2019’s Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli campaign draws to a close in South Africa this weekend (November 21-23) when the Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ championships are decided at the revived Kyalami 9 Hour.
Following four long-distance races in Australia, North America, Europe and Asia, the world’s only global GT3 series makes its long awaited African debut when 28 cars – 19 of which are nominated to score Intercontinental points for one of eight manufacturers – contest the first Kyalami 9 Hour staged since 1982.
84 drivers head to Midrand just north of Johannesburg eager to pick up where motorsport legends Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass left off 37 years ago when their Rothmans Porsche 956 prevailed at the original Kyalami. Now, following extensive upgrades to both venue and circuit, the 9 Hour is ready to reclaim its rightful place at the top table of international endurance racing.
But the return of a historically significant event isn’t the only talking point this weekend. Mercedes-AMG and Porsche will go head-to-head for Intercontinental’s Manufacturers’ crown while Maxi Buhk leads a cast of seven Drivers’ title contenders.
MERCEDES-AMG – x4 GT GT3
Manufacturers’ Championship: 1st (115 pts)
Mercedes-AMG heads to Kyalami leading both the Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ standings thanks to a supremely consistent season. Indeed, three podiums from four races has helped Maxi Buhk top the latter’s standings since Laguna Seca, while a double podium first time out at Bathurst has seen Mercedes-AMG dominate the Manufacturers’ Championship ever since.
True, victory still alludes them in 2019, but a 22-point advantage over their only remaining rivals, Porsche, means further consistency will likely seal a first #IntGTC Manufacturers’ crown for Mercedes-AMG this weekend.
Buhk’s position is a little more precarious thanks to Frederic Vervisch who propelled himself to within six points by winning the Suzuka 10 Hours in August. What’s more, Buhk’s former GruppeM Racing co-driver, Maxi Goetz, is tied second with Audi’s leading contender. And victory for either driver would guarantee them the title at Buhk’s expense, regardless of the German’s result.
Buhk again shares GruppeM’s entry with Maro Engel and Raffaele Marciello who are no longer contenders due to their co-driver’s greater points total, while Goetz teams up with Yelmer Buurman and Luca Stolz at SPS Automotive Performance.
Strakka Racing and Black Falcon complete Mercedes-AMG’s full quota of Intercontinental-nominated entries.
PORSCHE – x4 911 GT3 R
Manufacturers’ Championship: 2nd (93 pts)
A 22-point deficit with 43 still available means Porsche are relying on rivals as much as themselves to beat Mercedes-AMG to 2019’s Manufacturers’ crown. Still, their own bases are fully loaded thanks to four factory line-ups, each of which is more than capable of claiming Stuttgart’s third Intercontinental win in five races.
Drivers’ Championship contenders and Bathurst victors Matt Campbell (Dinamic Motorsport), Dennis Olsen (Frikadelli Motorsport) and Dirk Werner (KUS Team 75 Bernhard) have been split for the first time this year in order to triple Porsche’s chances. They each start 10 points behind Maxi Buhk, while the marque’s fourth entry comprises GPX Racing’s Spa-winning trio of Kevin Estre, Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen.
History is also on the side of Porsche, which has won the last two 9-hour races staged at Kyalami. It is also just one victory shy of Ferrari’s all-time record, which currently stands at eight.
AUDI SPORT – x2 R8 LMS GT3 2019
Manufacturers’ Championship: 3rd (71 pts)
Victory at the Suzuka 10 Hours wasn’t enough to keep Audi Sport in contention for a fourth Manufacturers’ Championship in as many years. However, Ingolstadt does at least head to Kyalami with a chance to maintain its record of winning titles in every Intercontinental GT Challenge season to date.
Frederic Vervisch, Dries Vanthoor and Kelvin van der Linde dominated the series’ Asian round and once again join forces at Team WRT. Results with different co-drivers earlier in the year mean only Vervisch can win the Drivers’ crown at Kyalami where Van der Linde contests an international GT race on home soil for the first time in his career. And while victory would see Vervisch clinch the title, it would also move his South African partner level on Intercontinental wins with current record holder, Christopher Haase.
Coincidentally, only a fifth career victory will keep Haase in championship contention. The German, who’s joined in Audi’s Land Motorsport entry by Markus Winkelhock and Christopher Mies, lies 24 points behind Maxi Buhk with 25 still available.
BMW – x3 M6 GT3
Manufacturers’ Championship: 4th (42 pts)
BMW’s two full-season squads, Team Schnitzer and Walkenhorst Motorsport, demonstrated their true potential at Suzuka where Augusto Farfus qualified on pole before both cars ran one-two in the early stages.
Separate issues ultimately prevented a headline result in the manufacturer’s first year as a full-season #IntGTC entrant. However, it now heads to Kyalami with several factors in its favour.
Schnitzer’s Farfus and Martin Tomczyk are joined by BMW’s DTM ace and home favourite, Sheldon van der Linde, while Walkenhorst’s second M6 features a driver with more experience of the contemporary Kyalami layout than anyone on this year’s Intercontinental entry: Gennaro Bonafede.
FERRARI – x1 488 GT3
Manufacturers’ Championship: 5th (31 pts)
Things haven’t exactly gone to plan for Ferrari since its California 8 Hours victory in March when HubAuto Corsa scored 25 of the manufacturer’s 31 points. Indeed, two accidents for the Taiwanese team since then has prevented it from competing this weekend.
Instead, the Prancing Horse’s chances rest with Rinaldi Racing and WTM Racing, which has entered a single 488 GT3 for Leonard Weiss, Jochen Krumbach and local star David Perel. The latter was previously scheduled to race Rinaldi’s second Ferrari before the car was withdrawn.
A previous-generation 458 GT3 has also been entered by local team Pablo Clark Racing. However, the car is not nominated to score Intercontinental points.
BENTLEY – x2 CONTINENTAL GT3
Manufacturers’ Championship: 6th (22 pts)
M-Sport’s usual two-car attack heads to Kyalami desperate for a strong result at the end of a tough Intercontinental season that has promised much but never quite sparked into life.
Its answer is to shake up both established driver crews. Jules Gounon and local hero Jordan Pepper, who tested the Continental GT3 at Kyalami earlier this month, are joined in their usual #107 entry by Maxime Soulet, who swaps places with Steven Kane. The Briton joins Andy Soucek and Rodrigo Baptista – returning for his second factory outing this year – in the other car.
Soucek set a succession of three fastest laps at Suzuka in August. And similar pace allied to a trouble-free run would make Bentley contenders at Kyalami.
NISSAN – x2 GT-R NISMO GT3
Manufacturers’ Championship: 7th (20 pts)
A Nissan Skyline contested the last Kyalami 9 Hour in 1982. Now, 37 years later, two of its distant relatives are returning with KCMG.
The modern GT-R NISMO GT3 remains one of the most popular cars on the grid amongst fans. However, the early promise shown at Bathurst and Laguna Seca has been less evident since mid-season.
KCMG heads to Kyalami with a new driver amongst its ranks: 2010 Formula Nippon champion and Super GT race winner Joao Paulo de Oliveira. The long-time Nissan driver left the factory roster at the start of 2019 but returns to partner Katsumasa Chiyo and Josh Burdon, while Oliver Jarvis, Alex Imperatori and Edoardo Liberati remain unchanged in the team’s #18 car.
HONDA – x1 NSX GT3 2019
Manufacturers’ Championship: 8th (10 pts)
The sole NSX GT3 entered by Honda Team Motul also features an Intercontinental debutant this weekend in the form of Dane Cameron, who has achieved plenty of success with the same car in America this year. His achievements with Honda/Acura also include this season’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar title, albeit at the wheel of DPi machinery.
The NSX has shown flashes of pace this year, most notably en route to pole during its Intercontinental debut at Laguna Seca and when coming through from 33rd to finish sixth at Spa.
KYALAMI 9 HOUR TIMETABLE
THURSDAY 21 NOVEMBER
10:00 – 12:00: Paid Test Session 1
14:00 – 16:00: Paid Test Session 2
18:00 – 19:30: Free Practice (night session)
FRIDAY 22 NOVEMBER
10:50 – 12:35: Pre-Qualifying
14:45 – 15:00: Qualifying 1 (Driver 1)
15:07 – 15:22: Qualifying 2 (Driver 2)
15:30 – 15:45: Qualifying 3 (Driver 3)
16:25 – 16:40: Pole Shootout (top-10 cars)
SATURDAY 23 NOVEMBER
13:00 – 22:00: Race
Source. SRO Motorsports Group