Even the access road feels racy!

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Our communications and marketing consultant, former motoring journalist and occasional racer, Adrian Burford, drove two laps of the new Kyalami – to create a “map” of the circuit to be uploaded to the Racelogic track database. Now he wants to get back there and drive it in anger.

What’s your first memory of Kyalami? Mine is a view in the distance, windscreens blinking back at me as we waited to get in. We – my Dad, my Uncles and I – were probably in a Valiant or a Fairlane and something in my mind tells me that we were not too far North of the current Waterfall main junction. And sitting in a queue.

I was barely in primary school, so this was probably early-1970s and I can remember feeling so very excited. They were all members of the Sports Car Club so our final destination was the Clubhouse Corner enclosure and in those days when I tired of the on-track activity I would collect beer and cooldrink can “ringpulls”. One of my uncles was making a doorway screen - constructed by interlinking the old-fashioned ringpulls to make a series of individual chains – which were then hung in a doorway from cup hooks. Funny the things we remember!

Since then I’ve been back many hundreds of times: endurance races, Grands Prix, motorcycle GPs, international touring cars, truck racing, F3000, tarmac rallies, race meetings of every type, product launches and even bicycle rides.

Kyalami was the scene of my first ever motor race, an event before which I was convinced I was going to throw up as I watched the finalists in the Firestone Master Drivers series making the tyres of the Toyota Corollas scream through what was then Arwa corner. Just hours later I (then a rookie reporter on Drive! Magazine) was part of a media contingent trying to emulate the experts. I finished second, and was elated for weeks. Less pleasant but equally memorable was my largest motor racing accident ever, when I barrel-rolled a Formula Vee some years later.

I’ve seen the track go through all sorts of drama, and written about most of it. I’ve seen crowds dwindle, the infrastructure deteriorate, thatch-roofed bomas collapse in on themselves. And all the while the light industrial business park to the North seemed to loom ever larger over Sunset.   

But that’s the past, and the present is incredibly exciting. Now Porsche-owned, I can report that the track is just brilliant – even the access roads feel racy! While there is still plenty to be done, you feel the sense of purpose and intense activity the moment you drive through the new subway, passing underneath the braking area for Crowthorne.

I was there early March, driving the inner and outer kerbs with a VBOX datalogger fitted, to create a track layout which has been added to the Racelogic global circuit database. Racelogic make the VBOX dataloggers which my race driver coaching business – Stigworx – uses, and which are sold exclusively by Automotive Technology Specialists. What it means is that any VBOX user driving at Kyalami will automatically have their laps superimposed on the circuit layout (if they’ve downloaded the latest version of the database), enabling them to undertake detailed analysis of their lines and track technique.

One the best things about the new track is that the corner naming sequence is virtually identical to that of the original, and arguably still the greatest, rendition of Kyalami. You go through The Kink, into Crowthorne (which is now a left- rather than a right-hander) and then into Jukskei Sweep and Barbeque Bend – the latter being the old Nashua 2 and the scene of my vertebra-crushing upside-down moment in a Vee in 1999. I was the innocent victim of someone else’s error, but that’s another story, for another column.

From Barbeque it is down to Sunset; the fast, blind right-hander which remains a fantastic corner – in a grippy car the sustained high G forces make it especially exciting. Then into Clubhouse (though there’s no clubhouse on the outside any longer and ringpulls are no longer used on tinned beverages) and along a short straight to the Esses.

If there’s been an opportunity lost it’s the chance to make a shorter “Club” version of the track: if the first Ess continued to turn left, you could have a challenging off-camber hairpin, re-joining at the bottom of the Mineshaft. This would cut about 1.1 km out of the lap, reducing it to 3.4 kilos…maybe something for Toby Venter to contemplate?

As things stand, you exit the unchanged second Ess and from there it is up the hill, which has always made it important to have good power at this circuit. All this is as before, apart from the fact that the corner you’re approaching is called Leeukop once again.

But to the right, where it used to curve away pre-1988 to flow onto one of the longest and greatest straights in motorsport, a section of the old corner and the precast wall on the outside, remains.  This is where Keith Petersen lost his life in October 1982. The site of the accident – in which Petersen went over the fallen Mario Rademeyer and then into the retaining wall with fatal consequences – is going to be refurbished will become a memorial to Keith, the eldest of the immensely-talented Petersen clan.

But on to more cheerful things. The view from the Leeukop tabletop, where I parked RGMotorsport’s rapid Toyota 86 Supercharged while I recorded the occasion, remains spectacular, with Johannesburg in the distance.

In fact, line of sight from all around the track is excellent and most of the derelict bomas have been demolished, and the idea is that the focus will be on old-fashioned spectating: bring you blanket, your deck chairs, your cooler box and sit down.

Down in the bowl, which now goes in deeper, you have the Crocodiles. Slower and tighter than before, getting good drive out of here will be important, to carry speed up the rise and into a fast kink - The Cheetah. The final corner, leading back onto a main straight which is now about 850 metres in length, is called Ingwe. That’s the Zulu word for Leopard, giving the track some really evocative names.

Hopefully (and to an extent it is happening already), the revitalisation of Kyalami is having a positive effect on local motorsport in general. Everyone is eager to get there and drive on what remains – and hopefully will remain forever - the most hallowed ground of South African motorsport.

I suspect it is going to be worth the wait.