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The Kyalami Circuit has long been considered the epicenter of motorsports in South Africa. Appropriately, it takes its name from a nearby piece of land; in the local Zulu language, “Kyalami” means “my home.” Over the decades, this storied circuit has hosted epic Formula One battles, motorcycle Grand Prix races, sports car endurance events, and various national championships.

Original Layout of Kyalami Circuit

Kyalami was the brainchild of racing enthusiasts and officials in Johannesburg in the late 1950s. After scouting various locations, a site about 15 miles north of Johannesburg was selected. The winding 4.104 km layout featured a long main straight and such famous corners as Crowthorne, Barbeque Bend, and the quick Esses section.

The circuit was purpose-built for racing, with spectator-friendly viewing, multiple covered grandstands, and track surfaces engineered for maximum grip. Basil Read oversaw the design and construction, which was completed in late 1961. The first major event was a 9-hour endurance race in November 1961 won by Dawie Joubert and John Love in a Porsche 550 Spyder.

Becoming a f1 Favorite

Kyalami hosted its first South African Grand Prix in 1967, quickly becoming a driver and team favorite thanks to its location, weather, facilities and challenging layout. The tight battle between eventual 1976 champion James Hunt and Niki Lauda was an F1 highlight, as was Riccardo Patrese nearly winning in 1978 for the fledgling Arrows squad.

Tragedy also struck during this period. Peter Revson was killed while testing in 1974 and Tom Pryce perished in a horrific accident in 1977 that also took the life of a marshal. As the political situation in South Africa deteriorated in the mid-1980s, F1 turned its back on Kyalami and the national track went into decline.

Jody Scheckter’s Historic Home Victory

The 1977 South African Grand Prix will forever be remembered for the deaths of Pryce and track marshal Frederick Jansen van Vuuren. However, the race itself was also notable for seeing local hero Jody Scheckter take victory in his Tyrrell at his home race. No other South African has won the event before or since Scheckter’s breakthrough victory.

Kyalami Redesigns and more f1 races

A redevelopment of the Kyalami Circuit in the late 1980s saw a shorter, tighter track built using about half of the original circuit. This 3.888 km layout lost the epic main straight but kept signature corners like Sunset and the Esses. Additional work in the early 1990s allowed Formula One to return to Kyalami for two more South African Grands Prix in 1992 and 1993, both won by Nigel Mansell.

The Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit is looking good from the bird-eye perspective. Source: Grant Duncan-Smith/Shutterstock

Flashes of International Glory

The 1990s and 2000s saw intermittent international events, including rounds of the German DTM series and the World Superbike Championship from 1998-2002. An FIA-mandated chicane was inserted in 1994 for safety reasons but removed in 2009 when World Superbikes returned for two more successful years.

Other global series to visit Kyalami during this era were A1GP, Superstars Series, and a legends event for the Grand Prix Masters historic F1 series in 2005 won by Nigel Mansell.

Rebirth and Rise to Grade 2 Status

Kyalami went to auction in 2014 and was purchased by Porsche South Africa head Toby Venter, who announced plans to continue racing activities at the facility. An extensive and costly renovation was soon undertaken, including a complete track resurfacing, layout tweaks to extend the length to 4.522 km, and major upgrades to pit buildings and spectator amenities.

The refurbished circuit earned FIA Grade 2 certification, meaning it met the highest safety and quality benchmarks. This made Kyalami the only circuit on the African continent to earn Grade 2 status.

Returns to International Prominence

The work paid dividends when international GT3 and sports cars returned to Kyalami in November 2019 for an Intercontinental GT Challenge event, followed by more global sports car action in 2020. Porsche works driver Matt Campbell set the fastest GT3 race lap record around the modern 4.529 km layout, while Fairuz Fauzy still holds the unofficial lap record for the 1994-2009 4.261 km configuration set in A1GP competition.

Memorable Lap Records and Race Winners

Kyalami hosted 21 South African Grand Prix races between 1967 and 1993. The fastest lap of the original 4.104 km F1 layout belongs to Williams’ Keke Rosberg, who lapped at an average speed of 236.898 km/h during 1985 qualifying. Among the winners were local hero Jody Scheckter in 1975, Lauda, Prost, Stewart and Mansell, who took victory in the final F1 event in 1993.

Other Kyalami lap records include:

  • Matt Campbell, 2020 Kyalami 9 Hours (GT3 record): 1:42.021
  • Fairuz Fauzy, 2009 A1GP: 1:28.306 (1994-2009 GP Circuit)
  • Stefan Bellof/Derek Bell, Rothmans Porsche 956, 1983 Kyalami 9 Hours
  • Freddie Spencer, Honda NSR500, 1985 South African motorcycle GP

The Future at this Historic Circuit

Kyalami still hosts national events and achieved a longtime goal of returning to global prominence with its revamped facilities and newfound Grade 2 FIA certification. The track remains the homeland of South African motorsport, rich with history yet still hungry for more legendary racing moments.

With committed investment from owner Toby Venter and the recent string of successful international events, the future looks bright for this storied circuit to re-establish itself as a world-class racing destination for years to come.

In 2022 Stefano Domenicali flew to South Africa to meet the representatives of the circuit and discuss a possible return of the South African Grand Prix to the F1 calendar, however no more news have been shared, and the calendar will not come back sooner than for the 2026 season.

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