ANYONE who claims to be a true petrolhead will have heard of Bonneville. This legendary and massive salt pan in Utah in the US hosts a week of motoring nirvana every year where cars and bikes from all over the world descend as drivers try to achieve their fastest times on the flats.
It is the place where South African Alan van der Merwe broke the land speed record for a Formula 1 car in 2006.
A second speed week was launched a few years ago in Australia but the big news is that SA is about to get its own piece of the action with the launch of Kalahari Speed Week, which will take place from 22 to 30 September.
According to organiser Jan Els, the event was originally planned to be held back in 2009, but then the international Bloodhound land speed record project was unveiled for Hakskeenpan and it was decided to wait. The pan, measuring 600km², belongs to the local community which stands to benefit from the whole event in terms of various projects, including a local water bottling plant that will be used for both the Speed Week and subsequently for the land speed record attempt.
The event will be run on a club level, so no Motorsport South Africa licence is required, but as Els pointed out, negotiations with MSA are currently taking place in order to ensure there are no complications for holders of MSA licences who may wish to take part. In essence, all you need is a car or bike and a crash helmet and off you go. There will be a R500 registration fee for both entrants and spectators, which will include various paraphernalia such as a shirt, cap, badge and so forth. If you wish to run then you will pay R300 for your first run and R150 for each subsequent run, with your top speed being engraved on a medal for you to take home and brag about.
Facilities are already being built for the event, including a 16km water pipeline that will serve the on-site camping, kitchen and ablution areas. There will be a full catering marquee doing breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a number of local community stalls. You can rock up with your tent or arrive in a grand motorhome and obviously there will be various accommodation options in the area too. You can even arrive in your plane as an airstrip will be created to serve both visitors and the on-site medical services.
There will be six tracks in total, four for cars and two for bikes, all measuring approximately 6km, but the full 20km track for the Bloodhound project will not be used for the event as it needs to be carefully tended to before the attempt to reach 1 600km/h.
However both Andy Green and Richard Noble from the project will be at Speed Week to give lectures on the project in the evenings.
"If you've got wheels, we'll time it," said Els, so you could even just rock up in your Avis rental car and have a go. However, the majority of entries are likely to include classic Porsches, Mustangs and others, as well as tuned street cars, supercars and even turbo-charged motorbikes. Some international entries have already booked their spot and more are expected.
For those not taking part there will be lots of things to do, including mountain bike trails in the dunes, live bands, classic car movies, a driving range and some of the best star gazing opportunities in SA. There will also be live timing and video screens with special cameras placed half way along the runs that can follow all the action and relay it back to the marquee and other locations. Vodacom is also erecting a 3G tower so chances are you will have better reception to Skype from the middle of nowhere than you have in Johannesburg.
The whole emphasis of the event is on fun, said Els, adding that "we believe there will be camaraderie like never before. Kalahari Speed Week is the last outpost for amateur guys to race."
The whole event will be run in association with the Northern Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism and according to department MEC John Block: "The province has a unique appeal to outdoor enthusiasts and Hakskeenpan is fast becoming world-renowned for its exceptional offerings to motoring enthusiasts and scientists alike."
It looks set to be something very special so now would be a good time to start planning how to tell the boss that you are heading off to the pan to do a research project in September.
. More details can be found at www.speedweeksa.com.