South African Circuit Racing and the Design of Zwartkops
Analysis and classification of circuits per layout
Circuit Length Directional Changes /
Braking Ratio per Meter
Aldo 2480 354
(*) East London 3900 487
(*) Killarney 3200 457
(*) Old Kyalami
4200 323
Lichtenburg 1600 320
Midvaal 2600 325
Phakisa 4200 381
Wesbank Park 2600 167/200
Zwartkops 2400 342
(*) Traditional Circuits

Note on Traditional Circuits

East London and Killarney have the highest directional change ratio in South Africa. These circuits have not been changed since their original layout in 1959 and 1961.
The old Monza and Hochenheim circuits had directional change ratios of 590 and 634 respectively. In fact the old Kyalami was rated as one of the fastest race tracks in the world with a ratio of 533.
These traditional circuits were fast with layout following typography and corners generally being open apex. Braking corners were also low – Monza 3, old Kyalami 5 (today 9 on a shorter track) and East London 4.

Modern Circuits – Technical

With increasing speed, tyre grip and down-force the traditional circuits had to make way for the modern racing car. The result that the traditional high speed circuits of the world have all but disappeared. Hochenheim has been reduced to a third of what it was (Ratio now 362) whilst Monza has had chicanes constructed reducing its ratio to the mid 350’s.
In South Africa the traditional Kyalami had to give way (amidst severe criticism – there was no way that even the SA Grand Prix of the early nineties could race on the old Kyalami) to becoming a technical circuit. Kyalami directional change ratio is today 323 with 9 braking points.
All over the world the old has had to give way to the new in order to accommodate the modern competition car. Even the old Zwartkops (2 km) had a ratio of 400 with, 3 braking points – now 342 with 5 braking points.

Impact on Racing

Monza and Hochenheim were prime historic examples where in the sixties and seventies surprise winners were always part of the day. Cars and drivers were not always at their peak yet they were up front and even won. In 1971 Peter Gethen won the Italian Grand Prix in a two year old BRM at 151 mph average. Until two years ago the fastest Grand Prix ever! Peter Gethen never won a Grand Prix again – I think it was also the last Grand Prix that BRM won.

These traditional circuits were fast / spectacular and produced very good motor racing. However, with increasing speeds and safety the world changed rapidly in the eighties and so the fast open typographical circuits had to give way to circuits designed on the grounds of safety, slower speeds and more corners with environmental impact. Racing on these circuits do not (in my opinion) give the same adrenalin rush as the old circuits.

In South Africa we still have two such circuits, particularly East London. It is the fastest track in South Africa and produces surprise winners. However, it does not meet modern day requirements and safety standards.

In Summary

The traditional circuits were far more exciting than the modern day counterparts. The fault does not lie with the circuit designers but by:

  • There are more and more competitors, young and old, who demand safe racing facilities, and
  • The racing car with its modern aerodynamic designs, tyres, cornering speeds and close specifications, most of which are exactly the same in total specification.

The design and layout of Zwartkops (2001)

We had a choice either to go the traditional route or the modern route. From the 2 km Zwartkops (Half the size – Twice the fun) we had a directional ratio of 400. Although to many this was fun it produced huge safety issues and environmental problems. It also did not readily embrace race car/bike technical issues and produce the best in participants. The new Zwartkops in keeping with modern trends was built for modern motor racing.


We studied some 34 European and British race tracks from the point of layout, sustainable racing, safety, spectator line of sight and user (competitor plus product evaluation). From our previous experience in respect of safety, speed differential and that a leading formulas did not want long straights (note Wesbank Modifieds attempt to build a chicane on the old Goldfields Circuit) we decided to model the new Zwartkops Raceway on the Brands Hatch – Indy Circuit. This is the most successful circuit in Europe in terms of adaptability, user profile, public support and return (as far as race tracks go) on investment. This circuit, although only 2,0 km in length, ratio 400, runs British Touring Cars, Formula Renault, Formula BMW, US Champ Cars, British National Superbike right down to Mighty Mini. The world championship Formula Ford takes place on this track. There is a long circuit attached to the Indy Track however, this is only used for racing 4 times a year.

New Zwartkops

Taking the above into account the new Zwartkops was built to:

  • Embrace strict environmental laws. Hence the need to build huge noise berms and turn the track away from the residential area. Zwartkops is the only motor racing track in South Africa zoned for motorsport.
  • Build a circuit with a proper foundation to take the modern gravity forces of a racing car.
  • To ensure that the circuit gradient is correct for drainage and have the correct drainage so that we don’t have to cancel events in the event of rain.
  • The correct track surface to accommodate tyre wear and make testing possible.
  • Ensure safety for spectator and competitor. The circuit is built to full international specifications. Even the diameter of the catch fencing had to be cleared by the FIA.
  • Spectator friendly making sure that motor racing comes to the people. Modern circuits world wide have alienated the spectator.
  • Designing the facility that there is commercial value.
  • Making the circuit a challenge to use. This is not an easy track – it is very technical by its design and layout.
  • Making the facility affordable and practical to use. Competitors and testing / evaluation.
  • Ensure that the competitors have the proper facilities, pits, plug points, parking for friends, family and sponsors.
  • A circuit which affords the opportunity for new entrants and the development of new categories.

The Result

Mr Douglas Dick – Technical Director of MBS (Pty) Limited produced the new Zwartkops Raceway.

Zwartkops Race Track – Overview – Douglas Dick

“Zwartkops race track is an undulating road circuit 2,4 kilometres long circulated in a clock-wise direction. It has been designed to FIA/FIM International standards for racing vehicles of all categories with the exception of Formula One and Moto GP.
The track has a width of 10 metres over its entire length with the starting straight past the Pits, 12 metres wide. The run off areas and safety measures were designed utilising the speed profile of vehicles which can achieve lap times as low as 55 seconds.
Zwartkops can be categorised as a short circuit which has 8 corners of which three are fast and challenging and one corner being a 180 degree hairpin. Overtaking opportunities are good with 3 corners offering overtaking under braking.
Zwartkops is a “technical circuit” with three of the corners having compound radii, and the track has been designed to enable competent competitors achieve fast lap times.”

In Summary

The Zwartkops Racing circuit is not to be taken lightly. It has cost substantially more (track base) to construct than any other circuit in South Africa. It fully embraces the down-force technology and cornering speeds of the modern racing machine. It is built to be a participative motoring facility for spectator, competitor and sponsor. It is permanent not only built on sound principles but also on a solvent financial structure. Above all it is designed to be a driver’s circuit with skilful passing opportunities. It is there in the interest of motorsport.