Note: this is a series of articles in response to the ones published on Automobile Magazine. Due to the several-month distance between the events and the pieces, these may reflect material that was edited out, alternative article angles, or even a changed perspective.
There’s an open secret at the heart of racing: raw talent alone won’t get you onto the podium.
You need both talent and money.
It’s visible at almost all levels of racing – from low tier events such as karting, all the way up to the mind-boggling amounts thrown at top tier events such as WRC and F1. Even in rally, superstar Ken Block got started when he sold his co-founding stake in DC Shoes to fund a racing team. The reality is that cars are expensive, and if you want to win, you need the best equipment to augment your driver.
Considering the yawning class and wealth gap in South Africa, I expected this event to be pretty much par for the course.
And for the most part, it was. The overall King of the Hill wrangled a 1989 Dallara Formula 1 Car up the 1.9 kilometer course in 37 seconds. The man who was edged out for third overall, powered his Chevron B26 with a motor that costs $10,000 more than an average South African car. Not to mention the 2 LMP3 spec Barnards casually sprinting up the hill.
But further down the pit lane were some unlikely grassroots teams. The one that sticks out the most was a Knysna local who rocked up with a naturally aspirated 1996 Honda Civic. His qualifying time notably beat a brand-new Ford Focus RS, and put him within a hair’s breadth of a Roush Mustang. All this with a little 2-liter B-series Vtec powerplant.
Some other racers featured in my Automobile Magazine article include a rally spec Toyota Celica GT-4, a Volkswagen Gol mounted utop Audi S2 running gear, and all sorts of 70’s era naturally aspirated sportscars.
However, these out-of-place-among-supercars, hometown heroes only exist because they’ve been entered in every single one of the 8 hill climbs held so far. Attending one hill climb guarantees entry to the next year’s, but considering the times these guys run, one missed year will knock them out of competition.
But I don’t want to paint an event’s growth as a bad thing. Higher tier racing attracts a greater diversity of sponsors, a larger audience, and (especially in the case of this hill climb) brings much needed media attention.
Unfortunately, in the case of South Africa, the strange combination of a weak currency and approachability to the English-speaking world means that its very easy to price out locals and replace them with international teams.
This is something the event coordinators even struggle with. Caught between the financial demands from their sponsor, Jaguar, and their own desire to feature homegrown South African racers, they’re limited in how much they can do.
And that’s sort of what I’m getting to here – its always easy to complain about events, but even a peek behind the curtain reveals a mess of responsibilities and demands that make races the way they are.