Saturday 21 December 2019

Is South Africa back on the international motorsport map?

FIA World Rallycross action at the Killarney International Raceway.
PHOTO CREDIT: Franco Theron/Galimoto Media.
Motorsport in South Africa is on an upward trajectory. The country has a variety of local categories from karting to Global Touring Cars, Motorbike racing, drifting and drag racing. But things changed for the better in 2017 when the FIA World Rallycross Championship announced a round of the international series in Cape Town (Killarney International Raceway). 

South Africa last hosted an FIA-sanctioned world championship event in 1993, and the announcement of the FIA World Rallycross Championship would put South Africa back onto the international map. 

While Cape Town returned to the international stage in 2017, the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit in Midrand also took center stage in the rebirth of South African International Motorsport. This after undergoing renovation after being acquired in 2014 by Toby Venter CEO of Porsche SA. The Kyalami was awarded an FIA Grade 2 certification meaning the circuit could host international motorsport apart from Formula 1 which requires Grade 1 certification.

In 2018, it was announced that the Intercontinental GT Challenge would return to the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit to host the “Kyalami 9 hour”, an event that awakened global interest in South Africa after a spectacular race. Live stream statistics for the Kyalami 9 Hour was off the chart - becoming the number one watched motorsport live stream on YouTube in 2019.

Having seen the success of the Kyalami 9 hour, rumors quickly circulated that the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) could be heading to the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit in the not too distant future, but those rumors were silenced when the ACO announced the provisional 2020/21 WEC Calendar with South Africa included and scheduled to host the opening race of the 2021 calendar year on 6 February 2021. 

South Africa has a broad array of talented drivers racing in international motorsport series: Jordan Pepper, Kevin van der Linde, Saul Hack and David Perel in GT Racing. Tasmin Pepper competes in the women-only WSeries. Sheldon van der Linde and Jonathan Aberdein compete in the DTM series. The Binder brothers Brad and Darryn Binder have competed in the MotoGP feeder championship in recent years, but in 2020 Brad Binder will take the step up to MotoGP, while Darryn Binder will remain in the Moto3 championship. Stuart White has also represented South Africa in the French Formula 4 championship and became a Sauber Motorsport supported driver earlier this year. 

2020 will also see more African Dakar entries, with no less than 9 entries. While Donovan van de Langenberg, unfortunately, had to rule out his 2020 Malle Moto charge (due to an accident earlier this year), the Cape Town based rider is set to aim for the title in 2021. 

Hennie de Klerk, the 2018 Dakar rookie champion, will also take on the Dakar, aiming for even more of an improvement in new Red-Lined, Nissan machinery. Joining him in the car category will be the 2009 winner, Giniel de Villiers, aiming for a second title. 

The Formula K circuit in Benoni, Johannesburg.
In the motorbike and SSV category, Ross Branch, Aaron Mare, Stuart Gregory, Kristen Landman, Wessel Bosman, Graeme Sharp, and Conrad Rautenbach, is set to charge the first stage on 5 January. 

In addition to all these positives, a world-class Grade A certified CIK (Commission Internationale de Karting) and FIA circuit named ‘Formula K’ was launched in Benoni, Johannesburg. The Formula K circuit is the countries only track eligible to host world championship go-karting events. 

While motorsport interest is growing in South Africa, the country could soon welcome the (FIA) ABB Formula E championship in Cape Town. The City of Cape Town announced earlier this year that they are considering bringing Formula E to Cape Town and that a feasibility study will be conducted before any decision is made. eMovement, however, the company in charge of the feasibility study are certain that Formula E will come to Cape Town soon. 

While South Africa is seeing a growth in international motorsport interest, the FIA once again introduced the Kenyan-based, Safari rally after an 18-year absence. This investment is sure to see more growth in the local rallying industry. 

Over the past three years, motorsport in South Africa (Africa) has once again taken to the international stage, largely by virtue of the FIA and Jean Todt wanting the sport moving across global borders and truly making it a world series. 

This continuous collaboration with the likes of the South African government, City of Cape Town and the private sector will once again see the return of the golden motorsport years for South Africa. 

Written By – Junaid Samodien and Franco Theron. 

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