Preparations for the 2018 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, which takes place from 3 to 6 May, are running at a feverish pace amongst the organisers and competitors alike. And, for the spectators, anticipation and excitement levels are at an all-time high, particularly for the fiercely competitive Modified Saloon Car category in the King of the Hill challenge.
Featuring a total of 49 entries spread across nine classes, this category hosts the true beasts of the Hillclimb, with all types of mild to totally wild creations set to attack the 1.9 km course.
Naturally, all eyes will be on double champion Wilhelm Baard in his radical R35 GT-R with its outlandish aerodynamic package that was developed for the famous Pikes Peak Hillclimb in the US. With around 1 100 hp (820 kW) on tap from its highly tuned 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6 engine, the former Group N racer powered the GT-R to a new class record of 39.892 sec last year to become the first road-based car to officially break the 40-second barrier.
“We are aiming to be quicker this year and, with serious competition from several other drivers, our target will be to go under 39 seconds,” Baard says. “We’ve done quite a bit of work on the car, introducing the upgrades that we didn’t have time to finish before the 2017 Hillclimb. This is mainly focused on the chassis with the GT-R now slightly wider than before, and we have also improved the efficiency of the aerodynamics.”
Engine mapping is the dark art that defines the most successful cars in this sport – particularly in the case of the infinitely tuneable and high-tech GT-R. The team behind Baard’s car has been working hard on optimising the set-up for the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb.
“Our mapping is a step up from last year after we had a couple of issues last time out, so we are confident that the package will be much better and quicker throughout the course,” he adds.
Baard predicts that his biggest rivals for the King of the Hill title will come from the likes of Franco Scribante who is new to the Modified Saloon Car category this year, along with the Joubert brothers in their exceptionally fast Lotus entries. Plus, there’s a strong contingent of other Nissan GT-Rs that are ready to pounce, featuring established challengers such as Darron Gudmanz, Edrich Zwiers and Quinsley Sale.
Unfortunately, one of the Hillclimb’s most spectacular and popular contenders, 2015 winner Des Gutzeit, will be missing from the field this year as he is recovering from recent surgery.
As for Scribante, he is the most successful driver to date at the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb with three Classic Car Friday victories and two King of the Hill titles to his name. He is set to make his debut in the road-based race car class this year in a rapid turbocharged Porsche 911 GT3R built by his highly experienced Scuderia Scribante Racing team.
“The GT3R is a car that we developed entirely in-house and are extremely proud of,” Scribante says. “We are very keen to see how it will perform and match up in the modified class, but I feel optimistic that it will do well and entertain the spectators.”
Dawie Joubert also poses a real threat, after setting an unofficial new record for the category of 39.055 sec during practice at the 2017 event. A blown engine sidelined his campaign, but with his wild and extremely light Lotus Exige powered by a turbocharged 2.4-litre engine producing around 560 kW, it is recognised as one of the fastest race cars in the country.
Dawie’s brother, Charl, will be joining the fray with another Lotus Exige, in this case employing a modified Honda 3.5 V6 engine, making it a fascinating family affair to determine which driver and engine combination is quickest.
As always, Anton Cronje is sure to be in the mix in his mighty Subaru Impreza WRX STi, along with the likes of Stuart Kidgell in the spectacular Alfa-powered Ultima GTR.
Fans can also look forward to the thunderous V8 entries of Willie Hepburn in the 7-litre Opel Rekord, Craig Czank’s Lexus-engined Corvette, the one-of-a-kind Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG DTM of Thouca Mechanicos and a Ferrari 488 GTB driven by former Production Car driver Shaun Duminy.
The brace of V8 Masters entries includes the ever-popular Enzo Kuun, along with the two US-based drivers, Kai Goddard and Steve Kimpton, who return for their second Jaguar Simola Hillclimb.
It’s also worth keeping an eye out for some of fastest lady drivers in the country, comprising Tanya Watts in her hot Subaru Impreza WRX STi, and Clare Vale in her distinctive Subaru BRZ.
Adding to the excitement and intrigue for the ninth edition of the Hillclimb, two new classes have been added to the line-up. For the first time in South African motorsport history, an all-electric vehicle will be going head-to-head with its petrol-powered counterparts.
Nissan has revealed that it will be exploring the all-electric avenue with the Leaf Nismo RC, which has been brought in from Japan specially for the Hillclimb. Although it is essentially based on the standard road-going Leaf and uses the same 80 kW electric motor, this full-blown racing model was built by the Japanese manufacturer’s famed Nismo division.
The electric motor is relocated to the rear to drive the back wheels and features a sleek carbon fibre monocoque body which contributes to an impressively low weight of just 930 kg. The Leaf Nismo RC is fully approved by the FIA, allowing it to compete in international racing. It will be driven by Janus Janse van Rensburg.
Due to popular demand, Class B9 has been added to cater for the growing interest in high-performance sport utility vehicles and pick-ups, or bakkies. Shelby’s muscular Ford Ranger Savage 660 returns in even more aggressive form, sporting a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine – with Peter Lindenberg behind the wheel.
He will be up against Jason Evans in a Range Rover Sport that features an extensive list of modifications from German customisation specialist LUMMA Design. His LUMMA CLR RS is based on the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 model and brings a unique twist to the cars competing at the 2018 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb.