Race report from Zwartkops & Killarney.
by Pierre Martins
If you like to see the wheels being driven off some of the best cars in history, the David Piper Invitational races at Zwartkops and Killarney are the tracks to visit during late January and early February every year. Billed as The Golden Age of Motoring, these events are probably the biggest spectacle on the local Historic Racing calendar…
But before I continue, I’d like to set the records straight. Some people think “Old Cars” and automatically deduce that the racing is bound to be slow and boring, because, they say, all you have is a bunch of old farts slowly pussyfooting around the race track, scared that harm will come to their classic race cars that are worth gazillions. Well, I can tell you emphatically that this is not the case. The lap times may be slightly off when compared to the latest and greatest technology-enriched modern race cars, but the actual racing is just as much a spectacle as the rest.
As a matter of fact, I’ve seen the majority of competitors driving with the same commitment and competitive spirit as I’ve seen in any other form of circuit racing in South Africa, barring some hotshot categories of course, where taking each other out deliberately has become the preferred race strategy of most contenders when they struggle to pass the car ahead. Be that as it may, in these last few Historic Car races alone I’ve seen cars being driven in anger, I’ve seen four-wheel-drifts and copious amounts of slip angle from most of the top runners in the fast sweepers like Sunset at Kyalami, T4 at Zwartkops and Malmesbury corner at Killarney. I saw guys have a go at each other in priceless and irreplaceable cars, wheel-to-wheel racing and out-braking manoeuvres galore, power-slides coming out of the hairpins, car control and race-craft like only seasoned and experienced racers can produce…
I also saw mishaps and drama. Hell, I’ve even seen tempers flaring and arguments in pit-lane. And I saw all these things as a spectator and from a competitor’s point of view, so please don’t tell me Historic Car Racing is boring if you weren’t there to witness the racing and/or competed firsthand. Sure, there are fewer kamikaze moves and big crashes, and yes, crashes are nice for the spectators to see, but not so nice when you’re a self-funded competitor fitting the bill to fix your own car. So think about that.
Okay, silly rant over. Let’s move on. With roughly ten thousand spectators and over 500 entries, Zwartkops sure was a busy place during the last weekend of January. They had so many categories racing that even the competitors struggled to make sense of the programme. Some of the races had to be moved to Friday afternoon and the majority of the ‘important’ races were crammed into a full day’s racing on Saturday’s schedule. All the classic bike races were held on Sunday, making it a ‘bike only’ day…
As for the drivers & cars I was involved with, I can tell you my mate Dave Fourie wasn’t allowed to enter any of the races that formed part of the Springbok Series due to the wheel sizes he’s running on his yellow IROC 911 RSR. He’s running 17” wheels, the original RSR’s ran 15”s and you’re only allowed one size bigger. Kinda daft rule if you ask me, because the overall diameters are the same if you take the tyre profiles into account. But they’re getting quite anal about small anomalies that don’t comply with FIA rules these days, and the rules are the rules, I guess. Pieter du Toid did accommodate Dave in one of the other classes though, so Dave got a few sprint races in on the day.
Keith Rose had no such problems. His white RSR complied with all the rules and he entered every single race he could and got more track time than he bargained for. He’s like the Duracell Bunny this one, there’s no end to his enthusiasm…
Me, I was gonna do the spectator thing and relax, but Keith asked me to do one of the twelve-lap sprints and the enduro with him. And you know me, you don’t have to ask me twice to hop in behind the wheel of a 911. Hell, I’d drive a motorised wheelbarrow if it was powered by a flat six Weissach engine pushing out over 300hp!
Some knucklehead blew an engine or something and sprayed oil all around the track like he was taking a piss in his own back yard. We sat on the grid for what felt like ages whilst the marshals tried their best to clean up the mess, but full-synthetic oil is a bitch to clean up. Cement does next to nothing to it and it just has to wear away with time, I guess.
The slippery conditions produced two interesting races though. In the twelve-lapper things were not too bad. Started next to Dave on the grid and messed around with him for a lap or two, but it was evident I had better pace, so I took him into the table top and cleared off on my own mission, only to be be caught out and losing it during the penultimate lap on the oil in T4 when Franz Pretorius in the 956 suddenly backed off just in front of me, but I rejoined quickly to finish just behind Dave. His toes must have been curling, he-he-he…
The enduro was even more fun. I dunno if the oil had just spread more, or if someone else had dropped more oil, but grip deteriorated to a level where it felt like you’re driving a top-fuel dragster on a skating rink. Keith only did three laps and pitted, thinking there was actually something wrong with the car.
The car was fine and I did the remainder of the race, well, the whole damn race for all intentional purposes, skating on thin ice. Hell, it was hard work. The entire race was a kinda prolonged state of monotonous concentration. Let your concentration slip for a split second and they’d be picking pieces of the car from the tyre wall...
The hairpin and table top sections were the most fun for everyone. Come in there as hard and fast as you dare and turn in… With no grip the car would immediately plough into a prolonged under-steer until you woke up and realize ‘hell, I can’t let this go on forever’. Back on the power hard to bring the ass around. Uncoil the steering wheel quickly to prevent going into a tank-slapper! Huge fun, but slow.
And that was that. Thank heavens it was over. I was delighted. So was Keith, but he must have breathed a sigh of relief when the chequered flag dropped with his pretty RSR still in one piece. I brought the White Puppy home in fifth spot without any mishaps. The White Puppy… See what I just did there? The car just got a name! It’s a cheeky little white fox-terrier!
And like true track junkies, the very next weekend we were at Killarney in full force with both the Duracell Bunny and the White Puppy in true form. Keith started way down the grid on Saturday and worked his way up to finish a very respectable third in the first race.
Unfortunately all the serious races where scheduled for Sunday and Mario and I had a date with a certain Lamborghini Gallardo at Kyalami that Sunday, so we had to fly back to Jo’burg on Saturday eve. The Gallardo drive was nice, but I wish we rather stayed and watched the Killarney races instead. From the feedback I got there is really only one way to describe it - Keith put in two exceptional drives in the sprint races, pulled off a second overall and beating some of the biggest names in SA motorsport in some of the races!
Hey Keeef, well done mate! I wish I could have done what you just did! - Not bad for an amateur weekend racer, methinks!
And that’s the end of this story. The ribbon in my tripe-writer is kaput and I need some sleep!