One mile of brand new tarmac and one brand new time attack event sounds like a recipe for a good time, and that’s exactly what the inaugural Emerald Speed Fest turned out to be.
Highly anticipated in South African motorsport circles since its announcement early last year, the event played out on a freshly-resurfaced service road in the Emerald Casino estate. Over three days, competitors took to the mile for practice, qualifying and finally the Master of the Mile Challenge.
I headed along to the final day of the event, which being the main race day promised a whole lot of action from a wide variety of competing cars.
Just like any other major motorsport event, the Emerald Speed Fest wasn’t put together overnight. It required a lot of planning and countless permissions, but it really came together in the end.Historics
There were four main classes running at the event – historics, road-going saloons/supercars, modified saloon cars, and sports cars.
Historics are always a blast to watch; they usually aren’t the fastest, but being proper mechanical beasts they require maximum driver input and there’s minimal margin for error.
This class consisted of a few Porsches, which are always great to see being driven hard, along with a mint Datsun GX, a very loud Corvette, and a pair of tasty Mustangs.
Unfortunately this stunning, or shall I say once stunning Porsche ran into the tyre barriers near the end of the course and ricocheted across the track. I’m sure it’s already in the workshop, being restored to race another day.
It wasn’t the only crash on the day either, most of them happening on the same corner that claimed the Porsche. All of the cars that came off here didn’t fare very well, especially the brand new Jeep Trackhawk, which rolled over four times. Luckily, all the drivers that crashed emerged unscathed.Road Cars
The road car class had a large entry list, with everything from hot hatches to grand tourers and everything in between. It’s eye-opening to see how fast and capable production cars on standard road tyres have become in recent years
Nothing was more impressive than the McLaren 720S, though. The driver of this one, Anton Cronje, usually competes in a very quick Subaru WRX STI race car, but when something broke last minute, he brought out the supercar, which proceeded to eat up the tarmac like no one’s business. It was so fast that it made it into the outright top 10, which was otherwise made up of all-out race machines.Sports Cars
The sports car field wasn’t huge, but that was more than made up for by the sheer speed of those in attendance.Modified Saloons
Not surprisingly, the modified saloon category had the wildest stuff. There were a few sub-categories to even out the playing field, but at the top end was ‘unlimited’, where pretty much anything went.
Most of the cars within these categories were purpose-built, including the big-power BNR34 Skyline GT-R and stripped-out 2.0L 16V Volkswagen Caddy running open throttle bodies that both made different but very beautiful noises. The rally replica Hyundai i20 was something unexpected, and it was cool to see Pieter Zeelie’s Super GT MR2 that we featured last year doing what it does best, too.
Given this was the Emerald Speed Fest’s first running, I have to congratulate the organisers for how smoothly it ran. Sure, there were a few things that can be improved, but that will come with time. Removable Armco barriers would have to be high on the list, because the tyre walls created a few problems for the drivers, specifically a tunnel vision effect and not a lot of forgiveness, as the accidents proved.
The pit area setup was great though, with spectators having full access and teams having ample space.
The top 10 contenders for the Master of the Mile title were determined by the average of all their timed runs. In the end, the group was really varied; there was a V8 Supercar, two big-power BMW F30 335i race cars, a 911 RSR Turbo, crazy Audi S4 production car, V8 Shelby Can-Am, and of course that rapid McLaren 720S.
The top three were serious machines. Franco Scribante in the crazy matte black Nissan R35 GT-R took third, which was a little surprising given he had been fastest all weekend. Second went to Pieter Zeelie in the MR2, while first place was taken by Reghard Roets who really had the best weekend of his life.
To give you some context, his first proper drive of the GT3-style Nissan R35 GT-R was the day before the event, but he still managed a time of 33.869 seconds with an average speed of 170.067km/h, beating his next competitor by 1.130 seconds.
No thanks to politics, motorsport has really suffered in South Africa over the years, so it’s great when passionate people can come up with something like the Emerald Speed Fest to invigorate people’s spirits and encourage drivers to get back into the sport. There were 78 entries in total, which is a really decent number for an first running, so I can’t wait to see how it turns out next year.Gallery