Porsche and Dennis Olsen are the 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge champions after a dramatic conclusion to this year’s title showdown at the revived Kyalami 9 Hour. And what a showdown it was!
As South African fans, we had waited 37 years for the endurance classic to return, but the hiatus was more than worth it. A race which started out in scorching hear on the track, ended under the cover of darkness and in a cloud of spray when the action finally resumed following a two-hour-long Safety Car period caused by heavy rain, thunder, and lightning.
GALLERY | The spectacular Kyalami 9 Hour in pictures
Worth the wait
Team Frikadelli Racing’s pole-winning 911 GT3 R shared by Dennis Olsen, Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet enjoying a perfect day that included fastest lap (Tandy) and victory, which also secured Porsche the Manufacturers’ crown, Olsen the Drivers’ title, and the winning crew Kyalami’s original 9 Hour trophy. But it was far more complicated than that.
Wheels24'sJanine Van der Post says: "Being present at the event since Friday's practice and qualifying sessions is any motorsport fan's heaven on Earth. Witnessing the return of this historic race is something I will remember for ever. Hearing that reverberating roar of those V8 engines, and sniffing the aroma of methanol in the pit lane kept the hairs on the back of my neck tingling all day.
"While the event should have been marketed better for the South African audiences because no one should have missed out on it - two weeks before hand on TV, and only on a regional radio station, was not enough. With our tight economy, budgeting for such a massive event is imperative for locals. Besides ticket prices - which started off at an affordable R200 each for general access (up to R1250 for VIP and more), parking of R100, and buying meals nothing cheaper of R50, the turn out wasn't half bad at all. What was great too was that cooler boxes were allowed sans any glass or alcohol. But the marketing issue is probably the only bad thing I could say of this momentous occasion.
"There was live entertainment from the likes of Black Coffee, Prime Circle, and Mi Casa, a fan zone that could rock your socks off, and a kiddie section too. The Soweto Drift Academy was a total hit, the VW Polo races were insane, and packed with proper action. The supercars and classic car parade was a treat, and having all those cars on display in one place was a boon to everyone there.
"The main race was nothing short of exhilarating. Walking the grid as one sees during an F1 race, was incredible. Having the pit crews roll out tyre rails, seeing the cars being lined up on the grid and watching drivers get ready to climb into their race cars was incredible. The atmosphere alone creates such an adrenaline rush that is difficult to put into words. Watching the lights go out while the harmonious burbling of revs play melodically as the monstrous cars speed off is breath-taking.
"Every driver raced their heart out. There were exciting wheel-to-wheel duels, hear-stopping crashes and scary rain and thunder that threatened a dramatic race result if it was put to a stop during the evening. But, race control kept the data coming in and decided to soldier on in utter darkness with only their car's headlights for guidance, and man, did those drivers never give up. When the safety car was called in just 25 minutes before the race was to end at 10pm, the lead drivers drove as if their lives depended on it.
"Everything mattered and came into play. The Porsche 911 GT3 RS of the Frikadelli team, piloted by Nick Tandy, in the very end soared to the finish. My heart is racing all over again just thinking about it.
"Frikadelli. Isn't that just such a fitting name for an international motorsport team to coming winning their crown on SA ground?
"The Kylamai 9 Hour is more exciting than Formula 1 in my books, and it will be back here in SA next year. If you have the means to do so, start saving now for the next round because no motoring enthusiast should miss out on this kind of experience."
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Walkenhorst Motorsport’s Christian Krognes, Mikkel Jensen and Nicky Catsburg recorded BMW’s best result of the season with second, while long-time race leaders Richard Lietz, Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen completed the podium in their GPX Racing Porsche.
Seven drivers entered the season finale with a chance of winning the title, while Porsche had to overcome a 22-point deficit in order to beat Mercedes-AMG. And it received a helping hand early on when GruppeM’s entry, which also featured Drivers’ Championship leader Maxi Buhk, retired on lap one with an engine issue.
That opened the door for Maxi Goetz and Olsen who began the day six and 10 points, respectively, behind Buhk. Sustained pressure from the other four protagonists – Frederic Vervisch, Dirk Werner, Matt Campbell and Christopher Haase – failed to materialise.
Instead, it was GPX’s Porsche – eligible to score Manufacturers’ points but without a Drivers’ contender among its ranks – that made much of the running despite initially appearing behind Jordan Pepper’s double-stinting Bentley on the timing screen.
A Safety Car period to retrieve Strakka’s crashed Mercedes-AMG – the manufacturer’s second nominated car to retire within the first three hours – left GPX out front from Walkenhorst’s BMW, which had steadily climbed the order after starting 16th, and Frikadelli’s Porsche.
The battle included Krognes’ stunning switchback pass on Tandy as well as the latter tagging his Porsche team-mate Christensen into a spin. Fortunately, both 911s re-joined without damage, although the subsequent drive-through penalty initially dropped the newly-installed Olsen out of contention.
Image: Intercontinental GT Challenge
Instead, SPS Automotive Performance’s Mercedes-AMG took up the chase. Maxi Goetz, Yelmer Buurman and Luca Stolz found themselves out of sequence after an early pitstop to remove debris from their car’s radiator, but had the speed thereafter to keep pace with the Porsche and BMW. And when their strategies converged, there was barely two seconds between them.
However, a biblical lightning storm and torrential rain were about to play their part in deciding both titles. It arrived with two-and-a-half hours left on the clock and prevented any green flag running until 25 minutes remained.
When racing finally resumed, SPS’s Buurman was out front and in prime position to seal the Manufacturers’ title for Mercedes-AMG and Drivers’ crown for Goetz. But that all changed within one lap of the restart when Lietz, Tandy and Catsburg muscled their way past.
Lietz then duly moved aside for Tandy, whose extra points were enough to give Olsen the Drivers’ crown. Catsburg also dispatched the GPX Porsche, but was unable to catch Frikadelli’s example over the closing stages.
Not the best conditions
Several pitstop infringements prevented Audi Sport from challenging, but Christopher Haase, Markus Winkelhock and Christopher Mies still finished fourth after making the most of the late wet running.
SPS slipped to fifth while Oliver Jarvis, Edoardo Liberati and Alex Imperatori completed the top-six in KCMG’s #18 Nissan, which was a top-six candidate throughout.
Red flagging the race during the worst of the conditions would have handed victory to BMW Team Schnitzer, but Augusto Farfus, Martin Tomczyk and best-placed South African Sheldon van der Linde were forced in for a splash and dash just as racing resumed. They finished seventh, one place ahead of Dinamic’s Porsche which hung around the top-six without ever threatening a podium.
KUS Team 75 Bernhard (Porsche) and R-Motorsport (Aston Martin) completed the overall top-10.
The 2020 Intercontinental GT Challenge campaign begins in just over two months’ time at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia (January 31 – February 2).
"Three wins from five races, and podium finishes at all rounds – that’s how you win championships. The key to our success was the excellent teamwork of our squads around the world," says Sebastian Golz, Project Manager 911 GT3 R.
Image: Intercontinental GT Challenge
"The final race at Kyalami with sun, heat, lightning, thunder and rain was like a rollercoaster ride. In the end we deserved to win. Now it’s time to celebrate," he added.
"This is definitely the best day of my career by now. When I was asked recently to name my greatest achievement, I said it was the victory at Bathurst," says Dennis Olsen, #31 Frikadelli Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.
"When I was then asked what could be better than that, I said a victory at Kyalami, winning the Manufacturers’ title with Porsche as well as the Drivers’ Championship. That has now happened – unbelievable, it feels like a dream. When the race was finally restarted, I had a good feeling. If you have someone like Nick Tandy in the Porsche 911 GT3 R on a wet track in the final sprint, then anything is possible," Olsen added.
Compiled by: Janine Van der Post, Robin Classen
Race report by SRO