Three manufacturers and nine driver crews will battle for Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli title honours at the season-closing Kyalami 9 Hour next weekend (December 10-12).
Reigning champions, Porsche, are bidding to defend both crowns with two all-star line-ups that include drivers’ championship leaders Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor. Audi – champions in 2016-2018 – and BMW can still deny Porsche back-to-back manufacturers’ titles, while any one of five different marques could yet secure drivers’ honours. Indeed, with victory worth 25 points and the nine competing contenders covered by 13, the title battle should go down to the wire next Saturday, just as it did in 2019.
PORSCHE HOLDS ALL THE ACES
With Mercedes-AMG opting to skip Kyalami, Porsche are well placed to wrap up their second global GT3 manufacturers’ title in as many years at Kyalami. And while 2019’s championship was only settled in the closing rain-lashed laps, the path to this year’s crown appears more straightforward.
Porsche arrives in South Africa 33 points clear of Audi and a further three ahead of BMW. Both challengers must therefore win, have a second car finish inside the top-four and hope Porsche falters to have a chance of overturning their respective deficits.
Remember: although manufacturers can nominate up to four entries, only their two highest classified finishers are eligible to score Intercontinental points. Audi has filled its quota, three 911s are entered, and BMW can count on two M6s.
It will be a difficult task for Audi and BMW, and not least given the strength of Porsche’s two factory crews who also occupy first and second in the drivers’ standings.
Victory at Spa has catapulted Bamber and 2016 Intercontinental champion Vanthoor into a one-point lead over Matt Campbell, Mathieu Jaminet and Patrick Pilet. Both crews also feature 2019 Kyalami winners – in GPX Racing’s case it’s Jaminet, while Dinamic Motorsport call on Nick Tandy who claimed fastest lap and pole position last year. The latter was also a winner at Spa in October but cannot share the Intercontinental title with Bamber and Vanthoor who previously scored points at Bathurst.
SO, CAN ANYONE STOP THE MIGHT OF STUTTGART?
Well yes, actually. Seven more crews could yet overhaul Porsche’s contenders, while two of them head to Kyalami with destiny still in their own hands.
Bentley’s Jules Gounon, Jordan Pepper and Maxime Soulet scored the majority of their points by winning at Bathurst back in February. Another in South Africa, where their Continental GT3 is entered by the same M-Sport squad that masterminded victory Down Under, would be enough to overhaul Bamber and Vanthoor’s current three-point advantage regardless of the Dinamic duo’s result.
Winning on South African soil would also represent an emotional homecoming for Pepper who grew up just 20 minutes from Kyalami and honed his craft there in junior motorsport.
The same winner-takes-all scenario applies to BMW’s Indianapolis 8 Hour victors Augusto Farfus and Nick Catsburg who enter the weekend six points adrift of top spot. The latter and Walkenhorst’s M6 GT3 excelled in Kyalami’s wet and dry conditions last year en route to second overall behind Porsche – a result that will need reversing 13 months on if Farfus and Catsburg are to steal the crown.
The full-season duo are joined by another local star and DTM ace, Sheldon van der Linde, who – like Pepper – grew up just a stone’s throw from Kyalami.
His older brother, Kelvin, is also an undoubted victory contender. And winning at Kyalami would put his Audi Sport Team WRT co-driver Markus Winkelhock on course for a second Intercontinental title, albeit subject to results elsewhere.
Achieving as much would deny Vanthoor the same piece of history, for no driver has won two Intercontinental titles. But it would also rely on Laurens’ younger brother, Dries, who shares one of the three South African art-liveried R8 LMS GT3s with Winkelhock and Van der Linde next weekend…
Honda are also in the drivers’ championship mix courtesy of Mario Farnbacher and Renger van der Zande who are joined by Bertrand Baguette for the first time this year. The NSX tends to favour steadily moving up the order rather than making the running, a trend Team Honda Racing’s crew will have to buck if they’re to overturn their 12-point deficit.
The final three championship contenders all find themselves 13 points behind Bamber and Vanthoor.
Walkenhorst’s second BMW again features David Pittard, Martin Tomczyk and Nick Yelloly who finished second at Indy, while Frederic Vervisch is the best placed of his crew mates in WRT’s other Audi. Fellow Spa runners-up Patric Niederhauser and Mattia Drudi represent Car Collection.
South Africa’s covid-19 restrictions will prevent spectators from attending the Kyalami 9 Hour in person. However, locals and fans around the world can catch every session and all nine hours live and for free without interruption or geo restrictions on SRO Motorsports Group’s GT World Youtube channel from next Friday. SuperSport will also carry live coverage across South Africa throughout the weekend.
MANUFACTURERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS
79pts – Porsche
46pts – Audi
43pts – BMW
DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS
31pts – Earl Bamber / Laurens Vanthoor – Porsche
30pts – Matt Campbell / Mathieu Jaminet / Patrick Pilet – Porsche
28pts – Jules Gounon / Jordan Pepper / Maxime Soulet – Bentley
25pts – Nick Catsburg / Augusto Farfus – BMW
22pts – Markus Winkelhock – Audi
19pts – Mario Farnbacher / Renger van der Zande – Honda
18pts – David Pittard / Martin Tomczyk / Nick Yelloly – BMW
18pts – Frederic Vervisch – Audi
18pts – Mattia Drudi / Patric Niederhauser
KYALAMI 9 HOUR SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES SAST)
Thursday 10 December
10:00 – 12:00: Paid Test 1
14:20 – 16:20: Paid Test 2
18:05 – 19:35: Night Practice
Friday 11 December
09:45 – 11:30: Pre-Qualifying
14:20 – 14:35: Qualifying 1
14:42 – 14:57: Qualifying 2
15:05 – 15:20: Qualifying 3
16:00 – 16:15: Pole Shootout (top-six cars)
Saturday 12 December
12:00 – 21:00: Kyalami 9 Hour
Source. SRO Motorsports Group