The battle for King of the Hill supremacy at this year’s 11th edition of the Simola Hillclimb is set to be an epic showdown, with the Modified Saloon Car category featuring an exceptional line-up of the most extreme, fastest and most powerful cars in South Africa.
From thoroughbred lightweight supercars to race-tuned road cars boasting outrageous power outputs, the fight for glory is going to be hotter than ever when these beasts are unleashed on the short but challenging 1.9 km Simola Hill course. The driver line-up is no less impressive, featuring recent Simola King of the Hill champions and even a top US driver with an impressive pedigree at the world-renowned Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Undoubtedly, one of the headline acts for the 2021 event will be reigning champion Franco Scribante in his time attack-based 2016 Nissan R35 GT-R. Scribante claimed the 2019 title by setting a new class record of 39,342 seconds with this car, achieving an average speed of 173,86 km/h from a standing start – despite it being this GT-R’s debut event, and its first competitive outing. He went even quicker during the qualifying rounds, posting an astonishing time of 38,551 seconds, but only runs completed during the Class Finals and all-or-nothing Top 10 Shootout count in the official results.
As impressive as these times were – beating three-time Simola Hillclimb winner Wilhelm Baard in another wild Nissan GT-R in the Top 10 final by a whisker over 1 second – Scribante has bigger and bolder aims for his monstrous multi-winged car.
“Our ultimate aim is to be the fastest overall up the hill, across all classes,” he confidently says. That would mean not only topping his current best time, but trouncing Andre Bezuidenhout’s unbeaten record of 35.528 seconds, achieved in 2018 in the purpose-built Gould GR55 single-seater hillclimb racer.
“I want to win King of the Hill in the Modified Saloon Car category of course, but for me, the excitement is setting the overall fastest time for the Simola Hillclimb,” Scribante states. “On paper, running at maximum boost, it’s not impossible with this car. We’ve not yet had it anywhere near maximum boost, as every time we increase the power we break something, so we’re continuously developing the car to be able to handle all the power it’s capable of producing. I can’t say whether a record time is on the cards this year or five years down the line, but that is my intention.”
If that isn’t throwing down the gauntlet to his opposition, then nothing is – which means Scribante’s rivals will have to be on the top of their game. They are certainly bringing out the big guns, with class B5 (‘unlimited’ four-wheel drive cars) featuring other highly modified and powerful Nissan GT-Rs driven by Baard and three-time Road Car and Supercar winner Reghard Roets, who is making the switch to the Modified Saloon Car category this year.
They will be joined by no less than five other Nissan GT-Rs from several top contenders, including Darron Gudmanz (1992 R32), Jody van Zummeren (1994 R32) and Martin van Zummeren in his fire-breathing 2002 R34. Adding some spice to the class will be the 2021 Audi TTRS of Brendon Robson Parsons and Aldo Scribante in the former SA Production Car championship 2011 Audi S4.
Class B4 for ‘unlimited’ five-cylinder and above two-wheel drive cars can’t be discounted either. The 2021 Simola Hillclimb will be welcoming a new competitor from the United States in the form of Cole Powelson, CEO and founder of LYFE Motorsport from Salt Lake City in Utah. Powelson is a true racing enthusiast with more than a decade of experience building and racing cars in a variety of categories, and he is a factory-trained Porsche technician to boot.
“I’ve done a bit of road racing, but I’ve always had a soft spot for rallies and hillclimbs,” Powelson humbly says. He is actually a very accomplished competitor, finishing fourth overall and third in class at the 2020 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, widely regarded as one of the world’s most extreme motorsport events.
Competing in a Sierra Alpha open-wheel racing car, designed and built in-house by Powelson and his team, and powered by a turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa engine, he powered his way to an impressive time of 9 min 37.449 sec for the 20 km Pikes Peak course. This event comprises 156 corners and climbs from 2 682 m to over 4 300 m in altitude – thus elevating him to a very exclusive club of sub-10 minute Pikes Peak finishers.
“I first heard about the Simola Hillclimb when I sold some parts to a customer that competed in your event,” he explains. “These were aerodynamic parts based on the Nissan R35 GT-R that I raced at Pikes Peak previously. The Simola Hillclimb piqued my interest as it looked like a really nice hillclimb in an interesting part of the world. I’ve had it on my radar for several years, so I’m excited to add this to the list of events I’ve participated in.”
Powelson will be driving an intriguing, privately-owned Citroën Xsara prepared by Steve Humble and the team at Harp Motorsport in Cape Town. “The car was built by Citroën Motorsport and campaigned as a works car in the 2001 or 2002 World Rally Championship (WRC),” Humble says. “It was subsequently bought by Swedish driver Kenneth Hansen and modified to compete in the European Rallycross (ERX) series. Hansen is a 14-time ERX champion and won back-to-back titles with this car.” He is also father to Timmy and Kevin Hansen of World Rallycross (WRX) and Hansen Motorsport fame.
The Xsara was later acquired by a Swedish motorsport enthusiast who competes on occasion in South Africa in a Ford GT40. It was shipped to Cape Town and is prepared and cared for by the Harp Motorsport team. “It has a Cosworth-developed and built Audi 2.7-litre twin-turbo V6 engine that powered the RS4 of the period,” Humble adds. “It will produce around 550 hp (410 kW) for the Hillclimb, which is delivered to the rear wheels via a five-speed sequential manual transmission and a limited-slip differential.”
In class B4, Powelson will be going up against brothers Charl and Dawie Joubert who will be returning in their rapid and highly-tuned Lotus sports cars. Charl’s Elise is powered by a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 Honda engine, while Dawie has upgraded his Exige to run a 670 hp (500 kW) 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 from a Ferrari 488. Craig Czank has entered a Nissan GT-R powered Lotus Exige, and will be joined by Wade van Zummeren in a rear-wheel-drive 2002 Nissan R34 GT-R, Boeta Crouse (2006 Noble M400), Pieter Zeelie (V6-powered 2002 Toyota MR2) and Thouca Mechanicos in his raucous 2004 Mercedes-Benz CLK 55 AMG DTM.
For the first time Ian Shrosbree, co-founder and MD of the Knysna Speed Festival which owns the Simola Hillclimb, will be participating too. A former Formula Ford racer, Shrosbree will be behind the wheel of a 1996 Nissan Skyline GTS. There’s a trio of race-bred BMWs lined up for B4 too, comprising circuit racing regulars Saverio Gualtieri in a 2014 BMW M3 V8 and Adrian Dalton (2008 BMW M3), along with Gary Martins in a uniquely developed M2 powered by a triple-turbo 3.0-litre diesel engine derived from the X6 M50d.
BMW M3s dominate class B6 too, entered by Johan de Bruyn, Farhaad Ebrahim and Paul Munro respectively, along with the screaming rotary-engined 1993 Mazda RX7 of Karel Stols.
The 2021 Simola Hillclimb takes place from 3 to 5 September 2021, starting with Classic Car Friday, followed by King of the Hill on the Saturday and Sunday. Due to COVID-19 regulations, no spectators are allowed, but the entire event will be livestreamed.
Report: Colin Mileman