When the hammer came down at the auction of the historic Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in July 2014, local and international motorsport fans breathed a sigh of relief.
And now it’s time for action as the circuit was handed over to contractors at noon on the 12th of May for a complete rebuild and upgrading that will make it the beste again – not only in South Africa, but also Africa itself.
The reason for the optimism of fans all over the world for the future of Kyalami was simply the fact that a man with a passion for motorsport had rescued the historic venue from the brink of imminent demise.
Toby Venter, a well-known and respected motor business entrepreneur, visionary and successful race driver and Mr Porsche South Africa, was the man behind the successful final bid.
Full resurfacing and change in circuit layout
The current circuit has, over time, grown to be respected as a track with interesting changes of elevation and some challenging corners. What was clearly lacking in the current layout was a longer straight ending in a tight corner. It was clear that the tar surface of Kyalami that had been in place since the early 1990s, needed to be replaced. Expert teams set about working on plans for the best solutions to this challenge drawing on international expertise achieve the best possible solutions. Safety also had to be considered and to this end FIA Safety Delegate Charlie Whiting paid a visit to Kyalami recently. After a thorough track inspection and valuable advice the circuit and safety changes were given the blessing of the FIA. The final plans began to take shape.
The final plans include the following:
- A complete resurface of the circuit to international specifications
- The lengthening of the existing main straight with the current turn 1 reduced in angle allowing the circuit to run into the Eastern corner of the property ensuring a straight of close to 900 meters.
- A new turn 2, a tight left hander with a tight apex, leading to a series of bends joining back into the current circuit at the existing turn 4.
- Changes to the circuit at the current turn 12 (the Bowl).
- The upgrade of circuit safety with the objective of once again obtaining a FIA Grade 2 license.
The return of Iconic original circuit corner names
The revised circuit will once again revive these great turn names. After the start line the circuit drops into a new turn 1, once again a full speed corner. Appropriately Turn 1 will be named The Kink. The circuit will then continue to drop and then climb (over the new circuit subway and past the high speed tower) into the new turn 2.
Turn 2 will be named Crowthorne with its new spectator area (from which nearly half the circuit will be visible) providing a great view of the new section of the circuit. After leaving Crowthorne the circuit will drop down with a series of 2 right and left handed curves named Jukskei Sweep. The circuit then joins the current layout with new turn 5 now named Barbeque. In very close proximity to its original namesake. The back straight, running past the refurbished secondary pit complex, forms part of the original circuit layout. As a result turn names will return with Sunset followed by Clubhouse, the Esses and Leeukop. The circuit then drops steeply downhill into a fast left hand sweep.
This very fast section will be called Mineshaft (a name that it unofficially gained in the past due to its steep nature). The new turn 13 will follow after an extended straight rising up onto a platform, its wide entry providing a great overtaking opportunity. This new corner (which should prove popular for race fans) will be called The Crocodiles. The corner rejoins the circuit with a slight left hand sweep into the second to last corner which will retain its current configuration. This very fast corner, which requires great bravery to negotiate at speed, will be called Cheetah. Turn 15 will be retained in its current form but will now be called Ingwe (the Zulu word for Leopard) another African cat with cunning and stealth. The lap finishes with an uphill section to the start finish line.
New circuit underpass
The property redevelopment highlighted the importance of easy access into the central area (the heart) of the property. Plans were drawn up to create an underpass which, when finished, will allow access to the center of the circuit directly from the existing main entry point. This double lane underpass will allow transporter height entry into the circuit centre with a new service road accessing the main pit building. The underpass will also include a pedestrian walk-way. The underpass will be built under the new extended straight between The Kink and the new Clubhouse corner.
Off circuit changes – old pit complex and parking areas.
As part for the project certain changes will be made to areas off track. The old pit complex (main pits of version 2 of the circuit) will be restored to its original condition and serve as a secondary pit complex. The pit entry will also be brought in line with FIA specifications. This facility will act as a support pit area to accommodate local categories racing at international events. Day to day circuit operations such as driving schools and race vehicle testing could also run from this facility. This will free up the main pit and conferencing facility allowing other non track related events to take place without interruption. The parking area above the main pit complex and the parking area alongside the karting facility will also be resurfaced. These parking areas are vital for not only race days but also to provide parking facilities for the conferencing and expo facilities in the main building. Many of the small buildings behind the old pit complex will be removed. This will also allow even more parking spaces.
Spectator areas and service road upgrades and changes
It has been the stated intention of Toby Venter to refurbish existing spectator areas. Further, and more importantly, to allow race fans the opportunity to spectate from previously prohibited as well as and new exciting areas on the circuit. The area at Crowthorne will offer one of the most exciting views available in motorsport. The main straight will be clearly visible as race cars drop down from the start line, through The Kink, over the underpass and then steeply into the new corner. Jukskei Sweep and Barbeque will also be visible as well as the top section of the circuit toward Leeukop and down The Mineshaft.
New spectator areas will be created on the outside of Jukskei Sweep and Barbeque as well as the area between Sunset and Clubhouse. With the removal of 2 of the Bomas in center circuit, views of the upper section of the track will now also be possible from this area. Many of the Bomas on the outside of the circuit between Clubhouse and The Esses will be demolished opening up these previously “private” areas to race fans. The few remaining Bomas in this area will be refurbished into public ablution areas. The public areas at Leeukop corner will also be upgraded. The new Crocodiles corner will offer great spectator appeal. A new PA system is also planned for all of the general public spectator areas.
Pit building and conference center upgrades
Although motorsport remains at the heart of its existence, commercial opportunities need to be explored focusing on the other facilities the circuit has to offer. Exploiting these opportunities will ensure financial viability for the Kyalami facilities. The conferencing and exhibition areas will receive a major refurbishment focusing on ablution, catering areas and other requirements for this vital aspect of the business model. All the car parks in the center of the circuit will be resurfaced to create a more structured parking area for both race meetings and for activities linked to the conference / expo center and main pit building.
The handover of the site to tender winning contractors, took place on the 24th April 2015. Off track earth works have commenced with the circuit officially closing at 13h00 on the 12th May. It is expected that circuit will be re-opened between end August and end September 2015.
The vast scope of the changes will ensure that this project will represent the single largest upgrade in the circuit’s 54 year history. The Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit will once again take up its place as the premier motoring and motorsport facility in Africa as well as a leading venue, and new player, in the conferencing and eventing arena. The great visionaries of the original circuit will certainly be proud.