CIRCUITS: KYALAMI

Name: Kyalami

While most of Africa was unable to develop motor racing, South Africa had the stability and financial means to support the sport although the first events did not take place until 1934 when a track in East London - called the Prince George circuit - was laid out in the outskirts of the city. It was 15 miles long and the first South African Grand Prix was won there by Whitney Straight in a Maserati. The track was shortened to 11 miles but was used again between 1936 and 1939.

In the same period there were other events in Johannesburg - where the Rand Grand Prix began in 1937 - and in Cape Town where the Grosvenor House company funded an event on a 4.5-mile road circuit at Pollsmoor. The 1937 Grosvenor Grand Prix was won by Ernst Von Delius in an AutoUnion and in 1938 by Earl Howe at the wheel of an ERA. The outbreak of World War II stopped all racing activity and it was not until the late 1950s that racing revived with events being held at tracks at Gunner's Circle in Cape Town, Grand Central in Johannesburg and on the Roy Hesketh circuit in Pietermaritzburg. The first of a new generation of racing circuits was established in 1959 at East London. The 2.43-mile circuit incorporated sections of the old pre-war track but was set in a natural amphitheater in a park beside the ocean. The first modern South African GP took place there in 1960 and was run to Formula Libre regulations - as racing cars were scarce - but in 1962 the South Africans won a place as the finale for the Formula 1 World Championship.

East London would host the event until 1966 (the final race being a non-championship one) but as early as 1961 there were signs of competition for the event from the north of the country. In January 1961 a meeting was held in the Kelvin Hotel in Johannesburg and the South African Motor Racing Club was established. Wanting to replace the obsolete Grand Central circuit, they acquired land 15 miles north of the city on the way to Pretoria and planned a completely new track called Kyalami. The work was completely very quickly and in December 1961 the first event - the revived Rand Grand Prix - was won by Jim Clark. The following year the track hosted the Rand Nine Hours, which was the major event in the Springbok sportscar series. Each year the track was upgraded as money became available and at the end of 1966 major work was carried out in preparation for the first South African GP at Kyalami. The F1 circus arrived for the opening round of the 1967 World Championship - held on January 2 - and Pedro Rodriguez was the first winner in his Cooper-Maserati. The track quickly became a favorite for winter testing and an integral part of the World Championship until 1985 when the French government forbade the Ligier and Renault teams from visiting South Africa as part of the anti-apartheid campaign. That final race was a financial disaster for the organizers and the race disappeared from the F1 calendar.

But in the great years at Kyalami there were some memorable events: in 1976, Niki Lauda and James Hunt crossed the line just 1.3secs apart setting the trend for the season. In 1978, Riccardo Patrese nearly gave Formula 1 a shock when he led most of the race in the new Arrows. There were also tragedies with the death in testing in 1974 of Peter Revson and during the race in 1977 when Tom Pryce's bright career was snuffed out in a bizarre accident when he hit a marshal who was running across the track.

Increasing violence in the country led to the declaration of a state of emergency which would last until 1990 and with that motor racing turned its back on South Africa. The old circuit deteriorated and for a long time there were fears that it would be sold to property speculators, who wanted to build in the area as the Johannesburg-Pretoria conurbation grew. In the end half of the land was sold and the money raised was used to build a new track, although this incorporated sections of the old facility. Work began in November 1986 and although the most famous sections of the old track were gone the new track was an impressive facility - although it did have many places where overtaking was possible. The work included a new pitlane and race control complex.

In 1990 the Williams team tested at the new track and the following winter Benetton, Brabham and Tyrrell all flew south for tests. Changes were made and it was agreed that in 1992 - by which time the apartheid system was being dismantled - there would be a South African GP. The event lasted just two years - 1992 and 1993 - and then financial problems and the arrest on fraud charges of the man running the track led to F1 once again looking elsewhere.

In July 1993 the circuit was sold to the South African Automobile Association which managed to run the facility at a profit, using its conference rooms and exhibition centers to raise money. Funding a Grand Prix was, however, too difficult as the local currency dived against the US dollar. The election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994 meant a return to political stability. The financial problems of the country meant that it was not until August 1998 that there were any serious moves towards a new race. F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone met Mandela to discuss the government's willingness to finance a race and its attitude towards tobacco advertising.

At the same time a new threat began to emerge to Kyalami's domination of the South African racing scene with former Kyalami promoter Bobby Hartslief embarking on a new project in the remote Orange Free State town of Welkom - 140 miles south of Johannesburg. Previously known as Goldfields Raceway, the facility was completely rebuilt with aid from the local government - which was keen to promote tourism in the area following the collapse of the price of gold and its effects on the local economy. Renamed the Phakisa International Raceway the $16m facility features both a road circuit and an oval and although there is no infrastructure to support big events, the locals are hoping that hotels and other facilities will soon develop. The track may be remote but this means that there are no testing restrictions, while Kyalami is now in a residential area and under pressure to keep noise to a minimum.

Cape Town has periodically shown interest in building a facility to replace the Killarney circuit - which was built in 1960 to replace Gunner's Circle. This has never staged any major international events. There are also small facilities at Aldo Scribante, near Port Elizabeth in the Cape Province, at Zwartkops, near Pretoria and at the Midvaal circuit in Meyerton. There have also been street races in Durban and in Lichtenburg, near the border with Botswana.

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