Former motorsport superpower back on the up with world racing prospects on all fronts
South Africa was always on the motorsport forefront. The country staged its first Grand Prix in East London in 1934, the Kyalami 9 hour was – and is an institution. South Africa even once had its very own domestic Formula 1 championship.
THE TIDE IS TURNING
But the international sport has waned over the years and while it has boomed on many fronts, locals were deprived of top drawer action. Slowly but surely however, it has gradually turned around — starting with World Rallycross at Killarney in Cape Town a few years back and then the return of the Kyalami 9 Hour as the Intercontinental GT Challenge finale over the past two years.
In fact, the 2020 9 Hour was one of the only international flyaway races anywhere in the world last year. And now it seems the floodgates are set to open as lockdown eases. World Rallycross is confirmed to return to Cape Town end November and the 9 Hour is on again at Kyalami in December.
But as they say in the classics, that’s not all. Not by any stretch of the imagination…
PROSPECTS FROM FORMULA 1 TO DAKAR
If reports are to be believed, everything from Formula 1 to Formula E and the World Endurance Championship are set for South Africa. And now it seems that a Southern African Dakar may be back on the horizon.
The return of the South African Grand Prix has been mooted ever since the last one in 1993, but now it seems that Kyalami may well return to the calendar 30 years anon with a 2023 South African Grand Prix. A return was already on the cards before lockdown, backed by none other than SA’s own 1979 Formula 1 World Champion Jody Scheckter, who won the race today in 1975. And run by his well connected nephew Warren.
A Johannesburg F1 Festival was planned for June last year, but it was canned in lockdown. Rumours have however been flying again, as restrictions start to ease. Lewis Hamilton is fully supportive of a SAGP and new F1 boss Stefano Domenicali recently hinted about the urgent need of a return to ‘a traditional venue in Africa’, among many other reports. Warren Scheckter’s most recent comments now point to a 2023 return.
FORMULA E THIS YEAR ALREADY?
A Formula E return is even closer to reality with the possibility of a race already this year, maybe early next as part of that 2021/22 electric racing calendar returning to its traditional Formula 1 off-season dates. Plans are well advanced for a Cape Town Formula E street circuit and the company behind it already has sponsorship from FE frontrunners Jaguar.
Then there’s the World Endurance Championship. Kyalami was on the calendar for a February 2021 WEC 6 Hour as part of the Le Mans championship, but it too was clipped by Corona. For all intents and purposes, the WEC likely will soon return to that venue, perhaps even next year. And with Ferrari, Porsche, Peugeot and Audi among the teams set to return to take on Toyota and Glickenhaus there, that’s another dreamy prospect for SA race fans.
And then over the weekend another possibility re-emerged. The Dakar Rally famously left Africa on security concerns. Now following a dramatic past weekend, where Saudi forces allegedly foiled a deadly terrorist attack on the Formula E races there, it seems all future motorsport in that controversial Arabian country may be under threat. Including its recently affirmed Grand Prix and the Dakar, which has run there over the past two years.
DAKAR – SAFETY FAST?
Following the weekend’s scare, would it be beyond reasonable doubt that Dakar organiser TSO reconsiders the safety of its caravan in that troubled territory, to look elsewhere? It is also no secret that the event considered Dakar-crazy Southern Africa as an alternative to Saudi before going with the money. And were it to move, where would the Dakart move to?
A SA Dakar could indeed fit the bill. And so being, it is not a far stretch to imagine South Africa returning to its place as and international motorsport powerhouse with a Grand Prix and Formula E, a WEC round and even the Dakar. Over and above the 9 Hour and the World Rallycross that are already in place.
IT MAY BE A GOOD TIME TO BE A SA RACE FAN!
All of which means that it may very well very soon be a very good time to be a race fan in South Africa…