The opening day of the King of the Hill challenge at the 2019 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb lived up to its promise of delivering plenty of excitement and heartstopping action in front of thousands of enthusiastic fans.
Despite wet and cold conditions hampering the early part of the 10th edition of the Hillclimb, the action turned fast and furious for the dry afternoon as the competitors unleashed their monstrous machines on the challenging 1.9 km Simola Hill course during the first two qualifying runs.
As the reigning Single Seater and Sports Car champion, and overall Jaguar Simola Hillclimb
record-holder, Andre Bezuidenhout proved that he remains the class of the field by topping the timesheets in the first of two qualifying rounds, even though he kept his boots dry and only went out for the last three sessions of the day.
Bezuidenhout powered the impressive Gould GR55 specialist Hillclimb racing car to an initial
qualifying time of 37.692 seconds, achieving a standing start average speed of 181.471 km/h – an impressive feat considering that it was on old tyres carried over from the 2018 event!
“I’m happy with our performance today, given that it was much colder than last year and was wet, so I didn’t go out at all until the fifth practice session,” Bezuidenhout said. “We intentionally ran the old tyres from last year, and they are just about at the end of their life, so I’m comfortable with the current time.
“As we all know, the real action starts on Sunday morning, so today was about getting a couple of runs in the bag and making sure everything is working properly, and I think we’re well placed
Prior to Bezuidenhout’s outings, Robert Wolk was leading the way in his Ferrari-powered A1
GP single-seater, but gear selection woes plagued both of his qualifying runs after posting the
day’s fastest overall time of 37.279 seconds in the fifth practice session.
There was lots of attention focused on what is arguably the wildest car ever seen at the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, and Franco Scribante didn’t disappoint in his outlandishly winged Nissan GTR that was specially built for this event.
After progressively improving his times during the dry sessions, Scribante wrapped up his day
with an impressive time of 38.551 seconds – 0.9 seconds quicker than Wilhelm Baard’s winning time from last year.
“Although we’ve had an uphill battle to get the car ready on time for this event, we had a great day and have been going progressively quicker in every session,” Scribante said. “My crew hardly slept last night, but the car is amazing and I can’t fault anything on it. This year we’re not having any reliability issues where some of the other teams are.
“I hope Wilhelm manages to get his car sorted so that we have an exciting race tomorrow, and I think a 37-second time is on the cards,” he predicted.
Baard was another of the leading contenders to skip the wet sessions entirely, eventually
posting a time of 42.478 seconds in the final afternoon practice.
“We decided not to go out when it was wet as there was simply too much risk, and I took it easy on my first run as the brakes were very cold and I was on old tyres,” he explained. “In the first qualifying unfortunately the right front driveshaft popped out just after the start, so I wasn’t able to do a decent run. But I’m not concerned at the moment as the car will be ready in the morning and we’ll start with new rubber.
“Franco did a brilliant time this afternoon, but this is close to what I would have set last year if the turbocharger boost pipe didn’t come off in the final shootout, so I think there’s more time to come tomorrow, especially as the car is much better sorted this year,” Baard suggested.
Martin van Zummeren was second fastest in the category and third overall in his spectacular
2002 Nissan Skyline GT-R on 40.732 seconds. As one of the main contenders for this year’s
Modified Saloon Cars King of the Hill title, Charl Joubert saw his hopes for glory disappear in
dramatic fashion in the fourth practice when his Lotus Elise suddenly veered off course and
slammed into the banking on the exit of the second turn. Fortunately, he emerged unscathed
after the car rolled twice and landed on its roof.
Franco di Matteo impressed with the fourth-fastest time of the day of 41.091 seconds in his 2000 Jaguar V8 Supercar, with Enzo Kuun the quickest of the Masters V8 entries (44.425 seconds), followed by American racer David Smith ending his first outing in a similar car with a time of 45.646 seconds.
In the Road-going Saloon Car and Supercar category, reigning champion Reghard Roets
wrapped up day one with a faultless performance after setting an exceptionally quick time of
43.840 seconds in his near-standard Nissan GT-R – the eighth fastest time overall in Qualifying 2, ahead of a wide variety of hard-core race cars.
“I was a bit apprehensive this morning with the weather, but in the last run this afternoon it all
came together and I went almost a full second faster than my winning time from 2018,” Roets said. “I wasn’t surprised as the air was much cooler today compared to last year, which gives the turbocharged engine a significant performance boost.
“For this last run it was ideal conditions, so I pushed really hard to see what time was possible, and I doubt that I’ll be able to go any faster tomorrow,” he added.
A couple of other interesting battles held the attention of the pit lane and the throngs of
spectators – most notably the tussle between the Cronje brothers, Mark and Gavin, in their
identical Jaguar F-TYPE SVR Coupés. Although older brother Mark held sway for most of the
day, Gavin pipped him in the final qualifying run, crossing the timing beam in 45.325 seconds
with a mere 0.019 seconds separating the two.
The tussle between motoring journalists Ashley Oldfield and Marius Roberts in the all-new
Jaguar F-PACE SVR saw Oldfield claiming an overnight advantage of around half a second
with a time of 46.781 seconds.
There was also an ‘electrifying’ battle between former Production and Touring Car rivals Mike
Briggs, Deon Joubert and Shaun Watson-Smith in the fascinating new Jaguar I-PACE electric
vehicles. Briggs secured the early bragging rights by leading the charge on 50.083 seconds,
relegating Joubert to second place by 0.256 seconds with Watson-Smith around half a second adrift.
With the weather looking promising for tomorrow and the competitors revved up for action, it’s going to be all-out war in the fight for the prized King of the Hill titles for 2019!