Porsche wins dramatic Kyalami Nine Hour
German team also clinches Intercontinental GT drivers' and manufacturers' titles in eventful rain-affected race
Porsche scooped the honours in Saturday’s Kyalami Nine Hour, not only winning the race but also clinching the drivers' and manufacturer's titles after an eventful return of international racing to SA’s premier racetrack.
Pole-setter Nick Tandy in the Frikadelli Racing Team Porsche 911 GT3 RS crossed the line first in the dramatic rain-affected race, completing 259 laps with co-drivers Dennis Olsen and Mathieu Jaminet. Olsen, from Norway, won the 2019 driver’s title and Porsche scooped the manufacturer’s championship in an Intercontinental GT racing season that went down to the wire.
Second place in the Kyalami Nine Hour went to the Walkenhurst Motorsport BMW M6 of Nicky Catsburg, Christian Krognes and Mikkel Jensen. Completing the podium was the GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 of Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre.
The highest placed South African was Sheldon van der Linde in seventh, in a BMW M6 he shared with Augusto Farfus and Martin Tomczyk.
SA’s Gennaro Bonafede and Michael van Rooyen, with German teammate Henry Walkenhorst, won the Pro-Am class in their Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6.
Though Tandy had set pole position in Friday’s wet qualifying, the race was far from straightforward. The race set off at 1pm on Saturday and there was immediate drama as the championship hopes of series leader Maxi Buhk went up in smoke on the first corner with a mechanical failure to his Mercedes AMG GT.
That left three Porsche 911s leading the field in the early part of the race, but the crowd soon had a local driver to cheer for when SA’s Jordan Pepper took the lead in his roaring Bentley Continental GT3 after the second round of pit stops.
Making a historic return to Kyalami after 37 years, the Nine Hour produced a battle royale for the estimated 10,000 spectators.
It was an endurance race but the drivers looked to be treating it more like a sprint event, with robust racing that produced plenty of overtaking and fender-rubbing action. Crashes brought out the safety car on a number of occasions to bunch up the field.
The pit stops and safety car periods continuously mixed up the standings, leaving no obvious victory favourites as the hours ticked by. As the sun set four-and-a-half hours into the race, the top 10 cars were separated by just 13 seconds.
Eventually it was the weather gods that decided matters. With two hours and 20 minutes to go the Highveld unleashed one of its famous thunderstorms, causing an extended safety car period as night time visibility was dramatically reduced and water flooded the track.
The drivers all pitted for rain tyres and followed the safety car at reduced pace around the heavily waterlogged circuit for more than 90 minutes. Eventually the rain stopped and the safety car peeled into the pits with 27 minutes to go, leaving the sports cars involved in a frenetic, slithering sprint to the finish on the still-wet circuit.
It was Tandy who mastered the conditions best, as he’d done in Friday’s wet qualifying, and opened a comfortable cushion over the rest of the field in the closing laps. He crossed the line 6.7 seconds ahead of Catsburg in the BMW M6, with the Porsche 911 of Richard Lietz in third, a further 2.2 seconds back.
Of the other South Africans, Kelvin van der Linde was 11th in the Audi R8, Pepper was 12th in the Bentley, Saul Hack was 13th in a Porsche 911, David Perel was 16th in a Ferrari 488, and Kishoor Pitamber, Leonard Thompson and Michael Stephen were 21st in a Ferrari 458. The Lamborghini Huracan of Dawie Joubert, Charl Arangies and Craig Jarvis crashed out on the 82nd lap. The team Perfect Circle Porsche GT3 of Andre Bezuidenhout, Franco Scribante and Silvio Scribante retired with mechanical failure.
It was the biggest event at Kyalami since the extensively revamped circuit was reopened in 2016.
The long-awaited return of international motor racing to the track was a family-friendly affair that included a music festival and karting for children.
Walking along the embankments with their braai fires, conversations centred around the stirring sounds made by the powerful sports cars, from the Audi R8’s emotive shriek to the Bentley’s deep-throated roar.
It was an eclectic crowd, from old-school racing fans with faded Castrol badges, to wide-eyed youngsters who were seeing loud, life-sized versions of their toy cars. And they were treated to a high-octane thriller.