AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG have won the 2021 Joburg Kyalami 9 Hour while Audi Sport and Ferrari’s Come Ledogar and Alessandro Pier Guidi wrapped up the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ titles, respectively, in South Africa.
The car shared by Timur Boguslavskiy, Jules Gounon and Raffaele Marciello started from pole, set fastest lap and enjoyed a largely serene nine hours in which it remained the de facto race leader throughout despite AF Corse – Francorchamps Motors’ early alternative strategy moving their cars ahead after the first round of pitstops.
It was the retirement of their #71 entry with a gearbox issue after three-and-a-half hours that handed Audi Sport the Manufacturers’ crown before mid-distance, their existing advantage over Ferrari now too great for one car to bridge.
But while one Prancing Horse fell by the wayside, the other – also driven by Miguel Molina – ultimately delivered Ferrari’s first IGTC title by finishing second overall. That was one place ahead of Audi Sport Team Sainteloc’s Patric Niederhauser and Markus Winkelhock who missed out on the Drivers’ crown by one position and five points. They shared the final step of the podium with home favourite Kelvin van der Linde.
Further back, SunEnergy1 Racing’s Kenny Habul, Martin Konrad and Mikael Grenier survived a holed radiator to clinch IGTC’s Pro-Am Challenge title with Mercedes-AMG.
A RACE TO SAVOUR FOR ALL THREE MANUFACTURERS
Mercedes-AMG’s first IGTC win since the Suzuka 10 Hours in 2018, the same season Audi won its last title, and Ferrari’s maiden IGTC crown meant this was a race all three manufacturers will look back on with fond memories.
What’s more, yesterday’s heavy rain only briefly threatened a race that, save for a few spots early on, remained dry throughout.
Marciello initially converted AKKA ASP’s pole position into a 10s lead by the end of the opening stint, but it wasn’t the Mercedes-AMG that emerged ahead. Instead, it was the two Ferraris of Antonio Fuoco and Molina who ran one-two after AF Corse opted to re-set their cars’ stint lengths by driving through the pitlane without taking fuel or tyres.
The 488s ran another nine laps before stopping out of sequence, at which point Boguslavskiy reassumed AKKA ASP’s place at the head of the field.
AF Corse’s strategy might ultimately have proven successful without separate issues restricting both cars. First, #51 was hit with a drive-through penalty for track limits infringements just before its second re-set, negating any advantage it might have gained in the pits, before Nicklas Nielsen – who was moved across to #71 to double Ferrari’s title chances – ground to a halt with a gearbox issue while running third.
That came shortly after the race’s only Safety Car period bunched the pack and prompted a flurry of pitstops. This time it was AKKA ASP who favoured a re-set over fuel and tyres, which left the car out of sequence until the penultimate stops.
The restart also featured a critical pass in the title battle when Pier Guidi relieved Mattia Drudi’s Team WRT Audi of second place, which moved the Italian and Ledogar into the provisional championship lead at Christopher Haase’s expense.
In truth, neither title hunting Audi could match the Ferrari’s pace thereafter. Instead, and with one of the Ferrari’s demise securing the marque its fourth IGTC crown, Sainteloc and WRT’s entries duked it out for the final step on the podium.
Ahead, the alternative strategies saw AKKA ASP and AF Corse swap places during each other’s pitstops. But it was the pace of Marciello in particular, who set fastest lap after fastest lap as dusk began to fall, who tipped the race in Mercedes-AMG’s favour. 15s separated the two cars when their strategies converged in the eighth hour, and although it ebbed and flowed a little thereafter Gounon ultimately ran out a comfortable winner by 15.6s.
Haase’s late spin denied WRT a place on the podium after the German had just overtaken Niederhauser who – along with Winkelhock – finished third on the road and second in the final drivers’ standings.
Sainteloc’s Silver Cup entry shared by Lucas Legeret, Simon Gachet and Nicolas Baert overcame a persistent restart issue in the pits to complete the top-five, while High Class Racing’s Thierry Vermeulen, Michael Markussen and Mark Patterson won the event’s Pro-Am class.
Class rivals SunEnergy1 showed flashes of speed, especially in the hands of Grenier who completed the opening stint in fourth place and also set fastest lap at one point, but they were ultimately restricted to seventh overall by a holed radiator. Nevertheless, the team’s efforts to replace the unit helped the crew that also includes Habul and Konrad to win IGTC’s Pro-Am Challenge title.
They were followed home by the leading local entry, Stradale Motorsport’s Lamborghini of Arnold Neveling, Michael Van Rooyen and Charl Arangies. The latter’s impressive opening stint, in which he climbed from 12th to seventh, won many admirers before a power steering issue necessitated time in the garage.
Stradale Into Africa’s Xolile Letlaka, Tschops Sipuka and Phillip Kekana made history by becoming the first all-black African crew to not only contest but also finish the Joburg Kyalami 9 Hour, while Scuderia Scribante’s Silvio Scribante won the national class race that ended after the opening hour.
Source. SRO Motorsports Group/Photo. David Ledbitter/Joburg Kyalami 9 Hour