22 Jun KILLARNEY CHARACTERS: DENIS JOUBERT
Newly qualified architect and keen amateur racing driver Denis Joubert was elected as secretary of the Metropolitan Motorcycle and Car Club in 1959 and was pitchforked almost immediately into the negotiations that resulted in a loan of £20 000 from the then Divisional Council of the Cape (who owned the land) and the building of the Killarney circuit we know today, a year later.
Indeed, although Edgar Hoal is credited with the layout of the track, it is certain that the quiet young architect had considerable input in the final design; he actually built an impressive scale model of the proposed circuit, which was submitted to the council and probably won their approval for the loan.
It is also certain that Denis had to deal with a lot of the fallout after the ambitious Cape Grands Prix of December 1960 and January 1962, organised by a committee drawn from local motorsport clubs under the leadership of Tex Kingon, proved financially disastrous and the Mets defaulted on their loan repayment – a failure that made a lifelong impression on Denis.
As everybody knows, however, the same group of young enthusiasts who had succeeded in creating a world-class racing circuit in the bush alongside a disused section of the old Malmesbury road saved the day by staging the enormously successful Argus Motor Show at the old Goodwood Showground in 1964 – which gave birth to the Cape Helldrivers and solved the Mets’ immediate financial problems.
When the club merged with the Amateur Automobile Racing Club, the Kape Kart Klub and Motor Sport Marshals the following year, Denis was ushered in as secretary of the newly formed Western Province Motor Club, a position he held until he was elected chairman in 1970.
Deeply shaken by the turmoil of the early 1960s, Denis insisted that the Club follow a conservative financial policy. Facilities at the circuit such as the control tower, clubhouse and grandstands (all designed and drawn by architect Denis) were built as and when funds allowed, often in stages, using money raised by a number of further motor racing and motors shows in, among other venues, the Drill Hall and the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town.
For many years, until the admin building on the start/finish line was extended to its current layout, the Club was run out of Denis’ architectural practice in central Cape Town, which had a boardroom, a kitchen and a very talented cook named Monica.
The tales are legend of epic committee meetings there – and the lunches that followed them. In fact, when Denis finally moved the nerve centre of the WPMC to Killarney in 1991, Monica went with him! Until that time the Club was run entirely by volunteers, with the exception of the Club Secretary, who worked out of a space at the practice, and a bookkeeper.
In the mid-1980s he conceived the idea of building garages and workshops at the circuit, for the use of members and service providers, so that racing cars could be stored – and worked on – at Killarney, both as a convenience for members and as a source of revenue for the Club.
A construction project of that magnitude, however, was beyond the resources of the Western Province Motor Club. Rather than approach government or financial institutions, however, Denis called for a loan to be raised from a few senior members and, typical of the man, he was the first to put his hand in his pocket.
His crowning achievement at Killarney, however, was the design and building of the New Pits Complex on the opposite side of the Porsche Club Straight from the original pits – a multi-purpose building that can also function as an exhibition hall between race meetings, complete with a magnificent viewing deck and a well-appointed upstairs lounge/restaurant, making the New Pits the destination of choice for the increasing number of corporate functions at the circuit.
Denis was instrumental in introducing Formula Ford racing at Killarney and organised the first ever Group N event for near-standard production cars in South Africa, the Castrol 3-Hour of 1984, which was won by Sarel van der Merwe and Jochen Mass in a Volkswagen Golf. The success of this event led directly to the adoption of Group N as a national championship category.
He served on the national competitions committee of South Africa’s motorsport governing body, the Royal Automobile Club, from the mid-1960s, throughout the tenure of AA Racing and into the modern era of Motorsport South Africa, including a term as president.
It was in this capacity that he was able to promote the formulation of a national Group N series, which became the longest running South African championship in motorsport history with a run of 10 years from 1985 to 1995.
In between, he found time to compete successfully in an astonishingly wide range of categories, underscoring his undoubted talent as a driver. These included Formula Ford, a variety of saloon cars and Sports & GT racing – first in his legendary 1650cc GSM Dart, CA 845, and later in a Chevron B8, which he bought in 1969, and a B16 which he was able to acquire a year or two later thanks to a close association with Derek Bennett and Brian Redman at Chevron Cars.
What is less well known, however, is that he has also put together over the years a stable of classic road cars, all beautifully maintained and driven regularly, including an original GSM Dart.
Denis finally stood down as chairman of WPMC in 2006 after 36 years at the helm, but remained active at Killarney, notably in the design of further improvements to the facilities at the circuit. In recognition of his contribution to the Club, he was elected as Honorary President in 2014.
In 2019 he retired as President in favour of Dr Greg Mills – simply because, in typical unassuming Joubert fashion, he felt that Dr Mills could be of more service to the Club in the campaign to renew the lease on the land (now owned by the City of Cape Town) on which the circuit stands.
Even then, his service to the Club wasn’t over, as he then became a member of ManCom, the committee that oversees the affairs of the Western Province Motor Club. After six decades of service to Killarney, he is rightly regarded as an elder statesman, the voice of reason when enthusiasm runs high and voices are raised.
When the small man with the scratchy voice speaks – people who know Killarney listen.