/ 9 May 2024

Thrills, spills and roaring exhausts

The Simola Hillclimb, a weekend of racing, takes place in the Western Cape town of Knysna every year.

The Simola Hillclimb is my favourite weekend of the year. It is an adrenaline-filled experience with banging exhausts, big wrecks and smiles all around. 

Here you will find no shortage of tyre smoke, stressed racing teams and thousands of car enthusiasts exclaiming: “Yoh!” as they crane their necks at every passing car. 

The 14th edition of the Simola Hillclimb took place in Knysna last weekend. More than 80 competitors competed in timed runs up the 1.9km hill.

Drivers raced in four practice runs, six qualifiers, a class final and the King of the Hill. 
Class finals are where all competitors get one shot at becoming the champ of their respective classes and King of the Hill is where the fastest of the road-going cars compete. 

Modified saloons and single-seaters battle it out to break records and set insane times for bragging rights and a trophy. 

This year was a particularly special year for Volkswagen SA, despite the absence of Peter Solberg, as their youthful GTC drivers finally got behind the wheel of some serious horsepower to tackle the hill. 
Jonathan Mogotsi and Daniel Rowe are familiar with the hill but, unfortunately, their past outings were experienced through the windshields of eGolfs and standard Golf 8 Rs. 

This year Jono found himself behind the wheel of the Polo Supercup car and Daniel pedalled a rare Polo Supercup. The latter was designed in Europe for a unique cup racing league which never came to be, but the good folks at VW Motorsport thought that wasting the brutal Polo wasn’t an option and the Hillclimb became its next target.

The Simola Hillclimb is no stranger to incredible cars and insane builds and this year was no exception, from mind-bogglingly quick Audi sleepers to home-built BMW racing cars. However, a few stood out. 

Let’s start with the crowdpleaser —Franco Scribante’s R35 GTR, nicknamed the Sheriff. This crazy GTR is famous for its bonkers front wing, taken off a Porsche 911 racing car and bolted onto the front bumper. 
On a noise front, there were a few notable cars, but the Pilbeam MP58, competing in the single-seaters, was sure to destroy your eardrums. It was also the fastest car of the year. 

The Lotuses showed up in force and they certainly looked the part. Their massive wings and exposed rear-mounted turbos left many drooling but there was one in particular that stole our attention — the Ferrari-powered missile which demonstrated the art of downforce, lightweight and power makes for fast times.

 Another was the classic Jordan Formula One car that raced at Kyalami many years ago — the noise that this racing relic produced was nothing short of mesmerising.

Now, a Hillclimb is no car show. While looking at these machines might be a thrill, the times are what matters here. Throughout the weekend, times improved after each run but with that came breaking cars. 
The Scribante GTR was looking good until a gearbox issue knocked it out, leaving the door open for the kings of the hill, modified saloons. 

But before we get to this winner of the big boys, let’s start with something, still nuts, but more tame — the sports cars. This category is always flooded with incredible standard road cars as well as the latest offerings from manufacturers. 

Despite all Mercedes and BMW could throw at him, the winner of the Road and Supercar Shootout was Jean-Pierre van der Walt in his Porsche 992 911 Turbo S with a time of 42.935 — his fourth consecutive King of the Hill title in this class. 

Nz8 4130 M

Due to the crazy power figures and bonkers builds, the Modified Saloon class is possibly the most exciting. 
There is no shortage of competitors and considering the power numbers and stupid amounts of downforce all the cars boast, it often comes down to reliability and driver skill. 

The Scribante Sheriff’s gearbox issue left the spot open for the Lotus of Dawie Joubert, who took the title in his Ferrari-powered Lotus Exige with a time of 38.405 seconds. 

The last, and fastest, class is the single-seaters, where purpose-built open-wheeled racers compete. 
Record holder Andre Bezuidenhout pulled out of the event, which opened the door for a new title holder. 
This year there was fierce competition between the Mygale SJ of Andrew Ian Schofield, the Shelby Can Am of Rui Campos and the Indy Car-powered Pilbeam MP58 of Robert Wolk. 

A last-minute wing change and a door wide open saw the title go to  Wolk, setting the fastest time of the weekend at 37.403 seconds. 

Last, it was a proud moment for the VW team with first and second place in the I4 FWD class, with Rowe taking the top spot with a time of 44.058 seconds. Mogotsi was only 0.37 seconds off the top spot and proved to be a consistently rapid driver throughout the event. 

In a thrilling weekend of racing smells and ear-shattering exhausts, the Simola Hillclimb displayed the real love South Africans have for racing — both in the driver’s seat and on the sidelines.