Phakisa Freeway

Story by Rod Eime, May 2000 - Originally Published in Motor Racing Australia

The philosophy of dropping an international standard motor racing circuit into the middle of nowhere is not an isolated phenomenon. The Japanese lobbed the ambitious Aida track into the rugged Okayama backblocks and managed to play host to two Formula One Grand Prix in 1994 and 1995 before earthquakes made FOCA think again. Spain’s Jerez Circuit, tucked away in the middle of that country’s southern sherry-producing regions near Seville, manages to attract the odd spectator for bike events but is hard pressed to draw a crowd for the four-wheeled spectacle.

Despite pressing social and financial issues, neither of these examples deterred South Africa’s progressive Free State Government when they bulldozed a popular existing facility and installed a world-class, 4.24 km, 11-corner road course inside a 1.5 mile, 12 degree banked oval. The awe-inspiring A$25 Million complex now rivals SA’s only other F1 level circuit, Kyalami, as the premier venue for FIA-sanctioned events.

Dubbed an “empowerment project” as a means for generating jobs and an international profile for the former Orange Free State, it is hoped that the expansive Phakisa Freeway will counter some of the difficulties the region is currently experiencing as a result of depressed gold prices and the myriad of challenges resulting from the recent events in South Africa generally.

Phakisa (pron: pra-KEE-sha - which means “be swift” in the local Sesotho language) has already had a few moments in the sunshine as host to the last two 500cc Grand Prix in South Africa, the most recent claimed by our own Garry McCoy.

Located amongst both active and exhausted gold mines in the billiard-table flat countryside adjacent the major town of Welkom (pop ~50,000), Phakisa Freeway is about 250 km southwest of Johannesburg. Probably just a bit too far for a casual jaunt, the cosmopolitan population of the neighbouring Gauteng Province tend to patronise their own Kyalami rather than venture into the wild “veld” of the Free State’s goldfields. As a consequence, the Grand Prix bikes drew only a few thousand die-hards despite the facility’s capacity to cater for well over 50,000 enthusiasts.

The focal point of the expansive infrastructure would have to be the imposing hospitality complex that affords a wide vista of the whole shebang. This multi-story building has a warren-like network of corporate suites, bars, offices and braai (BBQ) areas and is ideal for showcasing events on the enormous NASCAR D-oval, but a bit remote for ideal viewing of circuit activities.

Despite these substantial facilities, drawing major international events and crowds will be the on-going challenge of the government’s Phakisa Major Sports Events & Development Corporation, headed by its visionary CEO, Bobby Hartsleif.

<<Breakout>>

South Africa, in an attempt to join the world motorsport mainstream, is formulating its own NASCAR-based formula called, unsurprisingly, SASCAR.

Built under licence from Howe in Michigan by Port Elizabeth-based specialist constructor, Hi-Tech Automotive, SASCARs are identical in every respect to their US NASCAR cousins, except that SA competitors will not have the luxury of manufacturer choice. Each car is fitted with a carby-fed 500 bhp Ford 351 and fitted with any one of the three available bodyshells; Chevrolet, Pontiac or Ford.

30 vehicles are nearing completion, which in turn will be sold to competitors at around A$50k.

The SASCAR series is will be hosted on both road and oval circuits, with the majority of events to be held at the Phakisa Freeway complex.

At time of writing, the lead-up to the series was running seriously behind schedule as the major players jockeyed for position. However, a formal announcement from SA’s controlling body (MSA) regarding the awarding of sporting rights may have settled matters for the moment. Sound familiar?

<<pic of car or cars under construction>> <<end breakout>>

<<breakout>>

Phakisa Grab Facts

• The oval is a carbon copy of the Las Vegas Superspeedway, one of the newest NASCAR circuits.
• 600,000 cubic metres of earthworks, 20km of Armco and 500,000 bricks were used in Phakisa’s construction.
• An oval qualifying lap will run under 33 secs or about 165 mph.
• On the road circuit, an Australian V8 Supercar would post about 1’40”.
• The pit complex houses 30 large garages, each with 3-phase electricity, air etc
• 18 permanent trackside cameras, each with full remote capability, feed live video to dedicated monitors and VCRs in the control room.
• The media centre can accommodate over 200 journalists.
• Web site: www.phakisa.com


 
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