13th Hillclimb successfully held in Knysna

The Simola Hillclimb has firmly established its status as one of the world’s most exciting and competitive events, with the 13th edition – held in Knysna, South Africa, delivering its most thrilling and fiercely contested spectacle yet.

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As South Africa’s premier motoring and motorsport lifestyle event, this year’s competition and the global interest were elevated to even greater heights with the participation of three, star international drivers: 2003 WRC champion and double WRX champion Petter Solberg along with older brother Henning Solberg who is a veteran WRC and WRX driver, as well as former F1 driver Mika Salo.

The three King of the Hill champions in the different categories are Franco Scribante, André Bezuidenhout and JP van der Walt.

Competitors took part in three main categories – the Single Seater and Sports Prototypes, the Modified Saloons and the Road and Super Cars – each category with its own sub-categories.

André Bezuidenhout claimed his sixth King of the Hill title in the Single Seater and Sports Prototype category with a time of 37.580 seconds.

Franco Scribante took top honours by winning his fifth Modified Saloon Car event and King of the Hill title with a time of 39.877 seconds.

André Bezuidenhout’s 2007 Gould GR55 up the hill.

JP van der Walt earned his third consecutive Production Car category and Supercar King of the Hill title with his best time in his category of 44.991 seconds.

Petter Solberg was undeniably the highlight of the mighty race-tuned saloon cars, combining his effervescent personality and exceptional talent with the remarkable performance of the 2018 title-winning Volkswagen Polo R WRX Supercar.

He last drove this car in 2019 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. He raised a few eyebrows when he posted an astonishing time of 40.867 seconds on his very first run up the 1.9 km Simola Hill. He slotted into second place with a margin of just 1.3 seconds from the class leader, Reghard Roets, in a much more powerful 2014 Nissan R-35 GT-R, known as ‘Armageddon’.

Franco Scribante’s GT-R, called ‘The Sheriff’.

Through the two days of fierce competition, it became a three-way tussle for the title between Petter, Reghard and four-time King of the Hill, Franco, in his radical time attack-inspired GT-R, called ‘The Sheriff’ in the Modified Saloon Car category.

To rousing applause from the thousands of spectators, Petter completed his final dash up the Simola Hill in a series of full-attack power slides in the Polo R WRX Supercar, and he was rewarded with third place in the Top 10 Shootout clocking 41.281 seconds.

JP van der Walt stamped his authority on the standard production car category by scoring his third consecutive King of the Hill title in a 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S with a Top 10 Shootout time of 44.991 seconds in wet conditions.

Finnish Formula 1 driver Mika Salo delivered a tenacious drive in the wet conditions to claim third place in the 2023 Mercedes-AMG A45S, crossing the timing beam in 47.876 seconds in this category.

JP van der Walt in his Porsche 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S fighting the hill.

While the qualifying runs determined the Top 10 Shootout contenders for all three King of the Hill categories, they also decided which drivers would contest the penultimate Class Finals, which were conducted in rainy conditions.

In the Modified Saloon Cars, it was a racing debut and class B1 (naturally aspirated, four-cylinder) win for MasterDrive/Castrol driver search winner Bevin Harris in the 2007 Ford Fiesta ST (1:17.478).

B3 for unlimited four-cylinder 4WD cars went to Petter (43.383 seconds) in the 2018 VW Polo R WRX Supercar, while Pieter Zeelie earned the B4 crown (five-cylinder and above, 2WD) clocking 44.656 seconds in his 2002 Toyota MR2 Super GT.

Although he missed out on the overall King of the Hill title, Reghard was able to take the trophy for class B5 (five-cylinder and above 4WD) home in the 2014 Nissan R35 GT-R (40.565 sec).

Geoff Goddard Jnr took the B6 honours for six-cylinder naturally aspirated cars in the iconic 1989 Stannic Group N BMW 325i Shadowline, with B7 (eight cylinders and above, naturally aspirated) claimed by Pieter Joubert in the Mercedes-AMG V8-powered Lotus Exige (48.947 sec).

Renowned circuit and rally-raid driver, Anthony Taylor, took the B9 win for unlimited SUVs and bakkies (pick-ups) in the new twin-turbo V6-powered Ford Ranger Raptor with a wet time of 1:02.064, after having gone as low as 54.747 seconds in the dry qualifying sessions.

In the Road-going Saloon Car and Supercar category, Deon Joubert led the charge in class A1 (2WD, four-cylinders) in the latest Honda Civic Type R with 55.368 seconds. Clint Weston settled the tight squabble with Mika Salo in the pair of Mercedes-AMG A45S entries by winning the A2 title for 4WD cars with 49.134 seconds.

Farhaad Ebrahim took A3 (five-cylinders and above, 2WD) with a time of 50.223 seconds in his 2020 Toyota Supra, while JP van der Walt was untouchable in A4 for the 4WD cars (48.449 sec). Sean Mackay earned the A5 win (five cylinders and above, naturally aspirated) in the 2000 Porsche 911 GT3 (1:03.799), with the A6 trophy (eight cylinders and above, naturally aspirated) handed to Gordon Nicholson in the 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus (50.462 sec).

Garth Mackintosh powered the 2017 McLaren 720s to the A7 win for force-fed cars (eight cylinders and up) on 52.800 seconds, while Ashley Oldfield scored the victory in A8 for hybrid and electric cars with the BMW XM, which made its South African debut at the Simola Hillclimb, achieving a time of 49.134 seconds.

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