KNYSNA, South Africa, 21 February 2022 – Classic Car Friday always presents a dazzling array of some of the most iconic automotive brands and cars, driven by enthusiasts and some of the most esteemed names in local motorsport. The 12th edition of the annual Simola Hillclimb, which takes place from 6 to 8 May 2022, is no different, with 24 marques represented in the line-up for the Friday opener.
The entry list spans an impressive 63 years of motoring history, with the oldest car in the field being a 1926 Austin Seven entered by Lucie Runnalls. The youngest car is set to be a 1989 Ferrari 348, with none other than multiple South African rally champion and regular Simola Hillclimb competitor Enzo Kuun behind the wheel.
“We received a superb number of high-quality entry applications for Classic Car Friday, and were well oversubscribed for the maximum 65 places available in the starting line-up,” says sporting director Geoff Goddard. “Our goal is to deliver a competitor list that is fresh and interesting each year, and we have certainly achieved that for the 2022 edition.”
The most significant change for this year is the introduction of a handicap scoring system for Class H1 for pre-war cars. Instead of simply competing for the fastest time up the steep and challenging 1.9 km Simola Hill, Class H1 competitors will run against pre-set target times that are representative of their car’s performance. The top three cars with the best times on handicap from the three qualifying rounds will contest the class final in a single-run shootout, which will also be scored on handicap to determine the podium results.
“Some of our longest-standing competitors in Classic Car Friday have been advocating for the introduction of a handicap scoring system due to the vast differences in performance and speed of the pre-war entries, which range from the 750 cc Austin Seven-based cars that were cheap and cheerful machines raced around the world in the 1920s and 1930s, to the big and powerful cars from Bentley and Alfa Romeo from the period,” Goddard says. “Accordingly, the handicap system will level the playing field and allow all of the entrants to compete for the class win.”
The handicap rules have been met with an enthusiastic response by competitors, with Class H1 embracing a record 14 entries, doubling the turnout from recent years – the most fervent being Rodney Green, one of the founders of the Piri Piri Racing Team, who has competed in every Simola Hillclimb to date.
“I’ve been promoting the move to the handicap format for some time, as the times posted in Class H1 vary greatly for the pre-war cars, and I’m very pleased the organisers have agreed to implement it from this year,” Green says. “I helped develop the handicap formula based on what I experienced at the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb in England.” This legendary event is reportedly the oldest motorsport venue in the world still to run events on the original course.
“I promised the Simola Hillclimb organisers that I would bring in lots of competitors if the handicap formula was introduced, and I’m delighted that we will have 14 really interesting cars in Class H1 this year,” Green says. “It now gives everyone a shot at winning the class regardless of what car they drive, and creates much more excitement through the field as everyone aims to be the closest to their target times.”
This year Green will be driving the 1.5-litre 1946 MG TC Spider previously entered by Heyns Stead. “The car has been completely rebuilt and has a bit more power, so I’m looking forward to driving it at the Simola Hillclimb this year and competing with the new format.”
Margie White will be a newcomer to the event this year, driving one of the diminutive Austin Seven Special single-seaters in Class H1. This 1937 model has a particularly poignant and interesting history. “My later father, Peter White, acquired this car sometime in the 1950s, and raced it with some success until 1960 when he became a works driver for British Motor Corporation with the launch of the Mini, but it remained in his possession until he passed away,” White explains.
The Austin was subsequently sold to regular Milligan vintage rally competitor and enthusiast Bob Acton in 1980 who owned it until he passed away five years ago, and White recently bought it back from Bob’s son, Bruce. “During the period that Bob had the car Norman Hickel used it for the 1999 David Piper International at Killarney, and it was borrowed for the 2016 Simola Hillclimb by Greig and Rod Smith who know the car well,” White says.
“I named the car Ernest in honour of Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of the world’s greatest explorers and survivors, as I think this little car with a 70-year race history and patina is also a survivor! I’m super excited to have this opportunity to enter the Simola Hillclimb with this very special car,” she adds.
Another first-time Classic Car Friday entrant is enduro motorcycle racer Stuart Blackbeard, who entered a 1935 Bentley Derby, powered by a 3.5-litre straight-six engine. “This will be my first racing event with the car after I bought it in the UK and brought it to South Africa,” he says. “I’ve driven it to Lake Malawi and back on the Put Foot Rally with absolutely no mechanical issues, and it’s a beautiful car to drive.
“The handicap format makes the most sense for this class, because the cars are so different in age and performance,” Blackbeard says. “I’ve been to the Simola Hillclimb several times as a spectator, and as one of the biggest and best motoring events in the country it’s just great to come and compete.”
A fascinating car with a great story is Brian Esterhuysen’s replica 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C Monza. The car was hand-built from scratch by Brian and his father, David, who worked as a production director for Alfa Romeo when the company was assembling cars in South Africa, so the family has a deep-rooted love for the famous Italian marque.
“We built the car just over 10 years ago based on original factory drawings, so it is an accurate replica of the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza that Tazio Nuvolari raced in the 1931 Mille Miglia, and won the Targa Florio in 1931 and 1932,” Esterhuysen says. “The only difference is that I’m using a later 2.6-litre straight-six Alfa engine where the original car had straight-eight.”
Along with the factory drawings, Esterhuysen measured and checked his build against an original 8C 2300 Monza driven by Nuvolari which was owned by local Alfa Romeo enthusiast Hugh Gearing before being sold and shipped to Europe in 1986. “I flew overseas twice to do in-depth measurements on the original car, and my car is accurate down to the millimetre,” he adds. “When the car was sold, Hugh’s son Patrick kept the original radiator, and I had the opportunity to briefly fit it to my car and use it as a reference point, under close supervision and with assistance during the build from Patrick and Hugh. The radiator fitted perfectly, showing just how accurate this replica is.”
This won’t be Esterhuysen’s first Simola Hillclimb with this car, as he competed with it in 2012, winning his class. “I’m not taking this event too seriously, it’s more about enjoying the atmosphere and sharing the experience with like-minded friends.”
Continuing the association with the Gearing family, Patrick is an experienced classic car racer who will be competing in his second Simola Hillclimb this year. He will be driving his recently acquired 1935 Riley TT Sprite, previously owned and entered in the event by Roy Jones.
“I think the handicap format is the ideal way to run Class H1, as we have such a wide spread of cars this year that it levels the playing field,” Gearing says. “It gives everybody a chance, irrespective of the car underneath them. The format also ensures that there’s no sandbagging during the qualifying runs, otherwise you won’t make it into the class finals and have a chance at claiming the silverware.
“The handicap is also true to the pre-war spirit, as much of the racing during this period was run on a handicap basis anyway. Even the early South African Grand Prix races were run on handicap,” Gearing points out.
Among the other significant cars in Class H1 are Hannes Pickard’s extremely rare and valuable 1934 Aston Martin Ulster which he last raced at the 2017 Simola Hillclimb, and two cars from the Parnell Bruce Collection in Knysna – a 1946 Austin Special driven by Callum Price, and a 1931 Ford Model A with motoring journalist Gero Lilleike behind the wheel.