Kyalami - An Underrated Vintage Circuit

Porsche 962C Group C at Kyalami 1976 in Automobilista 2.png
Not just since its inclusion in Assetto Corsa Competizione does the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit enjoy renewed popularity among sim racers. Formula One fans are hoping for a return of the championship to South Africa as they praise the modern circuit's layout, which is far different from what it used to be: The original version of Kyalami was much simpler – and should be rated much higher among vintage circuits.

Vintage circuits are popular among sim racers, as the recently released and very impressive 1971 version of the Nürburgring for Automobilista 2 shows. It is these classics that most tend to think about when it comes to classic tracks. Nürburgring, Monza, Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps – but Kyalami rarely gets mentioned.

Short and simple, but fun​

While the modern version of the circuit has 16 corners and its own, great flow, the original version of the track that was in use until 1988 – the final F1 race on the old layout took place in 1985 – had only half as many. Yet, the circuit that was opened in 1961 is a prime example for a simple layout that works extremely well for different types of cars. Not to mention that it used to be immensely popular with the F1 circus for the party atmosphere surrounding the event.

Classic Kyalami track layout from 1961 to 1988.png

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In its early days, Kyalami hosted Formula One cars without wings, but considerable power, especially after the introduction of 3-liter-engines for 1966. Four-wheel-drifting these cars was the key to quick lap times, and the sweeping corners of the track located on the outskirts of Johannesburg lent themselves perfectly to this, with the tricky downhill Esses presenting a different kind of challenge due to their open layout.

On the other end of classic Kyalami's life cycle, cars that were the complete opposite raced there: Not only did the track host the mid-80s turbo monsters of F1, the no less mind blowing Group C vehicles of the time were also among the competitors there. Despite the enormous developments in race cars in the meantime, the old, simple layout worked well for these decidedly more modern vehicles, too. Maximizing speed through the fast turns under heavy aero load and a good exit out of Leeukop, the final turn, to make the most of the long start/finish straight were essential.

Gone, but not forgotten​

Unfortunately, the old layout of the circuit is almost entirely gone today, although several of the old corner names are still in use in other places. The only part that is incorporated into the modern circuit starts at the straight just after Barbeque Bend, includes Sunset Bend and Clubhouse, and then goes uphill after The Esses where it would have turned right up until 1988. The rest of the old circuit has been redeveloped into a commercial district with warehouses and stores.

Modern Kyalami track layout.png

Image Credit:

Luckily, sim racing allows us to still experience the old circuit in cars that actually raced there between 1961 and 1988. Automobilista 2 comes with a version called Kyalami 1976 that is not even DLC, and mods exist for Assetto Corsa and rFactor 2. If you have never tried the circuit, go ahead and pick your favorite vintage car for a few laps. A word of warning, though: You might get hooked and not want to stop!

Your thoughts​

What is your opinion on the simple, but fast Kyalami of yesteryear? Do you have a favorite car class to race there? Let us know in the comments!

Sauber-Mercedes C9 & Porsche 962C at Kyalami 1976 in Automobilista 2.png
About author
Yannik Haustein
Lifelong motorsport enthusiast and sim racing aficionado, walking racing history encyclopedia.

Sim racing editor, streamer and one half of the SimRacing Buddies podcast (warning, German!).

Heel & Toe Gang 4 life :D


Kyalami vintage and Kyalami modern hm...
it's free to say they got nothing in common :rolleyes:
learning one makes you a total noob on the other :D
but agree, it's fun track. old one at least. it's quite short
and I love short tracks :x3:
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I did one race in rF2 like 2 years ago on this classic layout because it was one of the rounds in the GTE league where I raced and it was BLAST

one of the best tracks I've ever seen honestly, I don't like this modern one as much
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From my membership in the US based FSB Racing league I can remember some of our longer Kyalami races using the famous GTP mod to NR2003.
It was on the clear best(IMO) layout the historic Kyalami - and one of the reasons it was challenging was because you had to make a compromise setup between speed and grip.
Haha some of the guys were pretty fast in the slower corner part but were sitting ducks on the long start/finish straight.:roflmao:
I must be too old. When I was teen in the 80ies the South African GP was among the most popular among us boys.
And remember simracing league for F1C99-02 near 20 years ago, both historic and modern track layout being very popular, as well as historic version for rF1 prototype series.

And then fast forward to ACC modern Kyalami enjoyed infinite popularity for modern layout when it entered the scene in the sim.

I've loved Kyalami since Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Niki Lauda, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost threw and tamed their turbo charged vehicles round the historic slopes.
And love the modern layout modelled in modern sims both as official content and fine mod builds.

I don't know which sim I've raced historic Kyalami the most. But speaking "within single sim" Reiza's Stock Car Extreme with classic 80ies F1 mods racing the official "Johannesburg Historic" was by far my most popular to throw those turbo charged single seaters round the bends.

But fine with me with an article about historic Kyalami - deserves mentioning once in a while. Should never be forgotten.

Some good memories to be repeated:

Yes, dangerous track with more unfortunate outcomes (I'll not link to those), let's celebrate the good times :inlove:
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Love the historic track. Sim raced it first in 1998 or '99 I think.

With GPL In the Lotus 49.

Don't think I could manage more than one lap .
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It was my favourite track in GPL, just pure flow and speed. The altitude of the real track meant that turbos had a major advantage over NA engines. I'm not sure, but think maybe AMS2 actually models this high altitude effect on power outputs.
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Vintage Kyalami quickly became a favorite in GPL back in the day and is still a favorite in all sims were present. And Clubhouse Bend is THE most deceptive corner in all of sim racing.
I think anybody that was trying hard to move up the GPL Rank ladder back in the day probably spend countless laps at this circuit trying to fine tune their setups and shave off a few tenths each session- I know I did...
I've raced it in all Sims pretty much, the old course is about my favorite in any car. The new course? It's ok.....the old one I like it alot!!!
Original layout
The way this course makes physics work is superb.
Every turn makes the car work in various ways.
If you want to feel GPL this is where to do it. :coffee:

Leeukop ( Turn 8 ) the camber, you are moving and waiting to get on the power seems like a eternity, most probably my favourite corner in all racing.
gpl 2013-02-15 19-19-33-26.jpg
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I suppose classic Kyalami does kind of fly under the radar.

I would guess that there are a few reasons for this:

1. Its scale. Kyalami, at 2.55 miles, was no Old Spa or Nordschleife. The shorter tracks that seem to be remembered more tend to either be earlier (more in the recovery period after WWII) or later (from the peak of the muscle car era here in the States till the start of the oil troubles). And then, of course, Kyalami changed quite drastically. If I had to think of a parallel, maybe Laguna Seca. The reason I say that is, for how many people does the old 1.9-mile layout (1957-87) just immediately spring to mind?

2. I already touched on it, but timing seems to be a factor. Tracks like Lime Rock or Laguna Seca (both 1957) tend to get more spotlight than Sears Point or Brainerd (both 1968). The main, later road course top-tier following is Road Atlanta (1970). And though Kyalami opened in 1961, it didn't really reach prominence until 1967. It's kind of a similar deal to Mosport in Canada. They both also rather dropped off the map after 1985.

This all sort of goes with #2, but I thought I'd split it off. There were a spate of new tracks that opened after 1957 and on into the '60s in North America, but a lot of them didn't fare too well. Meadowdale (1958-68), Greenwood (1963-67), Augusta (1963-69), Stardust (1965-71), Continental Divide (1959-73, '79-82), and Edmonton (1968-83).

Pacific Raceways (1960) is a rare survivor from the period. And a striking thing is, both Mosport (1961) and Mont Tremblant (1964) were saved by dedicated individuals picking them up: Don Panoz and Lawrence Stroll, respectively. And Mexico City (opened in 1959), though still with us, has also been more cyclical in its notoriety.

Mid Ohio is the greatest exception to tracks from this period, being the most consistent at staying in the forefront of top-level road racing, whether we're talking Can-Am, IMSA, CART, etc.

Anyway, I'm wandering off a bit, but I'm glad to see classic Kyalami getting some added attention.
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