Confessions of a racing novice at Kyalami

I’ve never driven a race car before. A confession of inexperience I can now get off my shoulders as preparations ahead of this weekend’s Volkswagen Media Challenge at Kyalami are nearing a climax. I must admit to some pre- race jitters but the new race suit has been measured by ATS Motorsport and the SACarFan stickers are on the windows of the Polo TSI DSG so there is no turning back!


I’m not completely ham-fisted behind the wheel. The pile of certificates collected from advanced driving courses, some local and some international, (the latter meaning I can shift gears with my right hand) suggest that I have received valuable coaching in my time as a journalist. But I can’t emphasise enough that a panicking instructor reminding you when to brake and steer is hardly preparation for what happens when eight Volkswagen Polos squeeze into the first corner. And when they disappear into the distance, Kyalami can become a lonely place.

Maybe experience around the new Kyalami circuit in a Porsche 911 and then an Audi R8 will count on my side. On those two separate occasions, our instructors politely decreed us a blooming talent – but life around a race track in an orderly queue is easy. I’ve gritted my teeth through Sunset Corner a hundred times and it’s a challenge when you’ve got full track limits but I’ve never attempted it on the outside where the gravel pit looms large.

Each Volkswagen Polo will be stripped bare to one race seat and a roll cage and fitted with Dunlop slicks. The already-nippy TSI should behave with renewed vigour from its diet and gluey tyres but I’ll only know this on Sunday, with what the race programme vaguely refers to as orientation laps. (read steep learning curve!) Official qualifying follows, and the time in-between presumably used to extract that little tenth or two through car setup.



How hard can that be? Underneath its sponsored paint one shouldn’t forget that this is essentially still a Polo that was shepherded along Uitenhage’s existing conveyor belt as the thousands before it. It’s unlikely to be that sensitive to change. But I’ve seen what goes on at these race meetings and my colleagues can turn tyre deflation into a dark science.

In a pit lane it’s inevitable that you’ll overhear some contradicting snippets of advice and one’s natural inclination is to try them all in a desperate attempt to wring out precious speed. Still, no harm speaking to a few experts as sometimes belief in their wisdom can have a profound effect on confidence levels. Otherwise, cue the youtube videos!

Let’s recap: The last time a media race of any kind happened was with the Volkswagen Citi Golf, and if I remember correctly served as a swansong to the inimitable Mk1 – and what would eventually mature into Polo Vivo, the best-selling car month to month in South Africa.

This race at Kyalami will serve a different purpose – to recapture media interest in local motor sport. To leverage events through established motoring channels and return motorsport as a viable sponsorship proposition with widespread ink converging from multiple sources.




There’s another component to this. Open only to active members of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists, the Media Challenge raises the profile of each publication’s ongoing contributions and strengthens the credibility of the organisation, driver and media title. In addition, the public’s perception of the Guild of Motoring Journalists is communicated in an exciting and relatable way.

With room to grow and a bigger field rumoured, the Media Challenge encourages those who are not part of the SAGMJ to join the organisation and form a unanimous voice for the industry’s future objectives.

My colleagues will show no mercy – that much I’m sure of. Here’s a brief synopsis of these wordsmith’s racing careers

Denis Droppa from Star Motoring  “I’m looking forward to some fun at Kyalami and returning the cars in showroom condition,” Denis Droppa, Motoring Editor of Independent Media promised. The man responsible for the motoring supplements in The Star, Pretoria News, Daily News, The Mercury and Cape Times, as well as the website, brings broad racing experience – including two seasons in the Engen VW Polo Cup and a guest drive in the VW Citi Celebrity Challenge – to the mix. “Thanks to Volkswagen for the opportunity,” Denis concluded, warning: “Don’t poke the Slovak!”

The Citizen’s Mark Jones is another experienced racer looking forward to dicing his motoring journalist peers at Kyalami. “It is so good to see this initiative come to fruition,” Road Test Editor and overall 2013 BMW Car Club Racing champion Jones, a regular amateur club and regional saloon car racer explained. “It has been sad to witness South Africa’s once proud motorsport heritage slide into obscurity, but now maybe more media will be encouraged to bring motorsport back to the people. “I might be old, but I am not cold yet – I am coming for you guys down the inside!” Mark warned.


There’s even a husband and wife team racing in the Challenge, with Lindsay and Mark Smyth among the competitors. Business Day Drive Times editor Mark, is an old race fan with a bit of historic racing and go-kart racing experience. He is also an old hand at putting a number of performance cars to the test on race tracks around the world. “It is great to see the Media Challenge finally approaching the start line – there is so much, mostly friendly rivalry between motoring hacks, and now we can see how that rivalry plays out on the track,” Mark promised. “This is a race to write a piece of history.”

Mr. Smyth had better wake up early on that Kyalami weekend if he wants to beat his wife, let alone his other rivals. Lindsay Vine Smyth – whose day job is to run the IgnitionTV motoring channel on DStv – has some racing experience herself, and the opportunity for the mum of two to teach her hubby a racing lesson must be an exciting one. “I’m super chuffed to be invited to hit the track again in this great initiative – and in great company too!” said the Executive Producer who’s race experience includes pedalling an orange Mini called Juice, and a Golf, to great effect in historic and VW races respectively. Lindsay, who has also ridden shotgun with the likes of Rauno Altonen, The Stig, Serge Damseaux and Derek Bell explained: “Remember guy – ladies first!”

Lindsay is not the only lady racer in the field. Cape lass, Janine van der Post, who spends many of her waking hours keeping the website up to date, is another motoring media mum relishing the opportunity to race at the opening of the new Kyalami. “Wow – I am so honoured to have the privilege to race at this great Kyalami meeting,” this self-confessed petrol-head admitted. “I’m looking forward to making a difference for motorsport through this opportunity – they might be a lot more experienced, and faster, but I have skills that put taxi drivers to shame. “Oh, and street cred – so my media rivals had better look sharp – I’m not taking any nonsense from any of them – kat se hol is vis!”

Among the younger media racers in the field, Sean Nurse is another name Gauteng car fans are sure to know very well. Managing Editor of the Autodealer supplement that you find in your local newspaper every week (and online at, Sean has three years of experience racing in the grassroots Michelin Cup series and has competed in numerous endurance karting events. “Rubbing is racing,” Nurse concedes. “Let’s have some fun!”

Bakkie & Car magazine editor and the man behind the portal, Michele Lupini may be advancing in years, but his race experience stretches back generations – and forward as far as his 16-year old son who will also race at Kyalami. “Thanks to VW, the Media Challenge is a dream come true,” Lupini – a regular race and rally winner and champion over the years admitted. “The best part of it is the chance to race and teach some of these media laaities a thing or two – I can’t wait!”

“We are confident that this group of drivers and journalists will not only lead motoring media across the board in sewing the seed that will recapture the public’s imagination in South African motor racing, but they will also put on a show to remember,” South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Chairman, Bernard Hellberg Jr, concluded. “We are delighted that Volkswagen, Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, Cell C and various other contributors have joined us in this great new initiative that’s set to benefit all of motorsport and we look forward to being part of a great day’s racing at this historic meeting.”

Race fans can keep abreast via the website, where tickets for the historic race weekend are on sale via the Computicket link on the homepage.














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