Kyalami – A Reflection on the History of the Original Circuit 1961-1987
On 4 November 1961, the Kyalami International Grand Prix Circuit opened its doors for the first event to be held on the brand-new Johannesburg circuit, namely the Rand Daily Mail 9-Hour Endurance Race. International motor racing in South Africa had until that time, been held at various circuits around the country, including Killarney (Cape Town), Grand Central (north of Johannesburg) and East London. It was at East London where the SA Grand Prix first received World Championship status. The Kyalami circuit wasn’t even on the cards when, in the mid-1930s, the big Auto Unions came out to South Africa to race at East London and Killarney.
But as more and more international teams and drivers began to compete in South African events, so the cost of running the bigger races began to escalate and East London soon found itself unable to make the financial commitment necessary to hold a world championship. One of the big attractions of racing in South Africa was undoubtedly the weather, as international teams and drivers could compete there during the southern hemisphere’s summer months, while Europe and the UK were in the grip of winter. Soon, the SA Grand Prix could list names such as Hill, Clark, Moss, Bonnier, Gregory, Barth and others who were joined by some of SA’s best drivers which included John Love, Doug Serrurier, Tony Maggs among others.
The Rand Daily Mail 9-Hour Endurance Race was first held at the Grand Central circuit in 1958 which was an old airfield circuit with a very suspect track surface, located at Halfway House just to the north of the present Kyalami circuit. Three 9-Hour races were held there before the race was moved to the new Kyalami circuit for the fourth running of this popular endurance race. This race too, soon began to attract some of the top endurance drivers, teams and cars from around the world, and the grid would typically include D-type Jaguars and the Porsche 550. It may sound like small fry to those more familiar with the major international races, but these were still early days in a far off, small colony. The 1962 9-Hour would see the Porsche 550 being joined by a Ferrari 250 GTO, a pair of Lolas and an Austin Healey 3000 in an increased field of 43 cars. The following year would see the mighty AC/Shelby Cobra added to the field, while in 1964, David Piper would enter his Ferrari 275 LM in a field that included Maserati, Lotus, Jaguar, Cobra and more.
And so the Kyalami circuit would become a favourite year-end venue on the calendar for the top international drivers and teams. Some of the international visitors would join other races on the Sunshine Tour, which saw motor racing become more and more popular in the former British colony. The Kyalami Ranch hotel became a favourite hang-out for drivers such as James Hunt, Carlos Pace, Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jody Scheckter, Ronnie Peterson and the whole Formula 1 circus. In fact, the Kyalami Ranch hotel, just a stone’s throw from the circuit entrance, became famous for the driver’s strike organised by Niki Lauda in 1982, when the drivers barricaded themselves in one of the rooms.
In the endurance racing world, manufacturers such as Porsche (956 and 962) and Lancia with their Lancia Ferrari LC2 would entertain huge crowds. World renowned drivers such as Derek Bell, Jochen Mass, Stefan Bellof, Jacky Ickx, Riccardo Patrese, Alessandro Naninni, Thierry Boutsen, Desiré Wilson, David Hobbs, and so many others, would ply their trade around this Highveld circuit. Several South Africans would break into the international world of motorsport, such as Sarel van der Merwe, Desiré Wilson, Wayne Taylor and George Fouche (the youngest driver to compete in the Le Mans 24-Hours), as a result of experience gained racing against the big names at Kyalami.
This sizeable publication, Kyalami, is packed with excellent and informative details of all the racing that took place at the Kyalami circuit between 1961 and 1987. During the quarter of a century covered by this book, South African motorsport grew at a very fast pace, and the Kyalami circuit would play host to all manner of motorsport competition. The famous 9-Hour endurance race went through numerous iterations, the Rand Daily Mail Nine-Hour, Wynn’s 1000, Castrol Nine-Hour, Castrol 1000 and the Kyalami 1000, but the spirit of endurance racing has always remained strong in South Africa.
The author of Kyalami, André Loubser, has compiled a significant and very useful book charting many different types of racing at the circuit. The value in this publication, though, lies in the quality and depth of its contents, and here the author has left no stone unturned in his efforts to uncover the history of this famous circuit. Fortunately for the reader, the author saw the writing on the wall when he heard that the circuit was to be broken up for development, and so he set about writing this book. It is just as well that he did, because race records were not always complete, and with the passage of time and with office moves, some documents inevitably get lost. That makes this book all the more significant in a country that played an important role in international motorsport.
Many years ago, a very useful book was published covering SA motorsport up to the early 1960s. Not many of those books were sold, with the result that the bulk of the print run was eventually pulped back in the ‘60s. That makes this publication, Kyalami, all the more valuable because of the lack of books written on South African motorsport. With SA motorsport having blossomed during the fruitful period between the 1960s and 1980s, an accurate record of Kyalami’s racing activities during those years is of paramount importance.
Loubser has written this hefty volume in a fine and easy to read style, and the quantity of images contained within its pages is impressive to say the least. In addition, the buyer will receive a CD of images and period film and video coverage making this a thoroughly enjoyable purchase. Apart from the racing history, the author has included ‘Memories’ by Jackie Stewart, Denny Hulme, Derek Bell, Rob Driver, Dave Clapham and Andrew Thompson. Then there are also informative profiles on twenty key players in the life and times of Kyalami, from race administration to world championship drivers.
The question to ask is then, should you buy one of these books? The short answer is definitely! If you are a motorsport enthusiast, be it Formula 1, endurance racing or any other type of racing, you will find good coverage within the pages of this publication. Your motorsport library will not be complete without a record of how it all happened down south, under the hot African sun. Get your copy of Kyalami today!
A Reflection on the History of the Original Circuit 1961-1987
Aquarius Publishing CC
1180 images including B&W and colour (includes CD)
Editor’s note: Between 21-23 November 2019, the Kyalami 9 Hour will once again be held at this circuit, reviving the popular endurance racing tradition at the southern tip of the African continent.
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