The Jaguar Simola Hill Climb, now in its 8th year.
The racing event of the year at the Knysna Speed Festival is one of the motor sport calendar’s most anticipated event of the year.
The event is held each year in the popular holiday destination in the garden route in the coastal town of Knysna, on South Africa’s southern coast. The 1.9-km stretch of challenging twisting tarmac climbs through the Simola hills, servicing a hotel and a private housing estate.
Once a year, the estate transforms into a car enthusiast’s / petrol head’s dream come true, hosting very special classic and modern cars, and drivers from all over the world – with American racing ace Randy Pobst joining the occasion this year.
The field of 84 highly specialised cars was split into three categories this year: 1) single seaters and sportscars, 2) modified saloons, and 3) road and supercars.
We followed the epic rivalries in two of those categories, featuring, among other cars, a 1989 Formula One car (Dellara F189 – Driven by: Andre Bezuidenhout) and two highly modified, incredibly powerful Nissan GTRs.
The Knysna event reportedly attracted about 15 000 spectators over the duration of the weekend.
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 conquered the King of the Hill challenge by blitzing the 1,9 km Hillclimb course in a new official lap record of 37,695 seconds, which equates to an eye-watering average speed of 181,456 km/h, from a standing start.
He 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, 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,” said Bezuidenhout.
Outgoing champion Franco Scribante in the 1972 Chevron B26 put in a best time of 39,387 seconds during qualifying. His Class Final run was 0,218 seconds slower, and he ended up 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. 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,” said Scribante.
Robert Wolk was third on the podium, completing the run in 39,807 seconds in the Formula Renault V6.
Modified Saloon Cars
The 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 tuned Nissan GT-Rs.
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 time of 39,892 seconds.
“During qualifying and the class finals the car was cutting boost, but it all came together and I gave it everything in the final shootout, and I’m exceptionally happy with the win. It’s been an amazing team effort, and I need to thank the entire team,” said Baard.
Des Gutzeit pushed hard in his 1992 R32 GT-R, but his best time of 40,114 seconds was only good enough for second place. Anton Cronje completed the podium with third place his 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX, finishing in 40,754 seconds.
Road and Super Cars
The Nissan GT-Rs also dominated the Road and Super Car category, with 2017 models run by both Reghard Roets and outgoing champion Jaki Scheckter, along with the two Jaguar F-Type SVR entries of American racing ace Randy Pobst and Jaguar’s own Dawie Olivier.
The victory, though, eventually went to Roets in the NXGen-prepared car. 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. 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,” said Roets.
Special guest driver Pobst roared into second place with a time of 44,999 seconds.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in South Africa, and the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb was a fantastic experience. 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,” Pobst said.
“The course is very challenging but extremely exciting, and I think it’s the beautiful location in Knysna that makes it so special. 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,” Pobst added.
Scheckter found himself on the third step of the podium, achieving a time of 45,171 seconds, while Olivier took the F-Type Convertible to fourth place with 45,286 seconds.