The track was commissioned and built by the South African Motor Racing Club. It is roughly halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria, in an area that was originally rural, but has since been swallowed by the urban sprawl. The track opened in 1961, and soon became known for a 9-hour sports car endurance race, held in late November.
When it was felt that the Prince George Circuit was too short for Formula One, Kyalami was the logical replacement. The track held a Grand Prix every year from 1967 to 1985, but the 1981 race had it's championship status removed. Sanctions against South Africa's apartheid regime caused the race to be removed from the calendar after 1985.
Major steps towards dismantling apartheid allowed the race to be run in 1992 and 1993, but a decrease in the value of the Rand caused the promoter to go bankrupt, and the race has not been run since. In 2016, after the track was purchased by Porsche South Africa, and the completion of a major rebuilding project, the track received an FIA Grade 2 rating, and were in talks with Charlie Whiting for a Grade 1 rating. But the owners said that the Grand Prix would not resume without major funding from the government.
The original configuration was a fairly simple nine turn clockwise course, on slightly undulating terrain. The main straight was over a mile long, with a 20° right hand kink (known poetically as "The Kink") about 1⁄3 of the way down. Just past The Kink were the pits, and then the start/finish line. After the start, the course crested a hill, then dropped into a dip, before starting to rise just before the first turn. That turn, an uphill 120° right hand sweep, was called "Crowthorne". Then the cars were on a short straight, parallel and adjacent to one of the main highways between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Then the cars made a tight 60° right, called "Barbeque". The led onto the back straight, which had a gentle kink in the middle, similar to the front straight. This kink was called "Jukskei Sweep", and bent about 30° to the left, the first left hand bend of the track. At the end was a sweeping right of just over 90°, called "Sunset Bend". Another short straight led to "Clubhouse Bend", a 120° left that was close enough to the front straight that spectators in the grandstand beyond the front straight could see the cars here, too.
It was here that the track started a climb up the highest local hill. After paralleling the main straight for about 1⁄4 of a mile, the cars negotiated a left-right combination known as "The Esses", which were deceptive, as the right hander was much sharper and tighter than the left. A short squirt up to the top of the hill, and a 150° righthander called "Leeukop Bend" puts you going downhill at the start of the main straight.
The Grand Prix circus returned to Kyalami in 1992, and found a very different landscape. While apartheid was not yet gone from South Africa, steps had been taken to ensure its removal. Relaxation of internal travel restrictions had meant thousands were moving to the metro area almost daily, and a location that was out in the brush in 1961 was in the process of being swallowed by the urban sprawl. The owners of the track were not oblivious to the growth of the region, and sought to capitalize on the growth.
Where the pits, front straight and grandstands used to sit amongst the scrub, there were now corporate offices, electronic assembly plants and restaurants. Much of Kyalami was now a business park, with a portion of the old track incorporated into a totally new, counter-clockwise configuration. The part of the track kept went from Jukskei Sweep to the entrance to Leeukop Bend, but with the second part of The Esses widened and made faster. And most of the corners were now named after sponsors, rather than landforms and old property names.
The pits were originally placed to the south of the straight after Jukskei, but that structure had been abandoned by 1992. The new section basically went straight past Leeukop Bend a hundred meters or so, to a new double-apex hairpin called "Wesbank", for the finance company. The track now went downhill parallel to the uphill section and through an unnamed left hand sweeper, leading into a sharp, 135° right called "Continental", after the tire company. The straight that followed has a 45° right hand bend where the local poets had resurrected the label of "The Kink". This was followed by a 135° left (which went unnamed for several years) leading onto the current start/finish and pit straight (called the Brilliant Straight). This measured less than half a kilometer before hitting a 30° right (also unnamed) and then a sweeping 70° left (called Total) which was described by Alain Prost as the only really interesting corner on the revised circuit. The cars followed another shorter straight before making a gentle 45° left, followed almost immediately with a tight 90° left (called Nashua) rejoining the old circuit.
The following is a list of South African Grands Prix held at the Kyalami circuit. Non-championship events have a rose background.
|V T E||South African Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Prince George Circuit (1934–1963), Kyalami Circuit (1965-1993)|
|Championship Races||1962 • 1963 • 1964 • 1965 • 1966 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969 • 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1982 • 1983 • 1984 • 1985 • 1986–1991 • 1992 • 1993|
|Non-championship races||1934 • 1936 • 1937 • 1938 • 1939 • 1960 • 1960 • 1961 • 1966 • 1981|
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