The 2018 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb delivered an enthralling mix of thrills and excitement, with some stunning new records being set on the Simola Hill – both amongst the competitors’ times, as well as the number of spectators attending the three-day event.
More than 17 000 people attended the ninth edition of the Hillclimb, held in Knysna from 4 to 6 May, around 2 000 more than last year’s record-breaking attendance – and they were treated to the very best motorsport and the fiercest competition South Africa has to offer.
When the action drew to a close today, all-new King of the Hill records had been established in each of the three categories, but the times between many of the top contenders were closer than ever, which kept the fans on their toes right to the end of the nail-biting programme.
Apart from the battle being waged between the competitors, the throngs of fans had plenty of other attractions – most notably the daring antics of Jaguar’s world-renowned stunt driver and multiple record-holder Terry Grant. The British ace entertained the crowds by not just driving up the 1.9 km Simola Hill in the Jaguar F-PACE, but doing so the whole way on two wheels! He had several celebrities, including singer Bobby van Jaarsveld and Springbok rugby captain Eben Etzebeth, as passengers along on the hair-raising rides for a remarkable once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Single Seaters and Sportscars
Andre Bezuidenhout was the undisputed King of the Hill at the 2017 edition of the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb in his 1989 Dallara F189 Formula 1 car, and his aim for the 2018 event was to go even quicker in the recently acquired Gould GR55 – a specialist Hillclimb single-seater built in the UK with much-improved aerodynamics and a paddle-shift transmission.
Even though he had limited seat time in the Gould leading up to the Hillclimb, he was astonishingly quick throughout the weekend, and wrapped up the qualifying sessions with a best time of 36.006 seconds – over 1.1 sec quicker than his best time last year in the Dallara.
Signalling his clear intent, Bezuidenhout established a new official Hillclimb record during the one-lap Class Finals with an impressive time of 36.428 seconds. If that wasn’t remarkable enough, he absolutely destroyed the current lap record – and the opposition – with an all-new time of 35.528 seconds in the King of the Hill Top 10 Shootout. That translates to an average speed of 192.52 km/h, from a standing start!
“I felt confident throughout the weekend that a 35-second time was possible but was slightly worried when the temperature dropped in the late afternoon for the final run,” Bezuidenhout said. “The Gould is an amazing car, and the team I had supporting me was superb.
“It has been an amazing weekend, and this is an exceptional event. I can’t think of another motorsport event where so many people stay right to the end and are so enthusiastic. I have to say well done to the organisers and sponsors.”
Robert Wolk was another prominent presence throughout the two days of racing, competing this time in a Ferrari V8-powered A1 GP car. He put in a solid effort to both learn the new car and give it his all, and finished second with a best time of 37.691 seconds during the Top 10 Shootout.
Another talking point throughout the contest was Stuart White, at just 16 years old, who became a strong contender for a podium slot too, but his hopes were dashed when his Formula Renault V6 failed on his Top 10 run, and he had to take solace in a Class Final time of 40.497 seconds. So, the final podium slot went to Garth de Villiers, driving a Formula VW, with a time of 42.013 seconds.
Modified Saloon Cars
As predicted, the large field that made up the Modified Saloon Car category dished up a non-stop menu of drama and excitement. At any point during the Hillclimb’s five practice sessions and six qualifying runs, there were no less than eight contenders vying for this year’s Modified Saloon Car King of the Hill title.
Among the four-wheel drive challengers, reigning champion Wilhelm Baard, in the leading Nissan GT-R, had his sights set on a third Hillclimb title, going head-to-head against fellow GT-R rivals Edrich Zwiers, Quinsley Sale, Martin van Zummeren, Darron Gudmanz and Kyle Mitchell.
Anton Cronje led the Japanese assault with his wild Subaru Impreza WRX STi, while Franco di Matteo brought sheer muscle to the gunfight – courtesy of his Jaguar V8 Supercar racer.
Heading into the Class Final, Dawie Joubert held the qualifying advantage, having dipped under the 40-second barrier with a time of 39.984 seconds, with Baard breathing down his neck a mere hundredth of a second adrift and the next three rivals, comprising Charl Joubert, Di Matteo and Van Zummeren, all under 41 seconds.
However, Baard was having a torrid weekend, struggling with the braking balance of the car, already having destroyed the GT-R’s radical front splitter, and had a wild spin at the top of the Simola Hill on Saturday. Today, he had to contend with a fire breaking out in the GT-R, leading to more emergency repairs.
Nevertheless, he managed to pull a blinder of a run out the hat in the Class Final, blasting through the timing beam in 39.533 seconds to set a new record for the class. In the Top 10 Shootout, run from slowest to fastest, it was anyone’s guess who would take the all-or-nothing single shot at glory.
In the mid-pack it was Cronje that laid down the gauntlet with a time of 40.973 seconds, which was immediately beaten by Van Zummeren and Di Matteo. Charl Joubert was up next and he notched up an impressive 39.519 second run.
Baard gave it everything on his final attempt, sliding the GT-R through the Esses at the top of the course, and ripping off his front splitter for the second time in two days when he drifted slightly wide and clipped a tyre. It only emerged later, at the podium, that the boost pipe was pulled off at the same time, and he completed the run with no turbocharger!
It was a nail-biting affair as the track was cleared of debris, and Dawie Joubert completed the final run of the three-day Jaguar Simola Hillclimb event, eventually ending on 40.025 seconds to claim third behind his brother, with the King of the Hill title ultimately remaining in the hands of an elated Baard who set a new record time of 39.463 seconds.
“We had so many dramas in this event, and with the balance issues with the brakes I didn’t have much confidence in the car yesterday,” he said. “The team worked through the night to sort out the problem, and the car was much better today, which allowed us to focus on improving our times.
“Then there was the small issue of the car catching fire this morning after one of the runs when the dipstick came out the engine, and we had to replace a wiring harness in just half an hour,” he added. “We even had a problem in the Class Final with the car not changing down a gear in turn two, but ironically when we checked the data it was actually faster through the corner – so I used this technique to great effect for the Top 10 Shootout.
“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 recalled. “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.”
Road-going Saloon Cars and Supercars
Reghard Roets earned his second King of the Hill title in a row with another exceptional performance in the mighty street-legal Nissan GT-R, having set the pace throughout the weekend. As the lone GT-R in the category, he raised the bar even further after he beat his current Hillclimb record for standard road cars by 0.135 sec, bettering last year’s result during the Class Finals with a time of 44.631 seconds.
The former Production Car racer had actually gone even quicker in the qualifying sessions, with a time of 44.588 seconds, in an effort to stave off the challenge from a trio of McLaren 570S entries, and the ever-present threat of Dawie Olivier in the roaring Jaguar F-TYPE SVR.
The Top 10 Shootout for the King of the Hill title became a thrilling three-way tussle at the top, with Olivier blasting his way to his best time of the weekend of 44.967 seconds, a time that Izak Spies wasn’t able to beat in his McLaren after recording a run of 45.784 seconds.
Roets was the last of the contenders and cemented his 2018 King of the Hill title with a winning time of 44.892 seconds. “I was a bit nervous going into the final run, but I did just enough to get the win in the bag, so I’m ecstatic,” he said.
This gave the Jaguar driver second place on the final podium with Spies taking the third-placed slot ahead of Ernst du Preez (McLaren), Barry Ingle (Roush Ford Mustang) and Jacques Wheeler in the third McLaren.
A noteworthy mention has to go to multiple karting and rally champion Mark Cronje who delighted the crowds with his outstanding performance in the large and luxurious Jaguar XJR 575, completing the Top 10 dash in a very respectable time of 48.485 seconds.
Spirit of Dave Charlton Award
Few names are better known in South African motorsport circles than Willie Hepburn – a man that has become synonymous with racing thundering V8 machines over the years in the WesBank V8 series.
He has been a regular and popular competitor at the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb in his iconic 7.0-litre Chevrolet V8-powered Opel Record – a car that he still drives and maintains at an age of 76.
For his dedication to the sport and professionalism, Hepburn earned the Spirit of Dave Charlton floating trophy for the 2018 King of the Hill, which recognises the person that reflects South African race legend Dave Charlton’s spirit of impeccable attention to detail, meticulous preparation and commendable performance.
Report: Colin Mileman