Knysna - You feel the buzz the moment you amble through pit area positioned just behind the start line in this scenic little corner of our country. Scents of spent racing fuel and stray fluids waft through the air as technicians frantically clank away in last minute preparations, frequently interrupted by the snap-crackle-pop soundtracks that many have come to hear. And we’re not even at the start line yet.
With its generous array of modern and classic performance cars rumbling their way up 1.9km of snaky asphalt, the annual Jaguar Simola Hillclimb has become an exciting fixture on the motorsport calendar and this year’s event - held from May 4 to 6 - saw a record-breaking attendance of over 17 000 spectators and new time records being set on the hill in all three categories.
As dedicated racing machines, single seaters have posted the fastest times on the hill and this year saw 2017 King of the Hill Andre Bezuidenhout establish a new record time of 35.528 seconds in the Top 10 Shootout, this time in his Gould GR55, a UK-built car that’s purpose-built for hillclimbs and powered by a McLaren 3.8-litre V8. Yet perhaps what really puts it into perspective is his average speed of 192km/h, and that’s including the standing start.
Another force to be reckoned with was Robert Wolk, who finished second in his Ferrari V8-powered A1 GP car, with a best time of 37.691 seconds, while Garth de Villiers took third spot in his Formula VW, with a time of 42.013s, after another podium hopeful, 16-year-old Stuart White, suffered mechanical maladies in his Formula Renault that had previously achieved 40.497 in qualifying.
Modified Saloon Cars
Yet it was the modified saloon cars that really get the crowds worked up as it dished up drama by the bucketload, and in the end less than a second separated the top four.
It was no easy feat for the eventual winner (and last year’s victor) Wilhelm Baard, who set a new record of 39.463 seconds in his heavily modified Nissan GT-R that’s said to produce more than 950kW.
Baard battled throughout the weekend, with sub-optimal braking balance, a wild spin at the top of the hill on Saturday and even a car fire. Thankfully all the necessary repairs were made on time and he entered Sunday’s Shootout with a newfound confidence, only to drift slightly wide near the top, clipping a tyre and losing his boost pipe in the process, forcing him to finish the run without a turbo.
“I was clearly a bit too quick in the Esses, and despite the damage to the splitter and no boost in the final part of the course, somehow I managed to set the quickest time, which was quite astonishing,” Baard said after the event. “Just about everything seemed to go wrong this weekend, but eventually it all clicked together right at the end. The team and I are exhausted but very happy.”
His victory wasn’t for a lack of competition, with eight drivers having kept Baard on his toes throughout the weekend but in the end it was Joubert brothers Charl (pictured) and Dawie who filled up the podium in their heavily modified Lotus two-seaters. Charl was quickest of the pair, posting 39.519s in his Elise, while Dawie - who had qualified quickest with a time of 39.984s in his 560kW 2.4-litre Honda-powered Exige - had to settle for third after dipping down to 40.012 during the Shootout.
Completing the top five were Martin Van Zummeren, who finished fourth in his R34 Nissan Skyline (40.417s) and Franco Di Matteo in his Jaguar V8 supercar (40.593).
The status quo also remained unchanged after an extremely close tussle in the road-going Saloon and Supercar shootout, where last year’s winner, former production car racer, Regard Roets eventually beat his own record by 0.135s to post a time of 44.531s in his street-legal Nissan GT-R.
His closest challenge came from fellow racing driver Dawie Olivier, who managed 44.967 in his Jaguar F-Type SVR, with McLaren 570S drivers Izak Spies and Ernst Du Preez following in third and fourth with respective times of 45.784 and 46.013.
Classic Car Friday
Yet before all the modern machine guns fired their ammo on Saturday and Sunday, fans were treated to a huge assortment of older weaponry, with classic cars headlining Friday’s proceedings.
Fastest man on the day was Franco Scribante in a 1970 Chevron B19, who managed 42.491s in the class finals (albeit slightly slower than his practice time of 41.615s), but still a fair margin over second-placed Ian Schofield, who posted a time of 45.433s in his 1977 March 77B.
And yet Classic Car Friday was also very much about admiring beautiful metal, with onlookers getting to view many classic road cars in action, among them Peter Kaye-Eddie’s 1972 BMW 3.0 CSL, Peter Lindenberg’s 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 and a pair of gorgeous Jaguar E-Types in the form of Ron Hollis’ 1966 4.2 - which won class H2 - and a 1972 Series 3 V12 (above), driven to second in Class H3 by Patrick Gearing.
Avid car collector Brian Bruce received Friday’s Spirit of Dave Charlton award after competing for the fifth time in his 1965 Ford GT40, while Willie Hepburn bagged the equivalent King of the Hill trophy on Sunday.
A Jaguar, on two wheels!
Yet easily the biggest crowd pleaser over the weekend was British stunt driver Terry Grant, who was flown in by the event’s main sponsor Jaguar to tackle the 1.9km hill on two wheels in a an F-Pace SUV.
The multiple Guinness World Record holder kept crowds on their toes as he slowly ambled up the hill at an angle you’d never think possible over such a distance, with celebrity passengers like Bobby van Jaarsveld in the passenger seat.
The vehicle sported a modified transmission and had to be converted to rear-wheel-drive to prevent power from being sent to the wheels in the air.
The event was also a testament to how the town of Knysna had pieced things back together following last year’s tragic wildfires which killed seven people, destroyed almost 1000 homes and much of the surrounding natural landscape. To that end, the Hillclimb organisers teamed up with tree planting NPO Greenpop to raise money towards planting indigenous trees in the area.
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