The opening day of the King of the Hill challenge at the 2018 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb lived up to its highly anticipated levels of action and excitement, with all the competitors having had this year’s first taste of adrenaline-fuelled speed and fury on the short but testing 1.9 km Simola Hill course.
The scene is set for a formidable yet equally exhilarating King of the Hill shootout in all three categories as the contenders look for ultimate success on the Simola Hill on the final day.
Despite a formidable armada of newcomers competing in each of the three main categories, and several existing drivers switching classes in the search for glory, it turned out to be a handful of last year’s previous top contenders that grabbed the headlines when the sun set across the Knysna hills at the end of day one.
In the Single Seater and Sports Car category, reigning champion Andre Bezuidenhout was once again in a league of his own – but this time competing in a specialised 2004 Gould GR55 hillclimb racing car built in the UK, in place of his Dallara F1 with which he won last year’s crown.
Even though Bezuidenhout has had little time with the recently acquired V8-powered machine and spent most of the day tweaking the set-up of the car, he set the timesheets alight from the start. His first practice run was an astonishing 40.286 seconds, then ran 2.5 seconds quicker in the second session and concluded his practice runs with a best time of 37.556 seconds.
Robert Wolk was his closest challenger in the Ferrari V8-powered A1 GP car, but he too has had minimal seat time in the car, and the crew spent much of the morning ironing out niggles and set-up issues. Wolk’s quickest practice run was 39.552 seconds.
The first two qualifying sessions were held on Saturday afternoon, and Bezuidenhout completed just a single run to end the day with a best time of 38.040 sec, well ahead of Wolk who managed to up his pace slightly to end on 39.400 seconds.
Third fastest overall and amongst the single seaters was 16-year-old Stuart White who notched up a best time of 41.114 seconds in the 2003 Formula Renault V6 entry.
Modified Saloon Cars
The big guns are out in force in the Modified Saloon Car category, with a dazzling array of highly tuned machines of all shapes and sizes.
Current King of the Hill, Wilhelm Baard, was once again an early pace-setter in his wild Pike’s Peak Hillclimb-inspired 2014 Nissan GT-R, although the practice runs saw a close tussle between him and Dawie Joubert in the lightweight and extremely fast 2006 Lotus Exige, along with Anton Cronje (2013 Subaru Impreza WRX STi) and Quinsley Sale in a second GT-R.
By the end of the day’s two qualifying sessions though, it was evident that an almighty battle is set to play out on Sunday as the top seven contenders were covered by less than a second.
Cronje holds the initial advantage after setting the quickest time of 41.172 seconds, followed by Baard on 41.361 sec after he destroyed the Nissan’s ultra-wide front splitter by clipping a tyre demarcating the apex of Turn 2. The GT-R was also suffering brake balance problems that resulted in Baard spinning off the road after the flying finish during one of the practice runs.
Franco di Matteo blasted his way into the top rankings with a storming time of 41.540 seconds in the 2000 Jaguar V8 Supercar, while Joubert ended his day a mere 0.041 seconds ahead of Sale who crossed the line in 41.626 sec in the Nissan GT-R.
Having made the switch to the Modified Saloon Car category this year, Franco Scribante was the only other driver to complete Saturday’s qualifying sessions in under 42 seconds, powering his 2014 Porsche 911 GT3R through the timing beam in 41.906 seconds.
Road-going Saloon Cars and Supercars
The combination of Reghard Roets behind the wheel of the mighty 2017 Nissan GT-R seems to be a winning formula if today’s results are anything to go by. As the winner of this category last year, Roets was untouchable once again and topped the timesheets in every session he completed.
His best qualifying run was 44.755 seconds, with his closest rival being the ever-present threat of the 2018 Jaguar F-TYPE SVR driven by Dawie Olivier. The two came within fractions of a second of each other on numerous occasions during the practice runs – with Olivier ending the first two qualifying runs with a best time of 46.100 seconds.
The Jaguar was closely followed by the two McLaren 570S entries of Izak Spies, just 0.1 sec adrift, and Jacques Wheeler on 46.354 seconds. Rob Gearing wasn’t far off in the newly launched BMW M5 xDrive on 46.617 seconds.
There is guaranteed to be a lot more intrigue and drama unfolding on Sunday as the King of the Hill battle intensifies, starting off with four more qualifying runs to determine the top three contenders that make it into each of the respective finals for the individual classes.
Thereafter it’s the grand finale, with the focus on the all-or-nothing Top 10 Shootouts for the three overall categories which will decide the revered King of the Hill titles for 2018.
For more information on the event, live streaming and online ticket sales visit: www.jaguarsimolahillclimb.com