The Jaguar Simola Hill Climb in Knysna has become THE motorsport event of the year, a unique week of motorsport festival that kicks off with a motor show, follows up with a charity golf day and VIP cocktail party, and culminates in three days of magnificent machinery storming up 1,9 kilometres of mountain pass as fast as possible.
With a limited number of entries available, an invitation to compete has become highly sought after, and the lucky entrants who make the cut can invest small fortunes in snipping an extra fraction of a second off their qualifying times. Spectators are rewarded with seeing some incredible cars in action, such as Des Gutzeit’s awesome Nissan Skyline R32, Nissan SA’s GTR monster bristling with Darth Vader style aerodynamic attachments, and Franco Scribante’s epic Chevron B26, powered by two Hayabusa motors knitted together to make a screaming V8.
Classic Car Friday is fairly relaxed and chilled, but the atmosphere for King of the Hill on Saturday and Sunday sizzles and pops as the serious contenders get down to business. Friday morning starts with scrutineering near the Knysna Waterfront, followed by a “parade” through the town. This is great fun, as it starts out sedately and gets progressively rowdy! With a static display in the main street, it’s a great opportunity to meet the locals and invite them to take a closer look at the cars.
My turbocharged Continental SA Subaru BRZ draws many admirers, and for me it was a real highlight to spend time with people who share my love for cars. Of necessity, pit tickets are limited at this event, and many of the people who chatted to me in town would not otherwise have the chance to get up close and personal with the entrants and their cars. It was especially great to see so many children excited by the cars, taking selfies with their friends and waving at the drivers.
Our Conti #86BRZ competes in Class B1, for four cylinder boosted racecars. Racing in this class is a tough challenge, as the cars in our class include Dawie Joubert in his Honda powered Lotus Exige and Anton Cronje in the super-fast Subaru WRX. We learned a lot at our first Hill Climb last year, and came prepared with Continental slicks and a lot more power this time.
However, racing often doesn’t go according to plan, and in only the second Saturday morning practice session my electronic power steering froze solid coming out of a left-hander, halfway up the hill. Luckily, my car still has a hydraulic handbrake fitted (it was built as a drift car) and an automatic grab for the handbrake slid the car away from the mountain to a stop just before the opposite cliff edge. Whew!
My awesome team tried everything to find a fix for the problem – they even took the whole power steering module out to see if I could drive without it. With a rack ratio of 13:1, though, I had to make a three point turn just to get into pit lane… We were saved by our Cape Town friends, who drove up overnight with a computer that could plug in and clear the faults. The team was at the track by 05h00 on Sunday morning, and by first qualifying at 09h00, we were ready to go.
The little BRZ has amazing power and is so much fun to drive! The Boxer motor gives it a naturally low centre of gravity and its light weight allows it to handle like a kart. After ruining the slicks with my sideways slide on Saturday, we bolted on a set of Continental Extreme Contact road tyres, which did a fantastic job of getting up the Hill. However, despite launching in second gear and turning down the boost, we still had tons of wheel spin at the start and lost loads of time there.
Although we had a challenging weekend and didn’t get the results we were hoping for, it was an epic event and it was a privilege to be part of it. I raced in the Hill Climb Ladies Team again this year, raising funds for the Knysna Sedgefield Hospice, and between us, we raised over R50,000.00 for Hospice.
It was great to see old racing friends again, and enjoy the unique spirit of the Hill Climb – it was wonderful to see the Spirit of Dave Charlton trophy awarded to Peter Kaye-Eddie, who has done so much for local motorsport, and who participated with his beautiful BMW 2002. Another special touch was seeing Tony Martin, of Daytona 24 hour fame, waving the start flag as Grand Marshal for the event. With such limited space and a very tight schedule, everyone has to work together, and a big shout out to the organisers for putting together another brilliant event.
We’re already making plans to go faster next year, and keeping our fingers crossed that we get one of those coveted invitations…