Two thrilling days of unprecedented motor racing action culminated in the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb crowning is first-ever two-time King of the Hill winner, as Franco Scribante produced a dominant victory and set an all-new record of 38.646 sec.
He added to his impressive credentials in this signature racing weekend, repeating the ‘double’ of winning both the Classic Car Friday and King of the Hill in 2014, by doing the same again in 2016, the seventh running of the Hillclimb.
The dramatic finale took place in front of a record Sunday crowd for the event which in seven runnings has soared its way up to being arguably South Africa’s largest single annual motorsport event.
According to main organiser Ian Shrosbree, last year’s record attendance of 12 200 spectators over the three days of the Hillclimb has been broken. “We don’t have the final numbers yet but we definitely passed the 13 000 mark this year, reinforcing the huge popularity of this event,” he said.
Despite a formidable challenge from outgoing champion Des Gutzeit in his radical 1 500 hp Nissan GT-R, Scribante proved unbeatable in the crucial Top 10 King of the Hill Shootout and became the first-ever winner of ‘The Jody’, a special hand-crafted wooden trophy introduced this year, inspired by SA’s only Formula 1 champion, Jody Scheckter.
His sheer determination, matched to the astonishing pace of the lightweight 1972 Chevron B26, led to the fastest time of the weekend in the final one-lap run. He covered the 1.9 km course 1.678 sec faster than Gutzeit at a remarkable average speed of 176.991 km/h from a standing start.
In the final reckoning it was a perfect weekend for Scribante, as he also claimed his second Classic Conqueror title on Classic Car Friday in the 1970 Chevron B19, repeating his clean sweep of the 2014 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb.
The record crowd witnessed motorsport’s premier spectacle unfold on the challenging 1.9 km Simola Hill, with Sunday’s perfect weather creating ideal conditions for the teams.
However, King of the Hill wasn’t without its fair share of drama, as Scribante’s charge nearly ended in disaster when the suspension failed on the Chevron during the fourth qualifying session on Sunday morning, sending the car off the course at high speed at the end of the main straight.
The Scribante Racing team put a Herculean effort in to get the Chevron repaired and back in contention for the sixth and final qualifying run.
“We had a good weekend right until the crash, having set a best time of 38.8 sec in Q3, and I was very nervous going out on the final qualifying run to check if the car was alright,” a relieved Scribante said. “When Des went out and did the 40.9 sec I thought the track had become slower, and I wasn’t sure I could break 40 sec again.
“I decided that final shootout would be do-or-die stuff, and I would either be on the top step of the podium or in the bushes. Fortunately we got it all together and managed to set a new record on the last run. I really want to thank my entire team for their hard work in preparing and then fixing the car.”
“To score the double is amazing, and this is what the history books are made off,” he added. “I know you need a bit of luck but I’ll take it any way it comes, and this really is a dream result.”
Gutzeit was gracious in defeat with a best time of 40.324 sec. “We gave it everything we could, and I simply couldn’t go any faster,” he conceded. “The car performed faultlessly, but there was simply no way we could match Franco’s pace in our heavier tin-top car.
“We’ll see how it goes next year, but once again congratulations to the organisers for putting on a great weekend of racing.”
Other than Gutzeit in the rip-roaring GT-R, there was also a strong challenge from two single-seater contenders during the practice and qualifying – both newcomers to the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb.
Multiple single-seater champion Robert Wolk set an impressive pace right from the start in a 2004 Formula Renault V6, and managed consistent sub-40 sec times in all four of the final qualifying sessions, with a best of 39.538 sec. Unfortunately, he ran wide in Turn 2 in the Class Finals and crashed heavily into the tyre barriers. He was unhurt, but this put an abrupt end to his weekend.
André Bezuidenhout was equally spectacular in the popular Dallara Formula 1 car, qualifying third for the Top 10 shootout on 39.781 sec. Sadly a failed engine crankshaft sensor brought his campaign to a halt during Q5.
“I had a fantastic weekend, and there was very little between Franco, Robert and I as we were all in the 39s this morning,” Bezuidenhout said.
“It’s disappointing to go out this way, but where do you find a replacement Magneti Marelli crank sensor that was made in 1989? Certainly not in Knysna, and even if we had one, you have to take the engine out to replace it,” he mused. “It’s very unfortunate but the whole event was superb. I’ll be back next year, you can bet on it!”
Anton Cronje wrapped up the King of the Hill three-place podium in his modified Subaru Impreza WRX (42.564 sec), ousting fourth-placed Wilhelm Baard in the factory-backed Nissan GT-R by just 0.181 sec.
Jaki Scheckter was the class of the all-new SuperCar Shootout field for showroom-specification sports and supercars in the factory-backed Nissan GT-R. He set an exceptional Top 10 SuperCar Shootout time of 43.591 sec – and was elated with the victory.
“It’s an amazing feeling to win the new SuperCar Shootout,” he said. “The car worked perfectly the whole weekend, and I have to thank Nissan for giving me this opportunity to compete in GT-R.”
Dawie Olivier brought some home glory for the Hillclimb’s title sponsor, Jaguar, by powering the stunning F-TYPE R Coupé AWD to second overall on 45.183 sec. Ernst du Preez was third in his McLaren 650s (45.826 sec).
KOH Spirit of Dave Charlton Award
As one of the most experienced, professional and competitive drivers in the King of the Hill field, Geoff Mortimer was awarded the newly introduced ‘KOH Spirit of Dave Charlton’ floating trophy. This original cup was won by legendary six-times SA single-seater champion Charlton at the last Formula 1 event held in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia).
As the 2010 Hillclimb winner, 79-year-old Mortimer remains one of the event’s fastest drivers – and his commitment to the sport is unmatched. He looked set for a strong performance this year and was one of the contenders for the Top 10 King of the Hill shootout in his modified Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9.
An electrical fault that plagued his Saturday session, and saw him working along with the team late into the night, unfortunately returned today. As a result, he was only able to complete two of the day’s qualifying sessions for the shootout, putting in a best time of 44.119 sec.
“Geoff is renowned for his meticulous hands-on approach towards vehicle preparation, his superb attention to detail and amazing speed behind the wheel,” said the Hillclimb’s sporting director, Geoff Goddard. “He is a true gentleman and embodies the spirit of motor racing at is finest, making him a deserving winner of the inaugural KOH Spirit of Dave Charlton floating trophy.”