Andre Bezuidenhout took the overall King of the Hill title in his specialist hillclimb Gould GR55. Picture: MOTORPRESS
Andre Bezuidenhout took the overall King of the Hill title in his specialist hillclimb Gould GR55. Picture: MOTORPRESS

The Jaguar Simola Hillclimb in Knysna delivered an enthralling mix of thrills and excitement, with stunning records being set.

When the action ended, King of the Hill records had been established in each of the three categories, but the times between many of the top contenders were the closest yet, keeping the fans glued to the action right to the end.

Apart from the battle being waged between the competitors, the throngs of fans had many other attractions, most notably the daring antics of world-renowned stunt driver and multiple record-holder Terry Grant. The British ace entertained the crowds by driving up the 1.9km Simola Hill on two wheels in a Jaguar F-Pace.

Andre Bezuidenhout was the undisputed King of the Hill in his recently acquired Gould GR55, a specialist hillclimb single-seater built in the UK.

Signalling his clear intent, Bezuidenhout established a new official hillclimb record during the one-lap Class Finals with an impressive time of 36.428 seconds. He destroyed the current lap record with a time of 35.528 seconds in the King of the Hill Top 10 Shootout — an average speed of 192.52km/h from a standing start.

"I felt confident throughout the weekend that a 35-second time was possible but was slightly worried when the temperature dropped in the late afternoon for the final run," Bezuidenhout said. "The Gould is an amazing car, and the team I had supporting me was superb.

Reghard Roets took the title for Road Going Sallon Cars and Supercars in his Nissan GT-R. Jaguar E-Pace on just two wheels. Picture: MOTORPRESS
Reghard Roets took the title for Road Going Sallon Cars and Supercars in his Nissan GT-R. Jaguar E-Pace on just two wheels. Picture: MOTORPRESS

"I can’t think of another motorsport event where so many people stay right to the end and are so enthusiastic."

The large field that made up the modified saloon car category dished up a nonstop menu of drama and excitement. During the hillclimb’s five practice sessions and six qualifying runs, there were always no less than eight contenders vying for the title.

Sheer muscle

Among the four-wheel drive challengers, reigning champion Wilhelm Baard, in the leading Nissan GT-R, had his sights set on a third hillclimb title, going head to head against fellow GT-R rivals. Anton Cronje led the Japanese assault with his wild Subaru Impreza WRX STi, while Franco di Matteo brought sheer muscle to the gunfight, courtesy of his Jaguar V8 Supercar racer.

Heading into the class final, Dawie Joubert held the qualifying advantage, having dipped under the 40-second barrier with a time of 39.984 seconds, with Baard breathing down his neck a mere hundredth of a second adrift and the next three rivals all clocking under 41 seconds.

Baard was, however, having a torrid weekend, struggling with the braking balance of the car, already having destroyed the GT-R’s radical front splitter, and had a wild spin at the top of the Simola Hill on Saturday.

On Sunday he had to contend with a fire breaking out in the GT-R, leading to more emergency repairs.

He nevertheless managed to pull a blinder of a run out the hat in the class final, blasting through the timing beam in 39.533 seconds to set a new record for the class.

In the Top 10 Shootout, run from slowest to fastest, it was anyone’s guess who would take the all-or-nothing single shot at glory. Baard gave it everything on his final attempt, sliding the GT-R through the esses at the top of the course, and ripping off his front splitter for the second time in two days when he drifted slightly wide and clipped a tyre.

Famous international stunt driver, Terry Grant, drove the entire hillclimb route with with the Jaguar E-Pace on just two wheels. Picture: MOTORPRESS
Famous international stunt driver, Terry Grant, drove the entire hillclimb route with with the Jaguar E-Pace on just two wheels. Picture: MOTORPRESS

It only emerged later, at the podium, that the boost pipe was pulled off at the same time, and he completed the run with no turbocharger to retain the King of the Hill title with a record time of 39.463 seconds.

Reghard Roets earned his second consecutive King of the Hill title for road-going supercars with another exceptional performance in a street-legal Nissan GT-R. As the lone GT-R in the category, he raised the bar even further after he beat his current hillclimb record for standard road cars by 0.135 seconds, bettering 2017’s result during the Class Finals with a time of 44.631 seconds.

The former production car racer had actually gone even quicker in the qualifying sessions, with a time of 44.588 seconds, in an effort to stave off the challenge from a trio of McLaren 570S entries and the ever-present threat of Dawie Olivier in the roaring Jaguar F-Type SVR.

The Top 10 Shootout for the King of the Hill title in the category became a three-way tussle at the top, with Olivier blasting his way to his best time of the weekend of 44.967 seconds, a time that Izak Spies wasn’t able to beat in his McLaren after recording a run of 45.784 seconds.

Roets was the last of the contenders and cemented his title with a winning time of 44.892 seconds.

A class had to be created especially for the Nissan Nismo Leaf RC electric racer. Picture: MOTORPRESS
A class had to be created especially for the Nissan Nismo Leaf RC electric racer. Picture: MOTORPRESS

A noteworthy mention has to go to multiple karting and rally champion Mark Cronje, who delighted the crowds with his outstanding performance in the large and luxurious Jaguar XJR 575, completing the Top 10 dash in a respectable time of 48.485 seconds.

Few names are better known in South African motorsport circles than Willie Hepburn — a man who has become synonymous with racing thundering V8 machines over the years in the WesBank V8 series. He has been a regular and popular competitor at the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb in his iconic 7.0l Chevrolet V8-powered Opel Record, a car that he still drives and maintains at an age of 76.

For his dedication to the sport and professionalism, Hepburn earned the Spirit of Dave Charlton floating trophy for the King of the Hill.

It recognises the person that reflects South African race legend Dave Charlton’s spirit of impeccable attention to detail, meticulous preparation and commendable performance.

There was also something rather different. Janus Janse van Rensburg made history by entering the first all-electric vehicle — a Nissan Nismo Leaf RC — into a South African motorsport event. His participation meant that Motorsport SA had to create a new class (B8) for all-electric modified saloons.

Janse van Rensburg started the practice runs on Saturday with a time of 1:02.288 and improved on every subsequent run. He finished the competition with a time of 55.233 seconds.

The unique race car will now tour SA to showcase Nissan’s electric vehicle technology.

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