"Everyone has a story about the old Kyalami", said Porsche South Africa CEO Toby Venter. He's right, and every motorsport fan in South Africa will happily share an anecdote or two about Gauteng's premier racing circuit. Now, almost a year after the auction in which Porsche snapped up the track for R205-million, the German sportscar brand has announced what exactly it plans to do with the facility.
Porsche SA Saves KyalamiI can remember live-streaming the auction on my laptop and praying that the entire complex wasn't going to land up becoming Tuscan-style housing and shopping malls. Suddenly a phone bid came through from an unknown purchaser and the deal was done. Later it was revealed that Porsche SA CEO Toby Venter had become the new owner and the elation both in our office and the motoring community went through the roof.
Fast forward to May 2015 and Porsche SA invited us to celebrate one last lap of the track in a Panamera Turbo and to highlight its plans for Kyalami. I thought a simple nip and tuck would be all that's needed to restore the circuit to its former glory, but in reality the entire complex has decayed quite badly and there's substantial work to be done. Being Porsche, things have to be done properly and that meant getting Charlie Whiting (FIA Safety Delegate) to South Africa, to share his thoughts. Considering his background and involvement with Formula One, there's no better person to offer safety advice.
Everything Except F1The aim is to bring the track up to FIA Grade 2 status, which is essentially everything and anything this side of F1. Given the current state of F1, both in the boardrooms and on the track, I don't think people are too bothered. Personally, I'm very excited by the potential to have Porsche 919 Le Mans cars and an international field of Porsche GT3 Supercup racers taking to our track. Could you imagine camping at Kyalami overnight for an endurance event? It sounds terrific and you can begin to understand the vision that Porsche SA CEO Toby Venter is trying to carry out.
Track ChangesThere's a lot that needs doing at Kyalami, both in terms of infrastructure and the track itself. The tarmac has been there since the early 1990's and needs to be resurfaced to international spec. The design will be altered to include a longer main straight with turn one being reduced in angle and extending further, resulting in a straight of around 900 metres. With the changes, the track is being lengthened by around 280 metres and the aims are to increase speeds as well as provide more overtaking opportunities.
There'll be a new turn 2 which will be a tight-apexed left hand corner with a series of subsequent bends which will eventually rejoin the current layout at turn 4. Turn 12, commonly known as the Bowl, has been tweaked too. Finally, safety features such as FIA-spec Armco barriers and greater runoff areas will be installed. Some of the corners have been renamed with the Crocodiles, Cheetah and Ingwe making an introduction. Fans of the original Kyalami will be pleased to hear the name Barbeque making a comeback at the new turn 5. Perhaps most importantly, the elevation changes on the track will continue and it's this factor that makes the circuit legendary. Just think of the famous Eau Rouge corner at Spa and you'll see what I'm getting at.
Infrastructure ChangesThe rest of the facility will be substantially upgraded too, with a new double lane circuit underpass to allow race transporter trucks to get to the pits being constructed. The old pits by the karting track will be upgraded to a secondary pit complex, ideal for smaller events and local racing categories which would run in support of an international event. Parking areas will be resurfaced and proper bays will be designated. Facilities like ablution blocks are also being taken care of.
It is the fan who will likely benefit the most from the facelifted Kyalami. Those eyesore bomas which obstructed racing action will be knocked down and spectator areas will be created. These areas will be in all-new positions and will be excellent vantage points on race days. For non-racing events, the exhibition and conference facilities will also be substantially jazzed up. There's also the chance to have advanced driving schools, regardless of brand, making their way to the track
If all goes according to plan, we'll see the new Kyalami open its doors in early September 2015 and the upgrades will cost approximately R100-million. I can't wait!
*Look out for our last lap video as well as a 3D simulation of the new layout coming soon*