Until last week (February 28 – March 1) South African motorsport fans really only had one Hillclimb-style event to look forward to each year; the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb annually run in Knysna at the start of May. But this picture has changed dramatically thanks to Terry Wilford and Pim Pieterse who put the inaugural Emerald Speed Fest together.
Hosted at the Emerald Resort and Casino in Vanderbijl Park, the only significant change in elevation was the occasional bump on the one-mile-road. Still, the event ticked quite a few of other boxes.
Firstly with the number of classes to compete in, it was virtually open to anything with four wheels, an engine, capable of doing 1.6 km a few times over the weekend and piloted by someone with a general sense of direction.
Spectator vantage points included the start, finish and the fastest point of the course. I honestly lost count at the number of times that I heard spectators drawing comparisons to the Circuit de la Sarthe and old Hockenheim ring, so there was definitely a picturesque element to it as well. And the alternating weather also made sure that competitors would need to maintain a delicate balance between sheer speed and strategy. And all of this was streamed live online as well.
Franco Scribante in his Chevron B19. Image: Reynard Gelderblom
In the Historic Cars class, the honours went to reigning Knysna Champion Franco Scribante in his Chevron B19 ahead of the Porsche duo of Andre Bezuidenhout and Rui Campos. The Sports Car honours went to Campos; this time behind the wheel of his Shelby Can-Am. James Forbes in his ADR MCE3 and Jon Wilson also in a Shelby Can-Am rounded out the podium.
There is always a lot of talk about the relevance of motorsport in the modern car manufacturing industry. This is something that the organisers certainly addressed with their Road Going Saloons & Supercars class. It also proved to be quite popular with the crowd but also produced Day 3’s most significant crash.
Stuart White in the Jeep Trackhawk. Image: Reynard Gelderblom
Sauber F4 Junior Driver Stuart White was one of the fastest competitors in his Jeep Trackhawk throughout the opening two days, but in his second run on Sunday one of the front tyres came off the wheel at the end of the fastest point on the course, resulting in a triple-roll and the Jeep coming to a standstill just before hitting the trees. As a testament to modern car safety, White climbed out seconds later a bit shaken but not injured.
The class was won by Anton Cronje in the McLaren 720S who also went on to qualify for the Master of the Mile top-ten shootout. Mercedes-Benz AMG Driver Academy instructors Courtney Nicholl in the AMG GT63S and Ebrahim Mohammed in the CLA 45S completed the podium.
Scribante added another class victory to his name in the Modified Saloon Car Class; this time competing in the Nissan GT-R 35 in which he took the honours at Knysna as well. Reghard Roets in another Nissan GT-R producing half the amount of power than Scribante’s finished second while Peter Zeelie took third place in his Toyota MR-2.
This trio of drivers and cars again featured in the Master of the Mile race early on Sunday evening. This time it was Roets who took the prize, bragging rights and everything else that comes with the Master of the Mile crown. Zeelie finished second with Scribante third. Roets set a time of 33.869; just under 0.6 of a second faster than his previous fastest time on the day.
Reghard Roets in his Nissan GT-R. Image: Reynard Gelderblom
And more to come
There is a lot of talk of late regarding "what constitutes a successful motorsport event." This one certainly does carry an excellent success rating for the first running of it, but I do feel there is still some room for improvement as well. In 2021 I certainly hope to see increased entries.
The Modified Production Car Class certainly saw some friendly rivalry between a few of the Bridgestone BMW Club Racing Series competitors; something that I would like to see more of in future. Mercedes-Benz is not a name that you would associate with South African motorsport. Yet, their Driving Academy duo showed the ropes to seasoned racers such as Farouk Dangor, Barry Ingle, Paige Lindenberg and Bradley Scorer. Every major manufacturer in the performance car segment has got some form of an advanced driving programme. I would like to see them coming on board in future as well.
Yes, the event had a few niggles but nothing more than what you would expect from something new. Spectator turnout was good considering the weather and those who attended undoubtedly got their money’s worth of entertainment. The only criticism I got when talking to the crowd was the absence of shuttles between various points and the need for another big screen.
By now we also know that our local motorsport fans would like to be able to camp out and braai next to a circuit instead of sitting in stands. Of course, not every venue can freely allow for that, and I would like to see enthusiasts not being deterred by this. After all, there are no other sporting events where you can do it.
The team steering this event comes with a lot of expertise, and I’m sure that 2021 will be bigger still. Rome was not built in a day, but we certainly saw a solid foundation laid on Day 1. I’m looking forward to seeing this city grow further.