The Knysna Speed Festival story began in 2009 with the first running of the Simola Hillclimb. From humble beginnings the event grew rapidly between 2010 and 2012 quickly becoming one of the most popular events on the South African motorsport scene. The 2014 event, sponsored by Jaguar South Africa for the first time, provided compelling evidence that the event had come of age and it is now the undisputed premier local motorsport event in the country having enjoyed over a decade of growth and success.
Looking back over the twelve events hosted, we have been blessed with some of the finest drivers and cars in the country – and beyond – taking part. These include international stars such as Mika Salo and Petter Solberg to local legends such as Sarel van der Merwe (winner 2009), Ian Scheckter, Jaki Scheckter (KOH Super Car winner 2016), Frenchman Jean-Michel Bayle (World Motocross champion and MotoGP racer), Americans Randy Pobst (2003, 2007, 2008, and 2010 SCCA World Challenge GT champion, 1996 North American Touring Car Champion, 2005, 2006 and 2007 SCCA World Challenge TC vice-champion, 2001 and 2006 24-Hours of Daytona class winner) and Cole Powelson (class winner and fourth overall at Pikes Peak Hillclimb), the most successful Simola Hillclimb driver to date Franco Scribante (winner of CCF -2014, 2016 – 2019, 2021, overall KOH -2014, 2016, and KOH Modified Saloon winner 2019, 2022,2023), Wilhelm Baard (KOH winner 2011, KOH Modified Saloon winner 2017 and 2018), Jade Gutzeit (winner 2012), Geoff Mortimer (winner 2010), Des Gutzeit (2015 winner), Reghard Roets (KOH Super Car winner 2017, 2018 and 2019), Andre Bezuidenhout (KOH Single Seater & Sports Cars winner 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022,23 and CCF 2023), Robbi Smith, Mike Briggs, Deon Joubert, Shaun Watson-Smith, Duncan Vos, Leeroy Poulter, Peter Lindenberg, and Charles Arton (2015 CCF winner).
The list of beautiful cars that have participated in the past include classics such as the Porsche 956, Porsche 917, 1961 LDS Formula 1, 1968 McLaren MV8 Formula 5000; to more modern machinery including two Formula 1 cars of 1989 vintage – Andre Bezuidenhout’s Dallara and Ian Schofield’s Minardi, a 2009 A1GP Ferrari, a Gould GR55, March 77B and 79B Formula Atlantics, a variety of Ferraris, McLaren MP4-12C, 650s, 570s, Lamborghini Gallardo and Aventadors, Porsche GT3RS, Nissan GTRS, BMW Ms, Jaguar XKRs Coupe and F-Types, Noble M400s, Radical SR1, and Ariel Atoms.
The Speed Festival underwent a change in 2014 as we returned to running only our core event the Hillclimb and the charity golf day. From kicking off in 2009 with a single event, the festival grew rapidly and by 2012 it hosted a Kart Grand Prix, Motor Show, Slot Car Challenge, Soap Box Derby, 4×4 Challenge, 4×4 Forest Drives, a Golf Day and the Hillclimb.
The concept was ambitious and had never been done before in South Africa, but it was simply too much for our small team of volunteers to undertake, and the financial costs were too great. Having taken stock after the 2012 festival we decided to go back to our roots to focus on the Hillclimb and to put all our effort into creating the best event in SA.
The Golf Day is now organised by the team at Simola with all the hole sponsorships raised by our team contributing to the funds we donate to our nominated charities, and we retain a link to the Motor Show even though it is independently organised by the Garden Route Motor Club.
In 2012 we tweaked the Hillclimb by expanding it to three days and offering the Vintage, Classic and Historic motoring fraternity their own day of action on the Hill. Classic Car Friday was born and exclusively featured pre-1975 vehicles. Competitors and spectators were encouraged to attend in period dress and despite very wet weather, the uptake was superb, and the seed was sown to create an event within an event sporting a wonderful atmosphere. In 2016 we extended the age of the cars to 1985 to reflect the aging of the race car park and in 2019 we readjusted it once again to cater for cars built before 1990.
The action on Saturday and Sunday was dubbed the King of the Hill Shootout and sees the heavy hitting machinery and drivers take to the track. A variety of classes cater to a wide range of machinery, which we encourage, but there is no doubt that most eyes are on the fire spitting, tyre smoking exotic and specialist race cars at the sharp end of the pack. Speeds of up to 250 km/h are reached and the 1.9km stretch of tarmac is dispensed with in under 35 seconds at an average speed of over 200km/h – from a standing start!! It is spectacular!
For 2017 we tweaked the format still further, splitting the King of the Hill challenge into three categories: the SuperCar Shootout, Modified Saloons, and Sports Cars and Single Seaters. It was a great success and well received by competitors and fans alike.
We did this to ensure competitors can compete on an equal footing across the various categories of cars. Over the years the Sports Cars and Single Seaters had become too fast for the racing saloons to stand any chance of victory. It was for a similar reason that we introduced the SuperCar Shootout in 2016 with great success. In that instance the modified saloons were too fast for the standard supercars giving them no chance. The cars practice, qualify and compete in their classes as per the King of the Hill, but have their own shootout final between the ten fastest cars in each category.
After running the scrutineering, race car display and town parade in the centre of town almost from inception, in 2023 we formally introduced the Fan Fest to the event. This is now an event-within-an-event adding car and motoring related exhibitions, music and entertainment to the offering. We this as an integral element of the lifestyle event philosophy we have always followed.
These elements combine to give the event its unique flavour and provide entertainment for all ages. Knysna Speed Festival’s vision is to host and organise the premier motorsport event in the country that is recognised as a premier event internationally. Our goal is to attract an ever-increasing number of visitors to the beautiful town of Knysna to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere of entertainment, motorsport, motoring activities and the natural beauty of the region. The festival not only boosts economic activity in the town, but also benefits charities in the area.