Suzuki exceeds all expectations on day one of racing

The Suzuki Swift Sport and its drivers came out guns blazing on the first day of the 2023 Simola Hillclimb.

All three drivers – Wesley Greybe, Kumbi Mtshakazi and Sudhir Matai – started the day with a good first run and then proceeded to set even faster times with every subsequent run up the hill.

Suzuki Auto South Africa entered the Simola Hillclimb in Class A1 for production sports cars with three standard versions of its Suzuki Swift Sport. They asked a professional driver (Greybe), a journalist with motorsport experience (Matai) and a complete rookie (Mtshakazi) to pilot the hot hatches up the hill.

Greybe and Mtshakazi drove Swift Sport auto models and Matai picked the slick-shifting six-speed manual model.

Each of the drivers reported increasing levels of comfort with their own abilities, their knowledge of the hill’s right-left-right turns and the predictability of the Swift Sport’s abilities.

“The Swift Sport is like a Russian doll. If you are a complete novice, you will enjoy the turbo boost and the slick gearshift.

“Later, as you get more comfortable behind the wheel and more experienced, you uncover the Swift Sport’s sharp steering, progressive braking and responsive throttle.

“Ultimately, as a pro, the Swift Sport rewards you with its specially tuned chassis, its progressive power delivery and its light weight that allows for quick direction changes, without the penalty of body roll or understeer,” says Chelsey Pinto, Product Planning and Sales Development Coordinator at Suzuki Auto and Team Manager for the 2023 Suzuki Swift Sport Team at Simola.

Wesley Greybe set the fastest times of the day. He is an experienced driver at Simola, having piloted a manual Swift Sport in 2022.

He started the day with a 56.748 second run. Keep in mind that the track was still relatively cold and unforgiving in the early hours of Saturday morning.

By the third qualifying round, Greybe had cut more than two seconds off his time. This is a lifetime in a track sport that separates first and tenth place by a hundredth of a second.

“You cannot overemphasise the importance of a predictable sports car. The Swift Sport never wavered, the brakes never faded, and the tyres gripped in the same spots every time.

“This gave us, as the drivers, the confidence to play with tyre pressures, racing line and with our launch off the line,” says Greybe.

Greybe acted as the mentor of the two hillclimb novices, Matai and Mtshakazi. Runs were recorded on video and the three drivers poured over the replays to find the best racing line, the best braking spots and the best strategy for conquering the Simola Hill.

“The first run was truly nerve-racking. Imagine all the people watching you and you are trying your best to just keep the car on the road.

“But the Swift Sport is such an underrated car. It not only forgives your mistakes, but it encourages you to push harder. I definitely haven’t found its limits yet,” says Mtshakazi.

Mtshakazi was crowd favourite. He was introduced to the crowd as a young and inexperienced driver, yet he set the third best time in class A1 on the very first run.

“I decided to push hard from the very first run. Ultimately, I was given an opportunity to race up the Simola Hill and I wanted to make the most of it.”

Sudhir Matai had a different approach. As an experienced racing driver, Matai had a far more scientific approach to his day.

“You set a time, and then you gradually chip away at that time. I wanted to make the most of the day’s practice and slowly settle in behind the wheel.”

Having said that, Matai’s race computer showed that he was on the limiter by the second qualifier.

“I just decided to keep my foot flat and leave it to the Swift Sport’s chassis to sort out the twists. On the second-last run I heard the limiter kick in in third gear. That is quite something for a standard production car to reach this level!”

Behind both Mtshakazi and Matai’s performance was the cool head of Greybe. He is the Simola Hillclimb’s mad scientist who watched each rider’s track videos with a keen eye.

After every run, Greybe would discuss the racing line with Mtshakazi and Matai and give pointers on what they could do better. He was most critical of his own performance and would rewatch his own runs multiple times.

“The auto was a treat. Last year, I drove a Swift Sport manual and I really enjoyed the way the gears change as slick as a light switch. But this year, I had the paddle shifters of the auto, and I could leave the gearbox to its own devices if I wanted to focus on my racing line,” says Greybe.

“This allowed me to carry more speed into turn two and three and to throw the car into the corner, hold on for dear life and watch how the Swift Sport emerged cleanly on the other side.”

Greybe led the pack with his times. He started with a time of 56.748 and ended the third qualifying round with a time of 54.395, enjoying being placed second.

This is much better than his best time in 2022, which earned him a spot on the Simola podium.

Matai set a first run time of 1:01.264 – he was still finding his feet – and by the end of the day, he stormed past Mtshakazi with a time of 55.237 seconds.

Mtshakazi had the crowds cheering when he shot off the line for a first-run time of 1:00.221 and ended the day on a very impressive 56.649.

Says Pinto: “At the start of the weekend, I thought I would challenge our drivers to match last year’s impressive times. Now, with the Sunday racing ahead of us, I have decided that we can do even better. So I have thrown down the gauntlet to our drivers and challenged them to set a sub-55 second time. I know the Swift Sport can do that, if their nerves hold!”