Back on track

A fair bit of my time lately has been spent driving. Part of that’s due to a staff reshuffle. (Sorry, I’m not leaving – just taking on our Driving pages until I get bored with the idea, which is probably never.)

It’s been a while since I last set foot on the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit. Before you jump to conclusions, I have never raced there apart from one year on a bicycle, when the 94.7 finished on the track.

The fact is, I’ve been lucky enough to have driven at Kyalami as part of new-car launches over the years. Let’s just say that it’s a place where I have reduced many a high-performance driving instructor to stunned silence, which may have been awe on their part, but quite possibly was terror.

At any rate, I probably know the place better than the average person does. While trundling around on what are laughably referred to as hot laps (lukewarm, more like it), I have often wondered what it must be like to do this kind of thing properly. That’s usually demonstrated soon afterwards when the hosts trot out a guest driver or two. Built like whippets but equipped with the right foot of Godzilla, their job for the day is to take out us invited guests as passengers and brutally demonstrate the difference between their actual technique and our wishful thinking.

Still, like the rest of the gang who arrived mainly to experience what it feels like to drive just shy of three million rands’ worth of Audi R8 on the upgraded circuit, I was intrigued. I could bore you with the details, but I won’t. Just a word to the wise: don’t make a hash of the final corner, a sharp left-hander back to the pit straight with, on the outside, dozens of shark’s-tooth ridges lying in wait. Besides making a horrible, expensive-sounding racket, it’s bumpy as hell and everyone can see. As I discovered.What impressed me more, though, was the surroundings. Like everything that’s been around for a while, race tracks have to face the prospect of reinventing themselves. Since the circuit was sold in 2014 to Porsche’s main man in South Africa, Toby Venter, Kyalami has been on the up and up in what’s been called the single-biggest upgrade in its history. But that’s not just on the track, which has been upgraded to comply with higher-grade motor racing licensing requirements. Facilities have been refurbished or flattened. Access to various parts of the circuit is much easier. And there’s lots of gleaming metal and fresh blacktop in evidence. (A telling sign: where before the toilets should have carried hazard warnings, now they wouldn’t look out of place in a 5-star joint.)

The owners are talking about a lot more than motorsport. They’re talking conferencing, exhibitions and trade shows. Speaking of which: the SA Festival of Motoring. I’m still trying to get my head around how a motor show will work in a racetrack environment, but the organisers say it could provide a template for how they hold shows in other parts of the world in future. Be that as it may, pencil in 31 August to 4 September. We’ll be there – and we’d love you to drop by for a chat.