Kelvin van der Linde took the chequered flag in the #25 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS he shared with Dries Vanthoor and Frederic Vervisch to win the BH Auction SMBC Suzuka 10 Hours, the #25 car finishing 40.367 seconds ahead of the #999 Mercedes-AMG team GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 crewed by Maro Engel, Raffaele Marciello and Maxi Buhk, Marciello taking the final stint.
The victory marked the debut win in Japan for the Ingolstadt marque.
The overall podium positions were completed by the #912 Absolute Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R piloted by Dirk Werner, Dennis Olsen and, taking the final stint, Matt Campbell
Victory in the Silver Cup class went to the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 crewed by Kenny Habul, Nico Bastian and Mikael Grenier with the #37 Callaway Competition with Bingo Racing Callaway Corvette C7 GT3 taking second place in the category.
The #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes took Pro-Am honours, the #43 car driven by Christian Nielsen, Adrian Henry D’Silva and Dominik Baumann while victory in the Am Cup class went Atsushi Sato, Ryosei Yamashita and Norio Kubo in the #112 SATO-SS SPORTS Mercedes.
Moving into the second half of the race, Nick Cassidy, at the wheel of the #27 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari F488 GT3, had an off-track excursion on Lap 162, resulting in a Full Course Yellow, possibly as a result of a suspension failure caused by the earlier contact with #98 Arrows racing Acura. Cassidy was unhurt and quickly out of the car and, with the #27 Ferrari recovered to the circuit, got back in and drove the badly damaged bar back to the garage.
“I lost the rear and crashed,” said a disappointed Nick Cassidy, after the incident. “It was my first ever crash in GT and my first ever shunt in Japan in the last five years.”
Racing resumed with three hours 44 minutes remaining with Kelvin van der Linde in the leading #25 Team WRT Audi immediately starting to pull out a gap to Christopher Mies in the #125 Absolute Racing Audi. Matt Campbell in the #912 Porsche was third, the Australian driver making contact with a Nissan as he drove through traffic.
With the field compacted after the Safety Car, traffic enabled Maro Engel in the #999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes to pass Campbell in the #912 Porsche for third place. Campbell then fell back into the clutches of Maxi Goetz in the #77 Mercedes and Martin Tomcyzck in the #42 BMW.
At the front, van der Linde continued to pull out an advantage and, after 172 laps, was nearly 20 seconds ahead of Mies in the #125 Audi.
As the race moved into the final three hours, van der Linde had extended his gap at the front to over 30 seconds over the now-second placed #35 KCMG Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, Tsugio Matsuda at the wheel. Martin Tomczyck in the #42 BMW was a further 12 seconds behind in third but was being pushed hard by Jordan Pepper in the #107 Bentley Team M-Sport.
Two further stops were required by most of the field in the final 180 minutes, the leading #25 Audi being the first to pit, van der Linde handing over to Frederic Vervisch. With the #25 Audi consistently lapping quicker than the rest of the field, Vervisch quickly took the Team WRT entry back into the lead.
After the penultimate stops had occurred, Tristan Vautier in the #44 Mercedes-AMG Strakka Racing the last to stop of the front runners, Dries Vanthoor in the #25 Audi remained at the front with Markus Winkelhock in the #125 Absolute Racing Audi in second, just under 30 seconds behind. The #999 GruppeM Racing BMW, now with Raffaele Marciello at the wheel, was third, nearly 11 seconds behind.
The best on-track battle, with one hour 18 minutes remaining, was for fifth place, Yelmer Buurman in the #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 coming under pressure from Augusto Farfus in the #42 Team Schnitzer BMW with Josh Burdon, piloting the #35 KCMG Nissan, just over half a second behind the Brazilian driver.
The first of the final pit stops started with 65 minutes left to race, the maximum driver stint length permitted under the sporting regulations, with the #912 Porsche, the #42 BMW and the #35 Nissan all stopping on their 244th lap.
Dries Vanthoor pitted the #25 Audi with just over 50 minutes remaining, handing over van de Linde, but lost some time with slow stop. However the #125 Audi also lost a significant amount of time due to a refueling issue and Christopher Haase, who took the car over from Marcus Winkelhock, dropped down the order to ninth.
With the #44 Mercedes-AMG team Strakka Racing Mercedes taking a later stop, Lewis Williamson found himself in the lead with a gap of just over 21 seconds to van der Linde in the #25 Audi. Williamson pitted with 41 minutes remaining.
As the race clock counted down to inside the final 390 minutes, Kelvin van der Linde led with a gap of over 32 seconds to Raffaele Marciello, driving the #999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes. Matt Campbell held the final podium position in the #912 Absolute Racing Porsche with Maxi Goetz 4.355 seconds back in the #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Mercedes.
With 18 minutes remaining, there was talk that a number of cars, including the leading #25, might have to make stops to repair regulated lighting panels. However, no further action was taken.
Matsuda in the #35 Nissan made an audacious pass on the #107 Bentley Team M-Sport entry with Jordan Pepper at the wheel down, finally making the pass stick going into Turn One to move into P6.
As the final minutes counted down, van der Linde maintained his lead to take the overall victory by over 40 seconds from Raffaele Marciello in the #999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes.
The final round of the 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge takes place at Kyalami on November 21 – 23.
All results are provisional.