Lean and mean – pure-bred single-seater race cars challenge for King of the Hill glory

The Modified Saloon Car category may be home to the most extreme and powerful cars at the Simola Hillclimb each year, but if you’re looking for the fastest machines on four wheels then it’s the Single Seater and Sports Prototypes category that rules the 1.9 km Simola Hill.

Andre Bezuidenhout has made this class his own over the past five events, with his unbroken winning streak starting in 2017 with his 1989 Dallara F189 Formula One car. The pure race-bred machine set an impressive record and winning time of 37.807 seconds.

For the 2018 event, Bezuidenhout acquired a 2007 Gould GR55 from the UK – a purpose-built hillclimb car powered by a 3.8-litre V8 Nicholson McLaren engine. The GR55 has an enviable reputation, including winning every round of the 2006 British Hill Climb Championship. It immediately set a new benchmark at the Simola Hillclimb, as Bezuidenhout slashed his previous record by more than two seconds (35.528 sec) on his very first outing with this impressive machine.

Cold conditions in 2019 saw Bezuidenhout post a slower time of 36.764 seconds on his way to a third victory, while the 2021 event defied all expectations as he broke the 35-second mark with another record time of 34.965 seconds. His unrivalled streak continued last year as he not only obliterated the record by posting a time of 34.161 seconds, but Bezuidenhout also became the first person to complete the tight and twisty 1.9 km Simola Hill course at an average speed of more than 200 km/h (200.228 km/h) – from a standing start. A truly astonishing feat in anyone’s terms!

The big question for this year is whether a sub-34 second time is possible. “The answer is yes, but it all depends on the weather conditions, the road surface and how the car and driver feel on the day,” Bezuidenhout says.

The team has done extensive work on the car since last year’s event, mainly out of necessity. “Upon returning from Simola last year we noticed severe suspension damage, which necessitated several serious maintenance and upgrade tasks,” Bezuidenhout explains. “The very bumpy Simola road has taken its toll on the Gould, and we hope to not only have restored the car, but also to improve it.”

Bezuidenhout isn’t only focused on King of the Hill, as he will be competing in Classic Car Friday once again as he mounts a serious challenge to the dominance of six-time winner Franco Scribante. “I am bringing the 1975 Lola Formula Atlantic back for Classic Friday,” he says. “Last year I was taken out of the event on the first practice run by a competitor who bumped my car from behind whilst he was removing his helmet. The Lola has undergone a complete restoration and I am looking forward to the tussle with Franco for the Classic Car Friday title. This is going to be a close one.”

The 13th Simola Hillclimb, which takes place from 4 to 7 May 2023, has a family twist for Bezuidenhout as his son, Jandré, will be driving his dad’s first race car, the 1985 Porsche 944 Turbo Cup, in Classic Car Friday. “It will be Jandré’s first motorsport event and I cannot wait to make this a family affair.”

As a multiple winner of South Africa’s premier motoring and motorsport lifestyle event, Bezuidenhout is delighted about the increased awareness that will be generated around the world for the Simola Hillclimb, thanks to WRC and WRX champion Petter Solberg’s participation this year in the 2018 World Rallycross title-winning VW Polo R WRX. “The attendance of Petter Solberg is fantastic news. He is a world-class motorsport personality, and his presence will certainly uplift the status of the Simola Hillclimb,” Bezuidenhout says. “I cannot wait to see him go from 0-100 km/h in 1.8 seconds. It is going to be spectacular, and will attract even more international interest and participation.”

Robert Wolk – Infinity IndyCar-engined Pillbeam

Bezuidenhout’s closest rival each year has been single-seater and GTC racing driver Robert Wolk who has competed in a variety of cars, including a Formula Renault V6 and a Ferrari F1-derived A1 GP.

Last year the InvestChem team that Wolk races for took a different path, dropping a modern 4.0-litre V8 Infinity IndyCar engine into its 1989 Pillbeam MP58. This car is also a multiple British hillclimb winner, albeit from a very different era to the Gould GR55.

The 2022 Simola Hillclimb was its first outing with the new engine after it previously competed in Classic Car Friday with a Ford Cosworth 3.5-litre V8, in the hands of Ian Schofield. Although the car had numerous teething issues after being completed just before last year’s event, its performance and thundering sound were certainly impressive. Wolk wrestled the Pillbeam to a surprisingly quick time of 36.335 seconds, despite having to contend with a less-than-ideal set-up and the car’s original four-speed manual gearbox.

The team has since completed some development work on the car, although they haven’t been able to do any testing yet. “We had to rebuild the engine and also redesign various engine fittings to resolve the reliability issues which plagued us last year and limited our running,” Wolk says. “We’ve also worked on the dampers, which we believe will give us a step forward, and we are hoping to do a shakedown test later this month.

“The Simola Hillclimb gives us two days of running, so with our reliability issues resolved we should be able to chip away at our times, and hopefully we can dip into the 35s this year.”

As for the rest of the field, there’s guaranteed to be another enthralling battle for the King of the Hill podium. Devin Robertson finished third last year in the Suzuki Hayabusa-engined Radical Pro Sport on 39.515 seconds, and he will be back in action in this car going head-to-head against his two main rivals in a pair of Reynard Formula VW single-seaters who finished within 0.2 seconds of the final podium spot, comprising Byron Mitchell and Andrew Rackstraw. Ian Schofield will once again be driving the 2018 Mygale Formula Ford.

Rui Campos is also a driver to watch out for in the Shelby CanAm that uses a Mustang-derived 5.0-litre V8, while Megan Verlaque adds further variety to the class in the tiny but rapid Speedcar Extreme crosskart which is now powered by a 1 000 cc superbike engine in place of the 600 cc engine she used previously.

There’s also a pair of Lotus 7 replicas entered by Tom Barrett and Bill Annetts, along with a similar Birkin driven by Oscar de Oliviera. Fans can also look forward to some serious muscle in the form of Rudolf Marx’s 6.2-litre Chevrolet LS3-powered Ford GT40, and the two Backdraft AC Cobras comprising the blown Toyota-engined car driven by Craig Czank and a 7.0-litre Chev LS7 car with Mike McLoughlin behind the wheel.

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