The Simola Hillclimb is renowned as South Africa’s premier motoring and motorsport lifestyle event, garnering significant interest from local competitors and petrolheads, and from around the world. It has now been elevated to even greater heights with the announcement that Volkswagen South Africa is bringing Petter Solberg – the popular WRC and WRX champion – to compete at this year’s event, which takes place in Knysna from 4 to 7 May 2023.
Solberg is one of the best-known drivers in the World Rally Championship (WRC), becoming the first Norwegian to win the title in 2003 and wrapping up his career in 2009 with a total of 13 wins. Aside from his success on the WRC stage, Solberg stamped his mark on the World Rallycross (WRX) scene by claiming its first-ever championship crown in 2014, which he went on to repeat in 2015.
Two years later Solberg partnered with Volkswagen Motorsport to create the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden team, which dominated the sport by scoring an astonishing 19 wins from 24 events over the course of 2017 and 2018. Solberg finished third overall in 2017, while the team won both the Driver and Team championships on both occasions – a remarkable success story.
It’s not just Solberg’s participation at the 13th Simola Hillclimb that’s of great interest, but also the car he will be driving. Volkswagen is shipping the Polo R WRX Supercar that the team campaigned in the 2018 season to South Africa for this event. Rated as one of the most successful cars of the modern Rallycross era, it is a 419 kW/650 Nm monster that is capable of launching from standstill to 100 km/h in a mere 1.9 seconds – so it’s guaranteed to shake things up for this year’s King of the Hill challenge in the Modified Saloon Car category!
“Having a star driver of the calibre of Petter Solberg competing in this year’s Simola Hillclimb is a thrilling prospect which significantly elevates the status of our event,” says Ian Shrosbree, MD of the Knysna Speed Festival which owns the Simola Hillclimb. “We appreciate the immense amount of work Volkswagen SA has put into securing Solberg and the remarkable Polo R WRX Supercar, and its commitment as one of our partners for 2023.
“Solberg has a huge following around the world, and it will be great to see him in action in Knysna,” Shrosbree says. “For many people, it will be fascinating to see how the championship-winning Polo R WRX Supercar performs on the 1.9 km Simola Hill, and how it fares against the wild locally-developed cars that dominate the Modified Saloon Car category.
“The participation of Solberg and the Polo, together with another six car brands having official entries in the event, is a vindication of our change of strategy in 2020 to facilitate greater involvement by South African OEMs in the Hillclimb.”
Fierce home-bred competition
The Solberg VW entry certainly ramps up the excitement and anticipation for the epic King of the Hill battle set to play out in the Modified Saloon Car category, but it will be up against a formidable armada of some of the world’s most extreme and powerful tin-top race cars, many of which are purpose-built for the Simola Hillclimb.
Franco Scribante’s radical Nissan GT-R is already a hillclimb legend around the world, using its time attack-inspired multi-wing design along with huge power (estimated to be capable of around 1 500 hp) to devastating effect by claiming the 2019 and 2022 King of the Hill titles. Last year Scribante threw down the gauntlet and set a new record of 38.129 seconds at an average speed of 179.4 km/h – from a standing start!
And, as a four-time King of the Hill (and six-time Classic Car Friday winner), Scribante arguably knows the tight and twisty 1.9 km Simola Hillclimb road course better than anyone. “We have continued with the development of the GT-R since last year and hopefully sorted out the gearbox so that we can add more boost,” Scribante says. “The competition is always tough, but I believe that a 37-second time is possible, so that’s what we will be striving for this year.”
Scribante’s most fervent challenge is once again expected to come from Reghard Roets in the mean BB Motorsport Nissan GT-R, referred to by the team as ‘Armageddon’. As a three-time Road Car and Supercar King of the Hill winner, Roets had his first outing in the Modified Saloon Car category in 2022 and was regularly trading fastest times with Scribante. Unfortunately, several technical problems hampered the car last year, and Roets wasn’t able to contest the all-or-nothing Top 10 Shootout.
“Although the chink in our armour has been reliability issues, there is no team or driver that has spent so much time over the last year ironing out the niggles with many late nights and early mornings toiling in the workshop, and long days at the track getting Armageddon to turn lap record times for lap after lap,” Roets says. “The engine power, suspension and aero package have been optimised, with car and driver going on a diet to boot. I believe this year is going to be one of the biggest battles yet.”
There are numerous other Nissan GT-Rs sure to be in the mix for the overall title and the class B5 honours for unlimited four-wheel drive cars, including the wild Nissan GT-Rs driven by Martin and Jody van Zummeren, competing against the pair of highly tuned Audi S4 machines of Aldo and Silvio Scribante, and a turbocharged Audi R8 V10 driven by Dayne Riley.
Class B3 is home to the four-cylinder 4WD beasts – and yes, the headline act will be Petter Solberg in his VW Polo R WRX. He will be up against regular Top 10 contender Anton Cronje in his powerful Subaru WRX STi, along with Pierre Bester in a Mercedes-AMG A45 and Knysna resident Tanya Watts in her Subaru Impreza.
At the opposite end of the 4WD performance car spectrum is the unusual unlimited SUV and bakkie (pick-up) class. This year sees Ford South Africa taking up the Simola Hillclimb challenge with its recently launched Ranger Raptor, which employs a 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol engine to produce an astonishing 292 kW. Ford has teamed up with a media partner for its showroom-spec Ranger Raptor entry, and called on circuit racing and cross country ace Anthony Taylor to occupy the driver’s seat.
A second Ranger Raptor V6 will also take to the start line, driven by Knysna’s Fred van Heerden.
The two Fords will face off against BB Motorsport’s Arnold du Plessis in the mean-looking modified Nissan Patrol Black Hawk, which features a 396kW supercharged 5.6-litre V8 engine.
Two-wheel drive action
Several of the two-wheel drive unlimited class B4 entrants will be vying for the King of the Hill crown against the most extreme 4WD machinery, including last year’s runner-up, Charl Joubert in the turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 Honda-powered Lotus Elise, his brother Dawie in the Ferrari 488-engined Lotus Exige, as well as 2021 winner Pieter Zeelie in this Toyota MR2 Super GT. With constant improvements Zeelie has developed his car into a serious challenger for overall honours and his experience of racing the car, and winning his class, in an international hillclimb in Germany will stand him in good stead for this year’s event.
For the most spectacular on-the-ragged-edge driving, you won’t find much better than Wade van Zummeren in his manic rear-wheel drive Nissan GT-R which he powered into an impressive third place last year.
Two-wheel drive four-cylinder cars slot into class B2, featuring Graeme Nathan who will be back again in the VW Polo SupaCup car, Hyundai South Africa’s Josh Lowe who will compete for the first time in the Hyundai i30N that he races in the Vilaca time attack series, Clare Vale in her Subaru BRZ, and another Knysna local, Mike Verrier, who returns to the Simola Hillclimb this year in a hot VW Golf GTi.
The naturally aspirated race cars in class B7 (eight cylinders and up) comprise Ricky Giannoccaro’s Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo, Giacomo Giannoccaro’s BMW Z4 GT3 V8, Pieter Joubert’s thundering 6.2-litre V8 AMG-powered Lotus Exige and a 1985 7.0-litre Cobra.
As the lone entrant in class B6 for six-cylinder cars, Geoff Goddard Jnr will be behind the wheel of the iconic BMW 325i Shadowline that was raced by the likes of his father, Geoff, and Tony Viana during the heydays of Stannic Group N.
Purchase your tickets online
Tickets can be purchased on the event website (www.simolahillclimb.com), with the prices for General Entry remaining unchanged from last year. Upgrades are available for Pit Access, Turn 2 Grandstand seating and VIP Parking.
For the ultimate VIP experience, the Le Mans Hospitality Lounge provides mouth-watering catering, an unbeatable viewing point overlooking the start line, as well as General Entry and Pit Access.
The 13th edition of the Simola Hillclimb takes place from 4 to 7 May 2023.
More information on the Simola Hillclimb is available on the website: www.simolahillclimb.com
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