Knysna – “Bigger and better” may be an over-used marketing catchphrase but it’s perfectly apt description of the adrenaline-charged, heart-racing scene that is set to unfold when the King of the Hill explodes into action at the 2016 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb on May 7 and 8 2016.
The line-up for the seventh edition of South Africa’s premier motorsport event, acknowledged as one of Knysna’s top award-winning attractions, is indeed more spectacular and competitive than ever.
Featuring no less than four past winners, along with an astonishing array of cars either purpose-built to take on the daunting 1.9km Simola Hill or making their highly anticipated debut, there really is nothing better for motoring enthusiasts and competitors alike.
No letting up
As the reigning King of the Hill, Des Gutzeit has no intention of having the title wrestled out of his hands, and could indeed become the very first double-winner at this year’s event. He boldly announced from the top step of the podium last year that he would be coming back to break the 40 sec barrier in his highly modified 1993 Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R – and the wise money will be on him doing exactly that.
Gutzeit says in his typically casual manner: “My GT-R is going to be stronger than last year, as we’ve done some work to lighten it and make it handle a bit better. We ran about 1050kW last year, and hopefully the engine will produce a bit more now, but horsepower isn’t everything for the Hillclimb. You need a car that handles properly and it has to be driven well.”
Having established a new lap record of 40.148sec on his final run for the King of the Hill Top 10 Shootout in 2015, Gutzeit certainly knows what it takes to win. From a standing start, he charged through the course at an average speed of over 170km/h, and reached a top speed on the main uphill straight of 250km/h – eye-watering numbers indeed!
The magical 40sec mark
Yet Gutzeit is more confident than ever of establishing a new lap record, saying: “Going under 40sec is definitely possible, and I certainly won’t be the only one aiming to break the current record.
“Franco Scribante will be extremely fast in his new Chevron B26, and he’s a very good driver, but I reckon that there will be at least 10 competitors that could win King of the Hill this year.”
Two of Gutzeit Senior’s rivals may well come from the home front, with sons Jade and Shane potentially among the front runners, too. Jade won the event in 2012 and was one of the fastest competitors last year, but suffered mechanical problems with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 that was completed just before the Hillclimb. With the matter of car selection still in the balance, they both could be at the sharp end of the field.
Hot at the top
2014 winner Franco Scribante has made his intentions clear: “I’ve entered the Chevron B26 for King of the Hill, and my aim is to win,” he states. “This year we’re definitely going to break the 40sec barrier. It’s going to be really hot at the top, especially with all these Nissan GT-Rs competing with over 1050kW.”
The 1972 Chevron B26 monocoque sports car was produced as a successor to the B19 with which Scribante dominated the 2014 event. This car was completely rebuilt in the UK to Scribante’s specifications for hillclimbs and endurance racing.
In its current form, it is powered by a radical 2.9-litre engine, which is basically two Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle engines mated together to form a V8.
“It produces about 340kW, and the car weighs just 580kg, so the power-to-weight ratio is very impressive,” Scribante adds.
“It’s amazing how advanced the technology was for the time, despite how primitive it looks. The chassis and handling of the B26 are as good as anything you’ll find today, and it feels like a 250 Superkart,” he enthuses. And Scribante knows what he’s talking about, having led the first hour and a half of the Welkom 6-Hour endurance race with this car on its first outing in February.
Return of another champion
Another serious challenger joining the fray this year is 2011 champion, Wilhelm Baard. After missing the 2015 Hilllclimb, the Nissan engineer and former Production Car racer returns with an extensively modified and refined version of the 2014 GT-R he used two years ago.
Baard says: “The car has been comprehensively reworked and is leaps and bounds better than in 2014 when we had set-up issues. It is lighter, we have better tyres, improved brakes and suspension, and it produces over 750kW on the hubs. We’ve also had a lot of work done on the aerodynamics of the car. The result is quite radical, but it should make the GT-R competitive.
“This year will be very special with several drivers setting out to break the 40sec barrier. Along with Des, Darron Gudmanz and Reghardt Roets in really fast GT-Rs, it’s probably Franco Scribante that worries me most, as the Chevron B26 will be seriously fast.”
Still challenging at 80-years-young
The list of winning drivers doesn’t end there, as the 2010 ‘King’, Geoff Mortimer, is back in a hot Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9. At the age of 80 he’s still quick, very competitive and hugely experienced.
Mortimer says: “Our car puts out between 600 and 675kW, and is similar specification to the Evo that Jade used last year, although possibly not quite as light.”
F1 tackles the Hill
As they say in the classics, “that’s not all, folks!” While this epic clash between these mighty men and their remarkable machines unfolds, spectators will also be treated to the spine-tingling sights and sounds of the first-ever Formula One car to compete at the 2016 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb. The burning question is, could it trounce them all?
Entered and driven by Andre Bezuidenhout, this 1989 Dallara F189 has true F1 pedigree, having finished third at the 1989 Canadian Grand Prix with Andrea de Cesaris behind the wheel, as part of the BMS Scuderia Italia team.
Bezuidenhout has certainly proven its potential on the track, and holds the lap record of 58.839 sec at Zwartkops Raceway, set in March 2008.
Bezuidenhout says: “I know the car very well, but I’ve never raced it on the road and I’ve never been to the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, so all of this will be completely new to me.
“The key will be getting the suspension setup right to cope with the bumpy surface, but I’m really looking forward to the race.”