Speed Week 2022 – The Slaaihoek Hill Climb
Speed Week is big news. It’s one week of our year when we must find the best performance car in South Africa. It’s no easy feat, and the results are important. The recipe for finding these results goes something like this:
- MUST INCLUDE A ROAD TRIP – this is about how the cars perform in the real world
- MUST INCLUDE A TIMED ELEMENT – this allows for a lot of competence to be judged in relative safety.
- MUST BE LOADS OF FUN – for us and for everyone we meet along the way.
This year, Speed Week started with a Show Day at Silverstar Casino in the West Rand of Jozi, where everyone met all of the 2022 contenders and the TopGear SA team. It was a time to get up close and personal with the metal and it served as the best possible launchpad for our road trip the following day. The team left in convoy from Silverstar and headed east towards the small town of eNtokozweni in Mpumalanga which would serve as our base for the week.
Our chosen patch of ribboned asphalt where performance and timed testing would take place was Slaaihoek Road in MP. You’ll read more about it as you page through but we partnered with the local municipality there to assist us in closing the roads from time to time for the safest possible charge. It remains one of the most beautiful roads situated within the most beautiful scenery in the country.
Not for the faint of heart! Welcome to Slaaihoek
The Nurburgring Nordschleife, also known as the 'Green Hell,' is an iconic racing track that's been at the centre of motorsport for over 70 years. It's seen its share of historical moments, tragedies and junctures. This is the ultimate testing ground for manufacturers to claim ultimate bragging rights and would be the perfect venue for Speed Week. The problem, though, is obvious; it's 12,000 kilometres away.
In 2021, we had our fun around the Phakisa Freeway Circuit in the Free State, and collectively, we thought the near-clinical testing conditions our 13 subjects endured needed a shakeup for 2022. The team sat around a table, having a few brewskies when we brainstormed our options… Cape Town and its incredible passes? Even that proved a logistical nightmare. A Garden Route road trip? Well, we're not really the smell-the-daisies type. "I got it," someone said, "the Panorama Route!" As it turned out, there were more holes in the road than Swiss cheese.
We then remembered a mountain pass in Mpumalanga that had a series of never-ending, perfectly radiused corners. The only problem, there's little in the way of cellphone reception. We can manage that. It’s perfect otherwise.
And so the Slaaihoek Hillclimb was born. The pass, in its entirety, is 36.2 km long, and according to some sources, it has 95 turns. It felt like more, way more, if we're honest. So, on numbers, we may have just stumbled onto a venue that's akin to the Nordschleife. It also weaves through dense forests with turns that look to expose any weakness in a car's chassis setup. It offers panoramic views of the surrounding areas at the top and tight hairpin bends hugging the mountainside at the bottom. It has high-speed sections, fast sweeps and even some blind corners that, should you fumble the line of least resistance, will cost you dear in the timing department.
While we used the entire scope Slaaihoek has to offer for general testing, with the help of the local traffic department, we closed off a 6,2 km stretch leading to the 1,700-metre high mountain top for our hillclimb. The starting point was right at the bottom, in the cul-de-sac occupied by the Nkomati Nickel Mine that graciously helped us in our pursuit of speed.
The stage was set. The conditions were dynamic. Early-morning fog and insistent downpours during the timing runs guaranteed our 13 contenders were tested at their very limit. Outright power and rocket-like speed ability wouldn’t be enough to secure the best time here. A well-sorted chassis and good anchors are equally important, if not more so.
According to Google Maps, and considering the steep nature of these turns, a drive to the top should take about seven minutes – in perfect conditions. And so - 3,2,1 Go!