Motorsport: Knysna Hillclimb
The eighth annual Jaguar Simola Hillclimb got underway in Knysna today with Classic Car Friday setting the tone for an action-packed three days of racing.
Widely regarded as South Africa’s premier motorsport lifestyle event, this year’s running lived up to its proud reputation, producing a simply dazzling array of road and race-bred machinery, along with drivers of equally esteemed pedigree.
Close to 60 classic car entries made it to the start of this year’s event, with South African racing legend and former Daytona 24-Hour winner Tony Martin serving the ceremonial role of Grand Marshal and waving the drivers off for their 1.9 km Hillclimb attack.
Once again it was two-time winner Franco Scribante that dominated the proceedings from start to finish in his immaculately prepared 1970 Chevron B19. He was untouchable throughout the day, topping the time sheets in all three practice sessions, as well as the two qualifying runs leading up to the class finals.
Hot and sunny conditions greeted the competitors this morning, but the temperature dropped in the afternoon as the clouds rolled in, leading to a brief rain shower just as the class finals were due to begin.
Accordingly, Scribante set his fastest time of the day in the second qualifying session, setting a blistering mark of 41.554 sec and an average speed of 164.6 km/h! Although he seemed well on track to beat his own Classic Car Friday record of 41.432 sec in the day’s remaining two runs, this was not to be due to the changed damp and cool conditions.
Nevertheless, his class final time of 41.671 sec remained very impressive, beating Charles Arton to win Class H5 by 1.8 sec – despite Arton shaving over 2.4 sec off his winning time from 2015 in the completely restored and rebuilt 1979 March Formula Atlantic single-seater.
Even though this was his first Hillclimb, Peter Jenkins powered his 1971 Chevron B19 to third-fastest with a best time of 46.558 sec during the first qualifying session. The car picked up a misfire as he pulled off for his class final, but cleared up as he entered the fast right-hander for turn one, and he salvaged third place in H5 – by far the fastest cars in the absolutely priceless paddock collection located at bottom of the Simola Hill.
At the other end of the spectrum, in the ‘Golden Oldies’ it was classic car journalist Stuart Grant that took the class win in H1, driving Rodney’s Green’s iconic 1929 Bugatti Type 35b to victory with a time of 1 min 02.813 sec, some 12.5 sec ahead of second-placed Roger Lewis (1958 MG ‘Hedgehog’), with Jacques Steenkamp ending third in the 1935 Riley Sports Special.
Malcolm Uytenbogaart led the way in Class H2 in his Ford V8-powered Sunbeam Tiger with a time of 56.667 sec, followed by a brace of Jaguar E-Types, comprising Ron Hollis in his 1966 model, and Alexander Krahe with his 1964 model.
The H3 class was won by Gavin Rooke in a 1970 Porsche 911 on 55.238 sec, ahead of Anton Rollino (MG B GT V8) and Craig Wessels. It was an all-British affair in H4, with Chris Champion taking the win in the 1959 Austin Healey 3000 (58.969 sec) from Rodney Green (1964 MGB) and Ashley Ellis (1965 Austin Healey Sprite).
Trevor Tuck powered his spotless and very quick 1973 Alfa Romeo Giulia Rally to 52.272 sec to claim Class H6, beating Francis Cusens (1978 Lancia Beta) and Peter Kaye-Eddie (1966 BMW 2002). There was a fantastic duel in Class H7, with local Knysna resident Brent Watts getting the upper hand for a change on rivals, Graeme Nathan (1972 BMW CSI) and Enzo Kuun (1972 Datsun 240z), taking the win with a time of 47.650 sec.
Thundering Ford V8 power dominated Class H8, with Justin Price taking the laurels in the rare 1965 Shelby Daytona Coupe’ (48.698 sec), relegating Josh Dovey (Ginetta G4R) and Michiel Simons (1980 Ford GT40 replica) to the runner-up positions.
All-or-nothing Top 10 Shootout
The day’s thrilling practice and qualifying action set the scene for the final Top 10 Shootout, which would determine the winner of the Classic Conqueror title for 2017.
With the Top 10 run in reverse order (starting from slowest to quickest), based on his best qualifying time Josh Dovey set off first in the slightly greasy afternoon conditions, and set a respectable time of 50.490 sec to slot into eighth position. Peter Lindenberg was next in the stunning 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350, scything his way into 7th (50.121 sec).
As always, popular circuit racer Graham Nathan did one of the most spectacular pre-start line burnouts in his 3.4-litre BMW CSI, and was rewarded with the fifth best time of 49.064 sec – which, remarkably, was his quickest run of the day.
Former rally champion Kuun managed a time of 51.009 sec in the sleek Datsun, relegating him to 10th place, just behind rival Brent Watts (50.841 sec). Price set off in the seventh slot and rocketed the mighty Daytona to fourth place with his fastest time of the day too on 48.545 sec.
Ultimately it was down to the expected top three runners in the two lightweight Chevron sports racing cars and the agile March Formula Atlantic. Peter Jenkins was the third-last runner, and he set a final time of 47.568 sec, just 1 sec slower than his best qualifying result which was a superb effort considering the less-than-perfect conditions.
“I’m very happy to finish on the podium,” a delighted Jenkins said. “It’s my first time competing at the Hillclimb after spectating last year, and I am really surprised at the level of competition in this event. You really have to push hard to get anywhere close to the times that Franco is doing, but I thoroughly enjoyed the event.
“This is definitely the most prestigious motorsport event in South Africa, and there’s nothing that can compare to the Jaguar Simola Hilllclimb in terms of the organisation, the facilities and the spectators,” he added.
Despite Jenkins’ sterling performance, Arton managed to trounce him and snatched second place on his final dash, crossing the line in 44.925 sec. “Since I won Classic Car Friday two years ago I’ve had the car completely restored, and my best time today was more than two seconds faster than my winning time in 2015, so it ran beautifully,” Arton said. “There was no beating Mr Scribante today, but I’m pleased with the result and we had a good time — which is what Classic Car Friday is all about.”
Once again, all eyes were on Franco Scribante for the last run of the day and he didn’t disappoint, stopping the clock on 42.795 sec, which secured his third Classic Conqueror title, deserving yet again the highly-prized Jody Trophy – his second in succession to go with the 2014 victory.
“We got very close to my current record in qualifying, but it was a bit greasy out there for the last two runs and the track was quite dirty and slippery the entire day,” Scribante commented. “The car is the best it’s ever been so I was confident we could have set a new record, but I’m very happy with the result, and it’s a great win for my entire team that worked hard to prepare the car.
“It’s nice to get this one in the bag in preparation for King of the Hill, and I’m greatly looking forward to the next two days of competition.”
The American tale
One of the key features of this year’s Classic Car Friday was the participation of two accomplished racing drivers from the United States, including Randy Pobst, a multiple champion in various categories, including two victories at the Daytona 24-Hour.
Pobst was invited by Jaguar South Africa to compete in its 1983 Jaguar XJS, powered by a 5.3-litre V12 engine. Liveried in the distinctive white and green colour scheme as used by Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) in the 1984 European Touring Car Championship, the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb proved an eye-opener for Pobst, who set an impressive best time of 53.493 sec.
“The XJS is very much a street car that is mildly prepared, yet it competed against race cars and did very well. I’m really happy with our results, and the car is a delight to drive, with the V12 just singing all the way up the hill while going flat-out.
“It was great fun, and I landed up racing neck-and-neck with two cars with big American V8s in the Ford Capri Perana and Ford Fairlane. It was very competitive and exciting with just 0.4 sec separating us at the end of qualifying.
“The Jaguar Simola Hillclimb course is quite challenging to drive, and not easy. It’s a short, fast and twisty run up the hill. The smooth and sweeping corners are very fast, and my average speed was almost 130 km/h, so that’s a really quick course,” Pobst added.
“I’m glad that I had the opportunity to compete in the XJS today, as it gave me a chance to learn the course before I go out there tomorrow in the very fast new 423 kW Jaguar F-TYPE SVR for King of the Hill.”
Another American guest driver – who was instrumental in securing Pobst for this year’s Jaguar Simola Hillclimb – was Kai Goddard, son of the event’s sporting director Geoff Goddard and also the lead professional driver for the Inde Motorsports Ranch in Tucson, Arizona.
Fittingly, Goddard junior competed in the legendary ex-Tony Viana Stannic Group N BMW 325i Shadowline that his father Geoff once owned and is identical to the car that he competed with in the series alongside Viana during the 1980s.
“This was my first Hillclimb, and the first time I’m competing in a right-hand drive race car, but it’s one of those things you have to learn in a hurry,” Kai said. “This event is truly world-class, and the whole day has been bucket-list of dreams come true, because this car has been a huge part of our family. I got to watch it racing as a kid, but then I moved to the US and haven’t seen it since.
“It’s rather emotional and I’ve never driven a race car with tears in my eyes, so it was a real privilege to have this experience, and it’s like completing a chapter. We ended fourth in class which I’m really happy about and I had an awesome day.
“Tomorrow I’m driving one of the Masters V8 cars, so after today at least I know where the track goes.”
Spirit of Dave Charlton Award
The special Spirit of Dave Charlton Award recognises the person that reflects Dave Charlton’s spirit of impeccable attention to detail, meticulous preparation and commendable performance.
This year the Classic Car Friday Spirit of Dave Charlton Award went to Dickon Daggit, who is a legend in the classic car fraternity, and is the consultant engineer for the Franschoek Motor Museum.
“Dickon helps classic car owners all over the place, and he’s the go-to-guy for technical assistance,” said Ian Shrosbree, the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb’s managing director. “Dickon brought his Cooper 500 here for Wayne Harley to drive as a demo, and although he’s not well at the moment he made the effort to be here and be part of the event.
“He’s a real petrolhead that knows a lot about vintage cars and is so helpful all the time to the drivers at the Hillclimb and outside of the event, and we wanted to acknowledge him for his enthusiasm, support and dedication,” Shrosbree said