JOHANNESBURG - This year’s Kyalami 9 Hour gave South Africans reason to celebrate after Sheldon van der Linde helped drive the BMW Walkenhorst Motorsport team to victory, while his co-drivers Augusto Farfus and Nick Catsburg scooped the 2020 International GT Challenge title in the process.
The winning BMW M6 (#34) spent most of the race inside the top-five but didn’t become a serious victory or championship contender until the final hour when a heavy thunderstorm turned the outcome on its head.
A final necessary fuel stop for Team Honda Racing and WRT’s need to re-set Frederic Vervisch’s stint length left the BMW in prime position when conditions required Full Course Yellow and Safety Car periods through until the chequered flag.
The pole-winning Honda NSX shared by Mario Farnbacher, Renger van der Zande and Bertrand Baguette had dominated up until that point. Indeed, the sole Honda – which needed to win to have any realistic chance of scooping the Drivers’ crown – remained the de facto race leader for almost eight hours after initially resisting South African Jordan Pepper’s Bentley into Turn 1. Unfortunately things turned sour for Pepper after the Bentley broke down after 63 laps.
The Honda NSX only faced serious pressure in the seventh hour when Audi Sport Team Car Collection’s Patric Niederhauser moved to within 1.5 seconds. At that stage the winner would also lift the Drivers’ crown, but Midrand’s famously unpredictable weather was about to deny both entries.
Coming home in second place werre Audi Sport Team WRT’s Frederic Vervisch, Mirko Bortolotti and Charles Weerts, while Matt Campbell, Patrick Pilet and Mathieu Jaminet (GPX Racing) sealed the Manufacturers’ crown for Porsche by finishing third overall. Campbell also set not one but two new GT3 lap records, his second a 1m42.021s.
How a storm changed the race
90 minutes remained when the day’s first meaningful rain caught out Alex Buncombe whose stranded Bentley called for a Full Course Yellow. Walkenhorst were first to react to the deluge, which subsequently sent everyone into the pits for wet tyres. This was the moment that effectively ended Honda’s challenge: unlike its rivals, the team opted against also taking on fuel, leaving no choice but stop again for a full service before the finish.
Of course, the team wasn’t to know that, barring a few racing laps in torrential conditions, the rest of the race would be run either under FCY or behind the Safety Car. And with the lower speeds also reducing fuel consumption, the Honda ultimately lost out to those that only required a trip through the pits without stopping to re-set their stint lengths.
Car Collection’s chances ended when Mattia Drudi span in the treacherous conditions, which – with just over an hour remaining – prompted the FCY’s return, Honda’s final full service and Walkenhorst’s trip through the pitlane to re-set Nick Catsburg’s stint time.
By contrast, Audi Sport Team WRT opted to delay its final re-set. But when Frederic Vervisch finally emerged from the pitlane, the BMW had done just enough to take the lead.
Reversing those positions would have handed Matt Campbell, Patrick Pilet and Mathieu Jaminet the Drivers’ crown. However, third place for GPX Racing’s trio was more than enough for Porsche to retain its Manufacturers’ championship. The 911 yo-yoed up and down the order all afternoon after an unscheduled pitstop for a cut tyre left it out of sequence.
The Honda came home fourth – an undeserved result after dominating eight of the nine hours – while Car Collection’s Niederhauser, Christopher Haase and Drudi all starred at various points before the latter’s spin in torrential rain denied the Audi a genuine victory shot.
Walkenhorst’s second M6 couldn’t match the sister car but helped BMW secure second in the Manufacturers’ table by finishing sixth.
But there was disappointment at Dinamic Motorsport whose race slowly unravelled after Earl Bamber’s initial charge from 10th. His and Laurens Vanthoor’s championship chances were effectively ended by a cracked splitter, which required a lengthy pitstop to repair. The Porsche came home one place ahead of WRT’s second Audi, which was forced in at the end of lap one after tangling with the #8 Bentley.
Indeed, the British manufacturer endured a disappointing end to its factory GT3 story when a day that started so well for the championship chasing #7 crew went literally up in smoke at the start of hour three. Pepper and Jules Gounon ran second throughout their stints before Maxime Soulet’s day ended almost before it began.
SA team wins Pro-Am category
Team Perfect Circle and Hack Racing flew the South African flag high by claiming overall honours in the Pro-Am category. At the wheel were two locally based drivers in the form of Andre Bezuidenhout and Saul Hack, joined by Luxembourg-based Dylan Pereira.
The team dedicated their win to Walter Lechner, Team Principal, who sadly passed away during the week of the 9 Hour.
After a first-lap incident, between Bentley and Audi that could have side-lined Team Perfect Circle, Hack drove masterfully and kept the pace with the front-running train of cars.
Hack was excited by his second category win in 2020 – albeit this time in the Pro-Am class: “The 911 GT3 R was simply wonderful to drive again and I am ecstatic that I could achieve a second category win for Hack Racing,” he enthused.
“It was a memorable week with Andre and Dylan and we achieved what we set out to do.”
For Bezuidenhout, standing atop the podium was a 50-year dream come true: “I have dreamt of competing in this world-famous race from the moment I watched David Piper and Richard Attwood, as Team Perfect Circle, win the 1969 9-Hour in a Porsche. The Team Perfect Circle banner was resurrected for the 2019 race but mechanical issues forced our retirement. To finish this race is a bucket-list event for me as an amateur driver. My teammates are extremely talented guys, and they did an incredible job. Motorsport, in many ways, resembles life: you dream – you act – you hope – and sometimes, just sometimes, it all comes together. This week was our time.”