Zwartkops has undergone a revival and renewal in recent years, thanks to the hard work and determination of Peter du Toit. The classic circuit in Pretoria is now among the busiest and most modern in the country, with a wide range of activity taking place around the year, despite the troubled economic situation of motorsport in South Africa.
Among the prime events held at the circuit today are the Legends of the 9 Hours races for historic GT and touring car machinery, recreating the history of the fabled 9 Hour sportscar races which were topped only in importance by the Formula One Grand Prix during the 1960s and '70s.
Alongside this, the Sasol GTC Championship is the most prominent national level event to be a regular visitor, while on two wheels, Zwartkops plays host to the SA Superbike Championship each year.
The circuit first opened for business in 1961, with a 2.006 miles/3.228 km course which was fairly fast in nature and offered some reasonable elevation changes, particularly as the cars crested the fast sweepers at the westernmost point of the circuit. Originally designed to be run in either direction, the track soon settled on clockwise operation for its races.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the circuit established itself as another hub for racing in the local area, alongside the larger Kyalami circuit at Johannesburg. But with the country's political and economic future uncertain, the 1980s would prove a turbulent period.
In 1986, the circuit was cleaved in two, partly in response to a planned new road which was to head through the land and partly as a way to boost income. The northern portion of the main circuit was retained for car racing (albeit with its direction reversed to anti-clockwise), while the southern end was carved off to become a small L-shaped loop, used for some motorcycle racing and as a kart circuit. Crucially, the two could be operated simultaneously, boosting the revenue that the track could generate.
The much shorter car circuit was still fast and challenging (quickly being dubbed 'half the size but twice the fun' by racers) and would play host to the wildly powerful Wesbank Modified cars of the day. Piloting a turbo-charged, fire breathing all-wheel drive Audi or Opel around here must have been something of a test of nerve! Alas, even in its shortened form, the political infighting in South African motorsport and the poor state of the economy would see 1995 run out as the final year for the raceway under its original guises.
With the circuit now closed for use, perhaps surprisingly the land remained undeveloped (ironically the mooted new road through the middle of the land never materialised). The facility lay dormant for a number of years before Peter du Toit determined to open it for racing once more.
In the late 1990s, du Toit and his wife made an expedition to Europe to visit circuits there for inspiration on what would be the most viable option for resurrecting Zwartkops. "Corinne and I toured just about all the UK circuits and we came to the conclusion that the most effective circuit in Europe was the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, which is less than two kilometres long," explains du Toit. "So we came home and, after having had the Zwartkops site zoned and with full environmental impact studies done, we built the new Zwartkops which opened in 2001."
One of the key elements du Toit was keen to address was spectator visibility and improved general amenities for all. The old north and south portions were joined together once more, though the westernmost portion of track was bypassed by a 180 degree hairpin , separated forever by new grassed banks which provided good vantage points for spectators and also acted as a noise containment barrier. Overall, the aim was to create an 'arena' circuit, with as much of the track visible from all vantage points as possible.
The new layout can be categorised as short but furious, with three of its eight corners fast and challenging and one forming a 180 degree hairpin. Overtaking opportunities are good with three corners offering possibilities under braking. Designed to cater for all but the fastest of modern car and motorcycle machinery, lap times of just under 55 seconds have been achieved.
Interestingly, du Toit was keen that this should be a facility for all South Africans, and so 20 percent of the shareholding was transferred to a Black Economic Empowerment company, with the aim eventually of making this a 50/50 share.
Today, as well as domestic racing, the track boasts its own skid pan and driver training facilities; only internationally-licensed kart circuit in South Africa (complete with crossover bridge); a 4x4 driver training course and is home to an AMG Driver Academy.