a crowd favourite in her diminutive Speedcar EXTREME, powered by a Suzuki GSX-R600 engine. Verlaque is a rallycross specialist, and she seemed very comfortable on the twisty mountain road.
She ended her campaign with a final run of 46.828 seconds during the final Top 10 shootout.
The two Suzuki superbikes also returned for a final couple of runs on Sunday.
Suzuki shipped a first version of its all-new GSX-S1000 SGT to the Simola Hill to show the speed-loving crowds before it is officially launched in a couple of months.
The GT is fitted with the same 999cc engine as the naked GSX-S1000, but it is tuned for more comfortable cruising. It is also the first Suzuki that is fitted with the group’s new high-resolution TFT dashboard with smartphone integration.
Finally, Suzuki invited their top-tier racer AJ Venter to bring his Isle of Man TT GSX-R1000 R in full race specification to the hill. Venter entertained the crowds by screaming up and down the hill during intermissions, sometimes on one wheel only.
Says Carpenter: “Suzuki has a proud history at various hill climbs, most notably with Monster Tajima and his powerful modified Suzukis at Pikes Peak. Now we can add the sterling performance of the Suzuki Swift Sport to that legacy.”