Racing without overtaking. Really? Can it be that entertaining? Leaving aside some truly horrible F1 processions that we have all been privy to at some stage in recent years, the short answer is: yes.
Pikes Peak. Goodwood Festival of Speed. Heard of them? Of course you have.
These events are bucket-list stalwarts for petrolheads globally. They are celebrations of high-power machines and start-line showmanship, with a strong dose of risk added to the mix. Both are nothing more than point-to-point time trials, yet they have generated huge followings from enthusiasts and strong support from global car manufacturers.
Although the Knysna Speed Festival may not have global acclaim (yet), the event has become iconic for South Africans. With Jaguar having breathed life into the event as part of their brand strategy of appealing to a younger audience of enthusiasts, the event makes the most of Knysna’s topography to deliver properly competitive motorsport to adoring fans.
The 5-hour journey from Cape Town to Knysna is beautiful, but treacherous if you leave early in the morning with foggy passes ahead.
This year, our weapon of choice for our boys’ weekend in Knysna was a big ol’ Chevy Chevelle that kept everyone happy, but none more so than the petrol station owners all along the N2. We left on the Thursday afternoon in at attempt to avoid certain fog-related death somewhere between Sir Lowry’s Pass and Grabouw.
In true “what can possibly go wrong?” style, the very recently-acquired Chevy’s testing for this over 1000km round-trip had consisted of a 20 minute stint through Durbanville Hills, followed by a unanimous view that this was, in fact, an excellent vehicle. Even the somewhat unusual noises from amongst others, the engine bay and front suspension, couldn’t drown out the enthusiasm.
An urgent parts order and some frantic spannering after this highly scientific and extensive testing programme would see the red beast put forward to The Bosses as a safe and reliable way to get the lads from Cape Town to Knysna and back. The wives-and-girlfriends weren’t buying the story, and it’s better not to ask what the various mothers thought of this idea. But, no matter – we were off.
The portable Bluetooth speaker carefully positioned on the dashboard helped Robert Plant and his friends assault our eardrums with Led Zeppelin’s finest riffs. It also helped with drowning out the immense noise from the engine bay, caused by a popped exhaust gasket, despite the exact same issue having been fixed two days earlier at a proper workshop.
We switched to AC/DC to avoid our minds wandering to thoughts of our Thunderstruck credit cards. 20l/100kms to Knysna and back is no joke.
The presence of numerous Jaguar VIP and courtesy vehicles on the section of road between the airport in George and the event in Knysna provided the first indication of the scale of their investment in this event, alongside other major sponsors. A classic Jaguar XJ-S on display just before the main town in Knysna was an appropriate acknowledgment by Jaguar of its illustrious heritage.
Any thought that the Chevy would be the biggest gas guzzler in Knysna was soon put to bed, as we witnessed an army of Nissan GT-Rs thundering along the main road to the fuel station. With ground clearance of literally a couple of inches and exhaust pipes that could swallow a small child, these were the cars competing for King of the Hill. Race cars on the main road without a care in the world? Wasn’t this a retirement town?!?
Our accommodation in Rexford, a pensioner paradise of note, confirmed the retirement town status and provided our first exposure to the many classics to be found in Knysna. With the greatest of respect, we were more interested in their automotive equivalents, so made our way to Simola Hill for Classic Car Friday.
Classic Car Friday had it all – everything from pre-war racing cars running on basically bicycle tyres, to fire-breathing American monsters that tried to shift the earth’s axis with burn-outs. The most popular marques were all represented, with Stuttgart’s and Bavaria’s finest battling it out against fiery Italians and plucky Brits.
A pit-pass ticket is an absolute must, as being literally a few metres from the pre-start burn-outs remained one of the highlights of the event. The design of the pit area gave unrestricted spectator access to the cars and their drivers, allowing new generations of classic car enthusiasts to be nurtured.
The food options up the hill were almost as varied as they were unhealthy, but the sheer amount of walking required at this event almost mitigated this. Get your step-counter ready for 2019, because serious Vitality points are up for grabs, unless Discovery also figures out a way to track what you eat along the way.
Each viewing area offered different pros and cons. The best view was arguably at the end of the initial straight, before the cars tackled the steep climb up towards the spectator bridge. Standing amongst the trees alongside this straight was particularly special, with screaming engines cementing the sensation of being at one of the “real” European Formula 1 circuits for a 90’s Grand Prix, like Spa-Francorchamps. We write this as though we attended such an event, which we unfortunately didn’t, but there’s enough stuff on YouTube to suggest that we aren’t far off.
Walking all the way up the hill to the final viewing area was certainly worthwhile, where frosty Knysna-brewed ales served as just reward for all the effort. This was one of the best places to see the handling characteristics of the cars, as they hurtled through the tight and twisty final section of the course at serious pace.
There were no losers at this event, as anyone who prepared their classic car to this level to attack the hill with such enthusiasm was a winner in my eyes. We heard heroic stories of a particular Alfa Romeo driver who pulled an all-nighter trying to get his car running, with the engine not even in the car by 7pm the previous evening.
A speeding fine sometime after 3am (in the car that would be competing in the Hillclimb) just outside George proved that this story was no myth. It certainly put the risk of taking the unproven Chevy to Knysna in perspective!
Our fluke parking in the Chevy, right at the bottom of the hill in what we were sure was a VIP section, resulted in a Carbs and Coffee Tip: after Classic Car Friday is finished, wait at the pit lane entry road for the King of the Hill rockstars to arrive…
To describe the noise as a cacophony wouldn’t do it justice. The machines of war had arrived. Some of these cars exist for no purpose other than the Simola Hillclimb.
The braaaap stu stu stu of the Subarus, the refined scream of the McLarens and the apocalyptic bangs from the Skyline contingent created a symphony of petrolhead nirvana and a stark reminder that people who don’t like fast cars simply shouldn’t be trusted. The drivers needed no encouragement to rev their warhorses for us, because this event is all about the sheer joy of the sports car.
Two more days of exposure to sun, heart attack-inducing food and epic burn-outs would lead to a subdued Sunday evening drive home, with sore ears appreciating the MacGyver-style efforts that had gone into fixing the exhaust in Rexford.
Simola dances and she dances beautifully. Anyone with even a remote appreciation of cars should add this event to their calendar in May every year. It is truly special.