- 1.9 km of pure adrenalin with top speeds in excess of 200 km/h
- Series of tricky S-bends and fast corners with 160 m elevation change
- 2014 winner Franco Scribante averaged over 160 km/h
KNYSNA, South Africa, 24 April 2015 – To the casual observer who makes a pilgrimage to play 18 holes on one of the world’s finest and most picturesque golf courses, the scenic drive to the Simola Golf Estate may seem a rather casual and relaxed affair.
However, for the annual Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, taking place in Knysna from 15 to 17 May this year, this seemingly innocuous stretch of tarmac is transformed into a competitive racing driver’s paradise.
Its short 1.9 km course will be tackled by more than 130 road and race cars – modern as well as from the past century – as competitors push themselves and their machines to the absolute limit in order to set the fastest possible time during both the Classic Car Friday and the ensuing King of the Hill battle on the Saturday and Sunday.
What is a relaxed drive at the legal speed limit of 60 km/h is transformed into a challenging part-time race track specially closed to the public for the event, producing an extreme test of pure driving skill that requires both pinpoint precision and no-holds-barred bravery – especially with speeds exceeding 200 km/h!
Unlike a race circuit that can boast a wide track surface with good visibility, lots of run-off areas and sand traps with energy-absorbing crash barriers to slow or stop an errant car, a hillclimb has no such ‘luxuries’. Instead this ordinary two-lane road features high banking on the left and sheer drop-offs to the right just metres from the edge of the road.
The edge of the tarmac isn’t lined with the traditional white and red kerbing found on a track, often used by drivers to cut the turn and increase their cornering speeds. Instead the surface changes instantly from grippy tarmac to slippery gravel, forcing the drivers to keep their cars firmly on the black stuff.
There’s no compromise in terms of safety, though, with restricted access areas limited to the team of officials and emergency personnel, along with strategically placed safety barriers on the outside of the turns plus tyres on the inside lines to prevent drivers from short-cutting the route.
But it’s the inherent challenge of man and machine against the clock on an intense and exhilarating road course that makes hillclimb racing so appealing and exciting – for competitors and spectators alike.
Especially unique to the Jaguar Simola fans is that they themselves are able to get close to the action for the whole weekend, watching from numerous viewpoints that are easily accessible via the Simola Golf Estate and the newly-opened parking areas on the other side of the road.
Speak to some of the leading competitors who challenge the 1.9km course each year, and you start to build a perception of the vital skills needed to take part:
“The Hillclimb route is very short which makes it easy to learn, but the corners are very tricky and if you get it wrong you’re tickets,” says 2014 King of the Hill winner Franco Scribante in his 1970 Chevron B19. “If it’s wet the all-wheel drive cars will have a major advantage, but in the dry the lightweight racing sports cars should be unbeatable.”
According to last year’s King of the Hill runner-up Des Gutzeit, in a highly modified Nissan GT-R, you have to give it your all from the start. “With such a competitive field, it’s essential to be fast and precise in every run through the whole weekend. There’s simply no margin for error on this road, and one mistake could damage the car or kick you out of the finals.”
THE HILL IN DETAIL
The Jaguar Simola Hillclimb starts off at an elevation of just 60 m above sea level, with a short and sharp blast from the start arch through a gentle right-left S-bend that sets the cars up for the first turn.
Already within this initial 200 m sprint the quick cars will be reaching over 140 km/h before hitting the brakes and sweeping into the long, progressively opening right-hander that leads into the crucial 800 m straight where top speeds of over 200 km/h are reached.
This section gives the powerful, big-engined cars such as the mighty 1 000 hp-plus GT-Rs a chance to claw back time against the lighter entries that may be slower in a straight line but are able maintain higher average cornering speeds.
The correct line and speed is crucial for the ensuing left bend under the bridge, as turning in too early will compromise exit speed, while carrying too much momentum threatens to send you veering off course into the barriers.
Then it’s a fast right-hander and a short 200 m straight, followed by a series of two difficult right-left S-bends that start below Jaguar’s VIP clubhouse. Entry speeds into this section exceed 140 km/h, with well over 1.0 G of lateral force experienced by the fastest competitors in the first of the left-handers.
Several drivers have been caught out by this complex series of bends over the years in an attempt maintain a decent average speed, so it’s a precarious balancing act as you sweep through this deceptively difficult stretch of asphalt.
“It’s crucial to get the lines right for this sequence of corners, effectively straight-lining them in order to give you maximum speed for the short final blast over the finish line,” says Geoff Goddard, Sporting Director for the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb and himself a former South African production car racing champion.
Assuming you’ve managed to keep it clean, the 1.9 km course, ending at an elevation of 220m, will be dispatched in a respectable time of under 50 sec for most of the entrants.
The top three contenders for last year’s King of the Hill all blitzed the track in under 42 sec, with Scribante topping the timesheets in a new record time of 41.159 sec. That translates into a standing start average speed of 166.185 km/h – an astonishing result for a 34-year-old race car powered by a mere 1.9-litre naturally aspirated engine!
The final results in 2015 will be unpredictable, but one thing that is guaranteed: an action-packed weekend of adrenaline-fuelled thrills – and hopefully not too many spills.