Imagine closing off a perfect road which carves through a stunning mountainous landscape. Now imagine some of the craziest and wealthiest car enthusiasts racing their multi-million-Rand modified race cars up this road as fast as possible with very few restrictions for their vehicles to abide by.
This is the adrenaline-fueled and somewhat over the top motorsport discipline called Hillclimb racing. A sport which allows amateur backyard mechanics to compete against well-funded professional race teams in a battle up a hill. Where bragging rights are at stake, the risk of wrecking your prized possession is high. All under the watchful eye of the thousands of spectators judging every gear shift.
The Simola Hillclimb is a true celebration of South African motorsport. It is a gauntlet where drivers make a name for themselves by either building a truly incredible racing machine or driving the horns off their day-to-day sports car. Experiencing such a raw motoring event provides a genuinely unique spectator atmosphere, whether you’re experiencing the high life in the VIP area or you prefer to find a spot perched further up the hill, the excitement and constant sense of anticipation are almost addictive.
Unlike traditional racing events, a hill climb race is short and often in a less controlled environment than a typical circuit. The same applies to Simola. The roadshows signs of weathering and there are a few bumpy patches, especially toward the middle of the longest straight. But that’s what makes the hill climb so exciting. Like rally, teams need to adapt to the road surface and weather conditions. You see this becoming a bigger issue for the single-seaters as they are more commonly set up for racetracks where the driving conditions are close to perfect. These unpredictable variables only add to the excitement as a spectator. You can feel the tensions rising in the pitlane as car after car leaves every 30 seconds and teams battle to adapt and repair their cars. Because, as we saw on the first day, rain doesn’t stop the race.
Like any spectacle, there are different ways of experiencing the excitement. You can come purely to watch the racing from almost anywhere along the road. However, if you are wanting to see more of the racing from further up the road, expect a lot of walking. Another way of drinking in the festival vibes is from the VIP area, or more specifically the Le Mans VIP Lounge. It’s a place where CEOs and racing drivers mingle between runs and it was the place where I spent a fair share of my time. I was privileged to attend the event with Volkswagen South Africa and their motorsports team, and what a fun and race-loving team they have. From incredible hospitality to enthusiastic support for their team it was a brilliant scene to experience such a celebration for racing. However you spend your weekend at Simola, you’re guaranteed to find an intense spectator atmosphere with almost every timing announcement, met with a cheerful roar.
There is such a wide variety of vehicles that tackle the hill each year, and this year was no exception. The first two days are for the classics where anything from Shelby Daytonas to March 77B race cars can be seen bouncing off the limiter as they rocket up the hill in an old-school fashion. The last two days are designated for modern cars, where racing teams stretch their legs in cars like the brutal Supa Cut Polo from the Volkswagen Motorsports team, and insane Hillclimb-focused rockets like the record-breaking Gould GR55 with a time of 34.161 seconds. It also provides the perfect environment for companies to display unique vehicles such as the Volkswagen e-Golfs, which I found got more than a few people talking.
The Simola Hillclimb is 1.9 km of exciting racing. Where nearly anybody with a car and the guts to take on the hill can show the country what they have got. It is an event which honours the motoring enthusiasts of South Africa whilst shaking the little coastal town of Knysna with four days of constant flame-spitting exhaust notes. It is a must-do if you love anything about cars or racing since I can assure you that there will be something at the Hillclimb to make your jaw drop in disbelief.
Thank you, Volkswagen South Africa, for showing not only me but everybody in attendance your passion for racing and what your motorsports team has to offer. And Simola, you’ll be seeing me again.