It was a GT-R day at the first practice and qualifying day of the 2019 Jaguar Simola Hill Climb in Knysna.
Nissan ended the day at the top of both the Modified Saloon and Roadgoing Supercar classes and broke both last year’s winning times. This bodes well for Sunday, when Nissan will be defending both the King of the Hill titles.
The day started with a fine morning drizzle that competitors to their first few practice rounds. By mid-morning, several competitors opted out of the remaining voluntary practice rounds and parked their cars in the pits. Others braved the very wet conditions, often on slick dry-weather tyres, in an attempt to get as much practice and set-up time as possible.
One of them was Franco Scribante in his outlandish 2 000 horsepower GT-R.
“The GT-R is an incredibly easy and forgiving car to drive, but it is a new car and we need time on track to refine our set-up,” says Scribante. He swopped to wet weather tyres during morning practice and later went back to slicks, before testing his launch control in the last practice round.
In contrast, Wilhelm Baard decided to keep his car on slick tyres and under wraps and wait for drier conditions.
Baard and the team from BB Motorsport, with advice and aerodynamic parts from NISMO in Japan, had spent countless hours on Zwartkops racetrack to perfect the engine, aerodynamics and electronic mapping that won them the King of the Hill championship in 2018.
“This is the best that the car has ever been,” says Baard. “Last year I was fighting the car up the hill, but now it feels well sorted. We did not see any need to take part in the practice rounds, because the last bit of tweaking will require us to race at top speed and we won’t risk that in the rain.”
By lunchtime the rain had stopped, and the track started to dry out. This drew the competitors out from under the pit covers and saw a row of GT-Rs line up for the last of the practice rounds and the first qualifying rounds.
Baard joined for the last practice round and his launch drew a large crowd, who wanted to see if he had what it takes to win the hill climb for the third consecutive year. He set a time of 42.478 seconds in this last of the practice rounds but had to retire during his first qualifying round after his driveshaft dislocated from its housing, causing minor damage.
With Baard back in the pits, the other GT-Rs competed among themselves for the fastest qualifying time of the day. This honour fell to Scribante, who launched his GT-R like a missile in the last run of the day and drove a near perfect line for a final day 1 qualifying time of 38.551 seconds. This is not only the fastest time of any supercar on the day but faster than Baard’s winning time of 39.463 seconds in 2018 and within touching distance of André Bezuidenhout’s track record of 38.528 seconds that he set in 2018 in his purpose-built Gould GR55 single seat race car.
“The car performed faultlessly. We hit the right set-up quite early and that allowed me to focus on racing,” says Scribante, who won the Classic Conqueror trophy on Friday in a Chevron B19.
Following on Scribante’s heels was Martin van Zummeren, who raced up the hill in 40.732 seconds in his last qualifying round. In fast third was Reghard Roets, the two-time and reigning King of the Hill champion in the Roadgoing Supercar class.
Roets had a great day in his standard 2018 GT-R from Melrose Nissan. By the end of the practice runs he was already faster than his winning time in 2018 of 44.892 and in the second (and last) qualifying round he set a time of 43.840, a full second faster than his winning time of last year.
“The conditions were perfect for a fast run,” says Roets. “The engine enjoyed the cool air and the GT-R was on song. By the end of the day, I was giving it my all to simulate the final race tomorrow and if the conditions are similar, I am sure we will set a record time.”
And while the GT-Rs were fighting for supremacy, another Nissan was wowing the crowds with its unique shape and engine roar. Terence Marsh participated in class B9 with his Dakar Navara, with its 5.6 liter petrol V8 engine.
“Everything that this car was built for, is different to what you need at Simola,” says Marsh. “Where we need ride height and suspension travel in the desert, you need a low centre of gravity and a taught suspension at Simola. We need big, knobbly tyres at the Dakar, here you need smaller, road-going tyres. I am used to carrying 400 litres of fuel, now you need only 40 litres. So we adjusted what we could and removed the engine restrictor, and here we are. It is quite a lively beast up the hill!”
Says Janus Janse van Rensburg, Chief Marketing Manager for Nissan Premium and Performance Cars: “The GT-Rs have completely dominated the hill climb and judging by the cheers from the crowd, they remain one of the most popular supercars at Simola. We are especially impressed with the GT-Rs’ performance in the wet and we look forward to what they can do tomorrow”.
The Jaguar Simola Hill Climb will start tomorrow with three qualifying rounds, before the cars line up for the class finals and the final King of the Hill shootouts.