The Modified Saloon Car category at the annual Simola Hillclimb is renowned for lining up an exhilarating array of the wildest, most powerful and fastest tin-top racing cars in the country.
The 12th edition will be no different when these no-limits beasts of King of the Hill are let loose on the challenging 1,9 km course on May 7 and 8.
Simola Hillclimb regular Pieter Zeelie threw a spanner in the works last year when he claimed his first King of the Hill crown in his highly modified 2002 Toyota MR2 Super GT, powered by a turbocharged 3,5-litre V6 Toyota engine. His faultless performance in the all-or-nothing Top 10 Shootout secured a winning time of 40,402 seconds, knocking 2019 champion and pre-event favourite Franco Scribante and his radical multi-winged 2016 Nissan R35 GT-R off the top step of the podium.
The question is, can he do it again?
“I am up against competitive machinery and drivers, especially the four-wheel drive Nissans which gain around 1,0 to 1,5 seconds on us from the start to corner one, and I know Dawie Joubert made some extensive changes to his Lotus,” Zeelie says. “All of these drivers have serious intent on winning, so reaching the Top 10 in 2022 will already be a huge achievement. I will certainly do my best and hope to get a top-three position.”
Zeelie isn’t taking the title fight lightly, with an eye on competing internationally too: “The modifications never stop, and we spent most of our effort on aerodynamic changes to the car.
“We’re hoping to get some extra downforce and reduce drag, and also managed to get a little bit of extra power from the Toyota engine,” he says. “Some changes were made for my planned endeavours in the FIA International Hillclimb Cup in Europe later this year to make the car FIA-compliant, and we’re shipping it overseas straight after the Simola Hillclimb.”
As for what makes the Simola Hillclimb special, Zeelie highlights the fantastic nature of the event as a whole, as well as an interesting personal affinity with Knysna: “We always make it a social and business event with clients, family and friends joining us from all over South Africa. The adrenaline, together with social side, makes it very special for us, and I’ve always enjoyed hillclimb events.
“The Knysna Forest is where my family originally lived until they were forcefully removed,” Zeelie points out, referencing historical books such as Fiela se Kind, Kringe in die Bos and Toorbos that regale the troubled past. “Our family has a very rich history in the Cape and Knysna since 1648, and I am busy finalising a book about them.”
Whether Zeelie will be able to write his name in the Simola Hillclimb record books for a second time remains to be seen, but he certainly faces a stern challenge – most notably from multiple winner Scribante, behind the wheel of his time-attack inspired Nissan R35 GT-R with its distinctive massive front and rear wings.
In 2021 Scribante set a new official record time for the Modified Saloon Car category of 39,303 seconds in the Class Finals. However, a less-than-perfect run in the Top 10 Shootout saw him cross the line in 40,522 seconds which relegated him to second place for King of the Hill.
“Our objective this year is to get the car reliable, as we’ve had numerous issues developing this car,” he says. “We don’t even know yet what the GT-R is capable of because we’ve always had to work around a variety of problems.
“We’ve looked at the gearbox and clutch issues, and for now we’re not aiming to go faster but to be more reliable,” Scribante says. “When we’ve maxed out the reliability then we will take it to the next level in the years to come.”
The Scribante name will also be represented by Aldo and Silvio in a pair of highly tuned 2011 Audi S4s – the latter making the switch from a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo driven last year.
As indicated by Zeelie, Dawie Joubert is sure to be a formidable opponent once again in his twin-turbo Ferrari V8-powered 2001 Lotus Exige, which has been upgraded since last year. Joubert notched up an impressive time of 39,888 seconds during his best qualifying run in 2021, and will be aiming for an even better time when it counts in this year’s Top 10 final.
He will be joined by brother Charl in a turbocharged Honda V6-powered Elise, while Craig Czank returns in his Lotus Exige, having opted for a Nissan R35 GT-R twin-turbo V6 engine, with the Simola event being used last year as the initial shakedown test for the car.
The Van Zummeren family always draws a crowd in their loud and wild Nissan GT-Rs, and Martin returns to the fray in his explosive four-wheel drive 2002 R34 after missing the 2021 edition. He will be backed up by his two sons, with Wade stepping back into his rear-wheel drive R34 GT-R after delighting the crowds in dad’s car last year, along with brother Jody in a four-wheel drive 1994 R32 GT-R.
Another interesting new rival will be former touring car racer Farouk Dangor, who joins the Nissan GT-R brigade in a 2001 R34 GT.
However, there’s another serious contender that should never be underestimated. With three consecutive King of the Hill titles in the Road and Supercar category (2017-2019), Reghard Roets has taken over the reins of the BB Motorsport Nissan R35 GT-R formerly campaigned by Wilhelm Baard.
Roets certainly knows his way up the 1,9km Simola Hill and has been doing extensive testing in his new steed which powered Baard to victory in 2017 and 2018. If reliability issues with the car don’t hamper his efforts, the popular production car ace is sure to be in the thick of the battle until the final flag drops on Sunday afternoon.
Several other competitors are likely to be slugging it out in the thrilling Top 10 Shootout, including Franco di Matteo who recovered from a crash last year to power his way into the Top 10 final in the NOS-boosted Jaguar XKRR V8 Super Car.
Charl Arangies finished third last year in a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo, but returns this year in a similarly-powered V10 Audi R8 LMS GT3, while Anton Cronje remains another driver to watch in his rapid Subaru Impreza WRX STi after he claimed the sixth-fastest time in 2021.
Whoever emerges as this year’s triumphant King of the Hill, there’s guaranteed to be plenty of excitement and fireworks on the road to victory!
Words: Colin Mileman Images: Rob Till