There is plenty of competition in the offing for the Road-going Saloon Cars and Supercars category for the upcoming Simola Hillclimb in Knysna and reigning champion Jean-Pierre van der Walt knows defending his title will be a tough call.
The Road-going Saloon Cars and Supercars (Class A) are street-legal machines that mirror what you would find on a showroom floor. Only standard road tyres are permitted that match the original manufacturer’s specification, and the limited changes allowed are restricted to safety-critical features such as a racing seat with harness, and a roll cage if applicable.
Headlining the field is reigning King of the Hill Jean-Pierre van der Walt who will return to defend his crown this year, but is making the switch from the title-winning 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS to a 911 Turbo S (991.2-generation) of the same year, competing in Class A4 for six-cylinder four-wheel drive cars.
Van der Walt set a winning time of 45,858 seconds in the GT3 RS – a mere 5 seconds off the fastest fire-breathing monsters that dominated the Modified Saloon Car category for pure-bred race cars.
As an established Polo Cup Masters racing driver who has moved to the GTC series this year driving a VW Polo Supa Cup car, Van der Walt has no intention of relinquishing the overall title.
“Last year I managed to do a 44,5-second time during practice in the GT3 RS, and the Turbo S will be quicker off the line with the benefit of four-wheel drive, but it won’t have the aerodynamic downforce that is crucial through the Esses at the top of the course,” he says. “But I’m hoping to beat my time from last year, and aiming for the 43-second mark.”
One of Van der Walt’s most fervent challengers is likely to be last year’s runner-up, Gordon Nicholson in a 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus, competing in Class A6 for naturally aspirated cars with eight cylinders and above.
Nicholson finished 1,269 seconds off the Porsche driver during the all-or-nothing Top 10 Shootout, and was less than a second adrift of the winning time during the Class Finals – so all eyes will be on these top contenders again this year.
However, there will be several other serious contenders emanating from Class A7 for force-fed turbo-charged or supercharged cars with eight cylinders and above. The McLaren 720s is renowned as an extremely rapid machine, and Simola Hillclimb regular Garth Mackintosh is likely to be a formidable rival in his 2017 model.
He is joined in A7 by Jacques Wheeler in a 2013 McLaren MP4-12C, along with the supercharged 2017 Shelby Mustang Super Snake entries of Paige Lindenberg and Charles Needham, and a Shelby Mustang Terlingua driven by James Temple.
Joining Van der Walt in Class A4 is legendary SA touring car driver Deon Joubert in the new all-wheel drive BMW M4 xDrive as an official BMW entry – no doubt another key protagonist to look out for.
Newcomers to the Simola Hillclimb are Andre and Alex Johnson in a 2010 Audi TTRS and 2006 Audi A4 2.7 Bi-Turbo respectively, and Simola stalwart Shane Naidu in his iconic 1995 S2 quattro.
The two-wheel drive six-cylinder machines in Class A3 will provide an intriguing battle, as Feroz and Farhaad Ebrahim will be competing in identical new-generation 2020 Toyota Supras. They will be up against Martin Wiid in a 2019 BMW M240i, along with Piet Potgieter in his powerful Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.
Class A1 for two-wheel drive machines sees the return of Jared Yeo in his turbo-charged Porsche Cayman 718s and two media entries from Suzuki SA will see Reuben van Niekerk and Wesley Greybe behind the wheel of a pair of Suzuki Swift Sport models.
Adding significant interest is Class A8 for hybrid and electric vehicles where Ciro de Siena will be piloting the all-electric BMW i4 M50, which is credited with 400 kW and a 0-100 km/h time of 3,9 seconds.
Volkswagen will also make its debut in this class with a pair of 100 kW e-Golf entries, driven by GTC racing drivers Daniel Rowe and Jonathan Mogotsi.
Images: Rob Till