Motorsport: Simola Hillclimb
The term “bigger and better” is a perfect description of the 2017 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, which wrapped up in spectacular fashion in Knysna today.
This year’s 8th running attracted an estimated 15 000 spectators over the duration of the weekend, who were treated to an awe-inspiring line-up of cars – from showroom-specification hot hatches to exotic supercars and some of the wildest track-attack machines in South Africa. The driver line-up was equally noteworthy, including multiple circuit racing and rally champions, motoring celebrities, as well as guest drivers from the US.
Notably, the fiercely competitive 2017 Hillclimb saw records broken in the three new categories of the competition — the Road and Super Cars; Single Seaters and Sports Cars; and Modified Saloon Cars. Defining the field in this way is a major innovation in this the eighth running of this iconic contest. The end-product is the heightened allure of individual King of the Hill titles and unique Jody trophies for the three respective winners.
Single Seaters and Sports Cars
Andre Bezuidenhout had one goal for his second outing at the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb – and that was to power his rare 1989 Dallara F189 Formula 1 car to victory. And he did just that, breaking Franco Scribante’s existing 2016 lap record of 38.646 seconds by almost a full second.
Bezuidenhout produced a masterful display of driving experience and commitment to conquer the King of the Hill challenge by blitzing the 1.9 km Hillclimb course in an astonishing new official lap record of 37.695 seconds. That equates to an eye-watering average speed of 181.456 km/h, from a standing start, up the 1.9 km Simola Hill!
He actually went faster during qualifying, stopping the clocks on 37.162 seconds during the fourth qualifying session, but with the temperature dropping significantly as the Class Finals began, the feat was impossible to replicate.
“Everything went well for us, and we had a perfect weekend,” a thoroughly delighted Bezuidenhout said. “The organisation, the people that put it together, the spectators and the exceptional level of competition was absolutely superb, and this is without question a truly world-class event.”
Outgoing champion Franco Scribante did his utmost to secure his third King of the Hill title in the 1972 Chevron B26, but it was not to be as his best time for the weekend was 39.387 seconds during qualifying. His Class Final run was 0.218 seconds slower, and he wrapped up his Single Seater and Sports Car Top 10 Shoot Out in second place on 39.754 seconds.
“There was simply no catching the Formula 1 car at any stage today, although my team turned out a great car and we did the very best we could do,” Scribante mused. “My last lap was near perfect, although I have seen this year that the times are slower than 2016, despite the top speeds being higher. It’s not clear why, but it’s the same for everyone.”
Robert Wolk was third on the podium, completing the run in 39.807 seconds in the Formula Renault V6.
Modified Saloon Cars
The hotly contested race-bred Modified Saloon Car category saw an all-out battle between two former champions – the 2011 winner Wilhelm Baard and 2015 title-holder Des Gutzeit – both driving wildly tuned Nissan GT-Rs.
Although it was a close-fought affair throughout the two days of competition, Baard ultimately emerged victorious in the 2014 R35 GT-R. He decimated Gutzeit’s King of the Hill record for road-based racing cars and – for the first time in this category – broke the 40-second barrier with a scintillating time of 39.892 seconds in this nail-biting Top 10 Shoot Out.
“During qualifying and the class finals the car was cutting boost, but it all came together and I gave it everything in the final shoot out, and I’m exceptionally happy with the win,” Baard said. “It’s been an amazing team effort, and I need to thank the entire team.”
Now as a double champion – with six years separating his victories – Baard paid fitting tribute to the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb organisers: “We have to take our hats off to Ian Shrosbree and his entire team for putting this Hillclimb together, and making it the pinnacle of motorsport in South Africa. The changes implemented this year with different categories worked very well, and it’s time that we see more manufacturers joining the event on the track into the future.
“Dawie Joubert was here with an incredible Lotus Exige, and I have to give him credit for setting an amazing time of 39.055 seconds during qualifying, but he encountered engine troubles and couldn’t make the start of the Shoot Out. It’s a shame, but that’s motorsport and it’s happened to us before. It’s just the way it goes.”
As always, Des Gutzeit pushed to the absolute limits in the search for glory in his distinctive 1992 R32 GT-R, but his best time of 40.114 seconds was only good enough for second place this time around – despite it trouncing his own 2015 record of 40.148 seconds.
Anton Cronje completed the podium with third place his 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX, finishing in 40.754 seconds.
Road and Super Cars
Although the exquisite race-bred machinery set the timesheets alight as expected, the Road and Super Car category saw a thrilling tussle develop between the two latest-specification 2017 Nissan GT-Rs of Reghard Roets and outgoing champion Jaki Scheckter, along with the two stunning Jaguar F-TYPE SVR entries of American racing ace Randy Pobst and Jaguar’s Dawie Olivier.
These top four contenders were in a class of their own throughout the weekend, with victory eventually going the way of an ecstatic Reghard Roets in the NXGen-prepared car – which was a remarkable feat for his debut outing.
Despite having a scare on Saturday when he damaged the rear suspension, the team repaired the car overnight and Roets re-joined the action on Sunday. He ultimately set the fastest lap ever in a road-legal car of 44.766 seconds to earn this King of the Hill title for 2017.
“I’m over the moon with the win,” Roets stated. “The car was faultless today, and the team did an amazing job after a late night and very early morning, and I couldn’t be happier. This is an unbelievable event, which I won’t miss for the world. The cars and drivers are amazing, the times are unpredictable, there’s no margin for error. It’s one hell of an exciting drive up this hill!”
Title sponsor Jaguar had plenty reason to celebrate too, as special guest driver and multiple US racing champion Randy Pobst roared into second place in the Top 10 Shoot Out with a superb time of 44.999 seconds in the thunderous F-TYPE SVR Coupe.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in South Africa, and the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb was a fantastic experience,” Pobst said. “It took me a while to figure out the ideal settings for the sophisticated electronics of the F-TYPE SVR to achieve the best times, but I found the best set-up for the final three runs and I’m really happy with the results.
“The course is very challenging but extremely exciting, and I think it’s the beautiful location in Knysna that makes it so special,” he added. “I was very surprised by the level of the cars here, particularly Andre’s Formula 1 car and Franco’s commitment to winning Classic Car Friday and doing his best in King of the Hill in those two amazing Chevrons.”
With Pobst locking out second place and finishing as the fastest Jaguar competitor, this relegated Scheckter to the third step of the podium, achieving a time of 45.171 seconds. Dawie Olivier had brought the all-new Jaguar F-TYPE SVR Convertible home in an impressive fourth place on 45.286 seconds.
Spirit of Dave Charlton Award
As one of the most legendary names in motorsport that won six consecutive South African championships, as well as a team owner and manager responsible for bringing numerous championship-winning drivers to the fore over the past 40-odd years, Peter Kaye-Eddie was awarded the Spirit of Dave Charlton floating trophy at the 2017 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb.
The popular announcement, which recognised his exceptional commitment to motorsport, was made at the prize-giving for this year’s event, to the rousing applause of the large number of competitors, sponsors, fans and spectators gathered on the finish-line.
It was a fitting final send-off for the biggest and best Jaguar Simola Hillclimb to date – subject to confirmation the crowd total is likely to be at least a thousand spectators more than last year’s record 14 000.