All three marques remain in Drivers’ Championship contention
Audi on course for third Manufacturers’ crown
Audi Sport and Ferrari go head-to-head for the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli manufacturers’ title next weekend (February 3-5) when the globetrotting GT3 series makes its final stop of the season at the Joburg Kyalami 9 Hour.
What’s more, four crews – headed by Ferrari’s Come Ledogar, Nicklas Nielsen and Alessandro Pier Guidi – could yet win the drivers’ championship at a venue belatedly celebrating its 60th anniversary. Indeed, the South African Nine Hour Endurance Race, as it was then known and which previously took place at Grand Central, was the very first motorsport event to be staged at Kyalami.
The circuit’s current 16-turn, 4.529km layout has changed considerably since Dawie Goes and John Love propelled their Porsche 550 Spyder to victory on 4 November 1961, while the likes of fellow former winners Jacky Ickx, Clay Regazzoni, Jody Scheckter, Henri Pescarolo, Derek Bell and David Piper all turned right instead of left at Crowthorne’s first corner!
Now the event is once again a must-win race for international GT drivers and manufacturers after the nine-hour duration was resurrected by SRO Motorsports Group in 2019 following a 37-year hiatus.
As well as an opportunity to join such an illustrious list of former winners, the likes of Audi Sport, Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG can nominate a maximum of four cars featuring three Pro line-ups to score IGTC points, although only their two highest placed finishers contribute towards the manufacturers’ championship. All nominated crews are eligible for drivers’ points regardless of where they end up in the top-10.
This year’s GT3 grid also features a distinctly local flavour thanks to several SA GT Racing Series regulars joining their international counterparts. Some are entered for the full duration while others are only scheduled to complete the first hour.
The event has retained its 2021 moniker despite moving from December to February after the spread of Omicron forced organisers to postpone the race just one week before it was originally scheduled to take place. This date change has unfortunately resulted in the withdrawal of several previously confirmed entries.
AUDI SPORT – 4x R8 LMS GT3
Championship: 1st (78pts) | IGTC entries: 2x Pro, 1x Silver, 1x Pro-Am
Victory at the Indianapolis 8 Hour Powered by AWS has left Audi with an almost unassailable manufacturers’ championship lead with one round remaining. Indeed, even a one-two for Ferrari wouldn’t be enough to overhaul Ingolstadt if just one of its four nominated entries finishes sixth or higher.
The current 36-point advantage certainly leaves Audi as odds-on favourite to win a fourth IGTC manufacturers’ championship, as well as its first since 2018. But the chance of doubling up depends on the individual performances of each Pro crew, both of which feature at least one drivers’ title contender.
Two-time IGTC runner-up Christopher Haase heads to the season finale on equal points with Patric Niederhauser and 2017 champion Markus Winkelhock after the trio claimed victory together at Indy. They lie just two points behind Ferrari’s leading crew but have been partially split to increase Audi’s chances. Thus, Winkelhock and Niederhauser remain at Sainteloc where they’re joined by home favourite Kelvin van der Linde, while Haase has Charles Weerts and Dries Vanthoor for company at Team WRT.
Being paired with Haase means Weerts and Vanthoor cannot add the IGTC crown to their 2021 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS titles despite starting nine points adrift of top spot.
Sainteloc’s Silver Cup entry, which includes Indy class runners-up Nicolas Baert and Lucas Legeret as well as Simon Gachet, is also nominated to score drivers’ and manufacturers’ points, while Michael Markussen joins High Class Racing’s existing partnership of Anders Fjordbach and Mark Patterson.
The latter won 2021’s Fanatec GT2 European Series Pro-Am title with High Class and Audi, and now make their first Kyalami start together. It will be a particularly special moment for South African native Patterson who cut his teeth racing in America before competing in GT and sports-prototype categories around the world.
FERRARI – 2x 488 GT3
Championship: 2nd (42pts) | IGTC entries: 2x Pro
AF Corse – Francorchamps Motors spearhead Ferrari’s IGTC challenge for the second successive race after claiming pole position at Indianapolis. However, the 488 GT3 needs a similar performance to the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa where Come Ledogar, Nicklas Nielsen and Alessandro Pier Guidi scored a famous victory if it is to beat Audi in both title battles.
Its driver crews undoubtedly have the talent. Indeed, Pier Guidi is on the cusp of capping an incredible 2021 campaign in which he won two 24-hour classics – Le Mans and Spa – as well as the FIA WEC and Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance drivers’ crowns. He shared the latter with Ledogar and Nielsen, himself a Le Mans class winner last year, and would dearly love to add Ferrari’s first-ever IGTC triumph to its storied list of achievements. As such, the first priority is to beat Sainteloc and WRT’s Pro entries.
The second Pro crew cannot win the drivers’ crown but still has a significant role to play in both championships. For starters, and without factoring in Audi’s results, Ferrari must win and finish no lower than fourth to have any chance of bridging the initial 36-point deficit. Alessio Rovera, Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina could also be a useful buffer for their championship chasing co-drivers.
Dig deeper and there are good omens to be found in former glories, for the Kyalami 9 Hour has been a happy hunting ground for Ferrari where its eight victories to date are a joint record with Porsche. A ninth, and first since Clay Regazzoni and Arturo Merzario shared the winning 312PB in 1972, is imperative to any chance Maranello might have of denying Audi this year’s manufacturers’ crown.
MERCEDES-AMG – 2x GT GT3
Championship: 3rd (34pts) | IGTC entries: 1x Pro, 1x Pro-Am
Mercedes-AMG is unable to win this year’s manufacturers’ title but does have one outside bet for the drivers’ crown: Timur Boguslavskiy.
Craft-Bamboo’s withdrawal prevents Dani Juncadella from also challenging, although only victory would have sufficed given his 19-point deficit.
Instead, the responsibility now solely rests with Boguslavskiy who shares AKKA ASP’s entry with factory stars Jules Gounon and Raffaele Marciello. The latter finished second at Indy alongside the title-chasing Russian who could now, mathematically at least, snatch the crown by scoring the same result at Kyalami. He starts 15 points behind Ledogar/Nielsen/Pier Guidi.
This entry also highlights a vaguely interesting but mostly inconsequential stat: AKKA ASP team boss Jerome Policand won the South African event, albeit in its post-nine-hour guise, as a driver in 1998 before Gounon’s father, Jean-Marc, triumphed the following year.
SunEnergy1 regulars Kenny Habul, Martin Konrad and Mikael Grenier complete Mercedes-AMG’s IGTC nominations. This entry is competing for the event’s Pro-Am class honours against High Class Racing as well as IGTC Pro-Am Challenge points in an effort to overhaul current leaders Inception Racing whose Daytona commitments have prevented it from attending Kyalami.
LOCAL ENTRIES ADD VARIETY
The wider entry list includes several teams and drivers usually found in the burgeoning SA GT Racing Series. Some will only contest the opening hour while others continue for the full duration.
One of the latter, Stradale Into Africa, features the first all-black African driver crew to ever contest the Joburg Kyalami 9 Hour. An important milestone will have been reached, as well as history made, when the Lamborghini shared by Xolile Letlaka, Tschops Sipuka and Phillip Kekana takes the green flag at 13:00 SAST on Saturday.
Theirs is one of three local entries scheduled to contest the full duration. Three more – entered by Scuderia Scribante and MJR Motorsport, and featuring just one driver each – will peel off after the first 60 minutes.
JOBURG KYALAMI 9 HOUR TIMETABLE (SAST, GMT +2)
Thursday 3 February
10:10 – 12:10: Test 1
14:35 – 16:35: Test 2
18:50 – 20:20: Free Practice/Night Practice
Friday 4 February
10:35 – 12:20: Pre-Qualifying
15:30 – 16:30: Qualifying (Q1-3)
18:00 – 18:25: Superpole (top-eight)
Saturday 5 February
13:00 – 22:00: Race