The 2017 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb is going to be almightily epic

The 2017 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb is going to be almightily epic
 

King of the Hill is the feature event for the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, which takes place from 4 to 7 May, 2017. For this year’s eighth edition, the organisers have added a whole new level of intrigue and excitement with the introduction of three separate King of the Hill categories with equal status for standard road and supercars, modified saloon cars, and single-seater or sports racing cars.

“It was clear from the 2016 King of the Hill that the single-seaters and sports racing cars are in a class of their own due to their light weight, exceptional power-to-weight ratio and superior aerodynamics,” explains Geoff Goddard, the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb sporting director. “Even with extreme levels of power, the saloon-based racing cars weigh considerably more and are simply not able to compete on an equal footing.

“Accordingly, for the 2017 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb we introduced three individual classes in King of the Hill, each of which carries equal status with the winners to be awarded their own titles and ‘Jody’ trophies,” Goddard explains.

Reigning champion Franco Scribante dominated the 2016 event in his exceptionally fast Chevron B26 and, in the process, set a new record time of 38.646 sec. He achieved an average speed over the 1.9-kilometre Hillclimb course of 176.9km/h – and that’s from a standing start!

The best of the rest in the final shootout was 2015 winner Des Gutzeit in his mighty 1 500 hp (1 100kW) Nissan Skyline GT-R, 1.678 sec adrift. However, throughout last year’s event, the pure-bred single-seater and sports racing cars were largely untouchable. Other than Scribante, the only competitors that dropped below the 40 sec mark were André Bezuidenhout in his Dallara Formula 1 car before dropping out due to a failed engine crankshaft sensor, and Robert Wolk in the impressive Formula Renault V6 who crashed out in the class finals.

As a two-time winner, Scribante will undoubtedly be the man to beat in this fiercely competitive new category, and he remains as determined as ever. “I’m going out to set the fastest overall time and win again,” the Johannesburg businessman says. “The Chevron B26 is very much as we ran it last year, although we have done some work on its V8 engine to gain some extra power.

“I think a time of 37 sec is achievable, as I could have gone quicker last year. However, I was put off by the accident on the Sunday morning when the suspension failed, and never felt entirely confident after that,” he adds.

“The biggest threats will definitely be Robert Wolk in the Formula Renault V6, as the car is extremely fast and he’s a really quick driver, along with André Bezuidenhout in the Formula 1 car which will be a serious contender too.”

Indeed, after making his much-anticipated debut in 2016, Bezuidenhout has his sights set on the 2017 title in the screaming Cosworth V8-powered Dallara F189. This car was originally driven by Andrea de Cesaris in the 1989 Canadian Grand Prix as part of the BMS Scuderia Italia team, and currently holds the lap record of 58.839 sec at Zwartkops Raceway.

“We had a steep learning curve last year with the tricky wet conditions on the Saturday, and spent a lot of time finding the right suspension set-up which is critical for a Formula 1 car,” he says.

Overall, Bezuidenhout was very happy with his performance first time out, but expects to go a lot faster this year. The team has sorted out the gremlins by fitting a modern version of the Magnetti Marelli sensor that failed last year, and will be using brand new super-soft race tyres after only running on used tyres during qualifying last year.

“This car is very tricky to drive, with the biggest drawback being the unforgiving mechanical gearshift compared to the electronic paddle shift on modern race cars like the Formula Renault V6, and Franco has fitted this on the Chevron too,” he explains. “My car isn’t really suited to the Hillclimb format, as the carbon fibre brakes need a lot of heat to work properly. The engine also tends to overheat while waiting 30 sec on the start line, but we will work around these issues and I’ll give it my best shot.”

As for the adoption of separate King of the Hill categories, Bezuidenhout believes it’s a great change for 2017. “This levels the playing field and allows similar cars to compete against each other. I’m very excited about this new format and am really looking forward to the event.”

One of the interesting additions to the line-up for the 2017 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb is the South African designed and built Barnard BTR, which is a sophisticated Le Mans Prototype-style sports racing car and competes in Class C1 along with the single-seaters.

Racing veteran Izak Spies has entered his road-legal model, powered by a 750 hp (560 kW) Chevrolet LS7 V8 engine, while fellow racer Jacques Wheeler makes his third appearance at the Simola event in a track-focussed version powered by a twin-turbocharged Lexus V8 with over 650hp (484 kW) on tap.

“The Barnard is a work of art, and we are working on getting a local endurance series going with these cars,” Spies states. “With the right gearing it is designed for a top speed of 400km/h, although we will use much shorter ratios for the Hillclimb.

“What makes this car really stand out is the race-derived aerodynamics that produces huge downforce. For this event, it’s all about cornering speeds, and this is where the Barnard excels.”

Two Formula VW entries will take to the start line in Class C2, driven by Mike Verrier and Garth de Villiers. These nimble single-seaters use a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine and a Reynard chassis, and should also be capable of mixing it with the front-runners.

There’s also a brace of track-day specials to watch out for in Class C3, including an Ariel Atom, KTM X-Bow and two Lotus 7s. – Colin Mileman