The electric car as the automotive future is still something quite mysterious to many people but three ‘tin-top’ racing legends are seeking to change that a this year’s Jaguar Simola Hill climb in Knysna where they will compete in identical standard specification Jaguar I-Pace cars.
Mike Briggs, Deon Joubert and Shaun Watson-Smith with well over 20 circuit racing championship titles between them, have competed at the front of various South African and international racing series including Group N, SA Touring Cars, British Touring Cars, Asian Touring Cars, Production Cars and V8 Modifieds among many others.
Deon Joubert, three-time SA Champion and National Colours holder, says: “Jaguar’s invitation to race has brought some fond memories flooding back. Mike is a good friend of mine but we were once bitter rivals. I’d love nothing more than to pull one over on him, and Shaun, in Knysna.”
Mike Briggs, nine-time champion, adds: “Racing at the Jaguar Simola Hill climb is such an exciting opportunity, and to do it in a powerful EV like the I-Pace will make it all the more interesting. With such instantaneous torque delivery and all-wheel drive, I think this car will raise some eyebrows in May. We’re competing in a class for EVs and Hybrids, but I suspect it’ll outrun some seriously sporty petrol cars in the overall results.”
Shaun Watson-Smith, 10-time SA Champion and one of the most successful Production Car drivers ever, says: “Historically the three of us raced side-by-side, rubbing fenders and banging door handles, but this race is a different genre. In fact, the Jaguar Simola Hill climb is the perfect setting for the I-PACE. We’ll race flat-out up the hill and then recoup some battery charge on the way back down. It’s an ideal location for this challenge.”
The I-Paces to be raced by Briggs, Joubert and Watson-Smith will be in showroom standard condition.
Fitted with 90 kWh batteries capable of up to 470 km range, the three electric vehicles will be able to complete the entire race weekend without need for recharging. All Jaguar I-Paces come standard with all-wheel drive, and with 294 kW and 696 Nm available are capable of launching from 0-100 km/h in 4,8 seconds.
First held in 2009, the Jaguar Simola Hill climb celebrates its 10th anniversary this May. As always the racing will kick off on Friday (3 May) with the annual Classic Car Friday competition, followed by King of the Hill practice and qualifying sessions on Saturday, two more qualifying runs on Sunday morning and the coveted King of the Hill finale on Sunday afternoon.
Of all the vehicles competing in the annual Jaguar Simola Hill climb, the Road-going Saloon Cars and Supercars are often the most relatable to the spectators, as they are street-legal machines you can buy off a showroom floor.
Unlike their mild-to-wild race-bred counterparts that compete in the ‘Class B’ Modified Saloon Car category, the ‘Class A’ entries are standard production models without any modifications permitted, including the limitation of using original-specification road tyres.
However, that doesn’t suggest that the line-up of cars, or the show that the drivers deliver, is anything less than truly spectacular – as the category’s King of the Hill shootout has proven in recent years. Revealing just how competitive the class is, reigning double King of the Hill champion, Reghard Roets won last year’s final Top 10 Shootout by a mere 0,075 seconds over Jaguar’s Dawie Olivier, setting a new Class A record of 44,631 seconds over the 1,9 km course in the process.
Roets will return to Knysna once again this year in an attempt to claim a hat trick of King of the Hill titles in the latest iteration of the venerable Nissan GT-R. However, as the lone GT-R in the category, he faces an even more intense challenge from title sponsor Jaguar, thanks to a uniquely intriguing two-pronged assault.
The new rivalry comes in the form of the Cronje brothers, Mark and Gavin, who are considered amongst South Africa’s fastest and most talented crop of current racing drivers. Between the pair, they have claimed multiple championships in a wide range of motorsport formulas, encompassing everything from karting to production car and endurance circuit racing, rallying and cross-country.
While they will undoubtedly both be vying for the King of the Hill crown in a pair of identical Jaguar F-TYPE SVR Coupés, there’s also a long-standing needle match to settle between the two regarding who is fastest in identical cars and conditions: will it be Mark or younger brother Gavin?
“The Jaguar Simola Hill climb is always extremely competitive, and I’m sure the two Cronje brothers will be in contention right from the start,” Roets says. “I doubt that I can go much faster than last year in the GT-R, even in better conditions. It’s possible that a lighter and more powerful supercar could go quicker, but I would love to make it three in a row!
“As a driver, the Hill climb is extremely challenging,” he adds. “There is no chance for a warm-up and no margin for error, which makes for an incredibly intense 40-odd seconds behind the wheel.”
In the individual classes, Roets will be competing in A4 which caters for five and six-cylinder four-wheel drive cars, alongside Udo de Beurges in a 2018 Audi RS3, which is regarded as one of the hottest hatchbacks on the market currently.
The supercharged V8 Jaguar F-TYPE SVR Coupés are grouped together in A7 for eight-cylinder cars and above, and will be fighting for class honours against the likes of a very exclusive Mercedes-AMG GT R entered by Johan Pretorius, Jacques Wheeler’s 2013 McLaren MP4-12C and a pair of Shelby Super Snake Mustangs, driven by Paige Lindenberg and Charles Needham.
Class A5 for six-cylinder naturally aspirated cars includes a 2018 Porsche GT3 that will be driven by Paul Munro on his sixth outing at the Hill climb. He will be up against Feroz Ebrahim in a 2009 BMW Z4M.
It’s a three-way battle in A3 for two-wheel drive turbo-charged cars, as the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV entries of Pierre Bester and Piet Potgieter will face off against a BMW M2 Competition with former BMW works racing driver Gennaro Bonafede behind the wheel.
In Class A1 for four-cylinder two-wheel drive cars, Gavin Williams will be taking to the start line in an Opel-powered Lotus, joined by Bruce Meyer in a turbocharged Volkswagen Polo, as well as Willem and Jacques Bower who will both be contesting their 10th Simola Hill climb this year.