The Kyalami 9 Hour, the final round of the 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge, was won by the #31 Frikadelli Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R driven by Nick Tandy, Mathieu Jaminet and Dennis Olsen in a race that saw everything from blue skies and bright sunshine to heavy rain and lightning.
Finishing second overall was the #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 piloted by Christian Krognes, Mikkel Jensen and Nicky Catsburg.
The overall podium was completed by the #20 GPX Racing Porsche crewed by Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre.
Victory for the #31 Porsche meant that Dennis Olsen wins the Intercontinental GT Challenge drivers title for 2019, 37 years after the previous running of 9 Hour at the historic South African circuit.
There was huge disappointment for Maxi Buhk, who led the drivers standings going into the final round, when an electrical problem took the #999 GruppeM Mercedes out at the race start.
Porsche won the manufacturers title with the #31 and #20 911 GT3 Rs finishing first and third.
Victory in the Silver Cup category was taken by the #9 Lechner Racing Porsche driven by Saul Hack, Lars Kern and Dylan Pereira while Pro-Am class honours went to the #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 piloted by Dominik Baumann, Christina Nielsen and Adrian Henry D’Silva.
Dennis Olsen, piloting the #31 GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, led the 28-car grid away in pole position as disaster struck the #999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by drivers standings leader Maxi Buhk came to halt seconds after the start. Buhk slowed and came to a halt to be pushed behind the barrier, the disconsolate driver, who expected to be crowned drivers champion, walking way from the stricken vehicle.
After three laps, Porsche held the top three positions with Kevin Estre in the #20 GPX Racing entry chasing Dennis Olsen with Laurens Vanthoor in the #12 Dinamic Motorsport entry in third.
GruppeM received word that is was allowed to recover Buhk’s car but the car was retired with a suspected electrical problem after less than 15 minutes run, leaving the drivers championship wide open for the remaining eight hours 43 minutes.
Estre in the #20 Porsche took the lead on Lap 19 and started to pull out a gap to Dennis Olsen, Lauren Vanthoor setting fastest lap as he started to close the gap to second place.
After the first of the pit stops had circled through, the #107 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT3 driven by Jordan Pepper led the field with Gary Paffett in the #44 Mercedes in second, the two teams having opted not to change tyres for a quicker stop.
With 55 laps run, problems struck Marco Bonanomi in the #30 Honda Team Motul Honda NSX GT3. Smoke was seen trailing from the back of the #30 car and Bonanomi brought it into the garage for investigation. Five minutes of work revealed a terminal problem and the car was retired.
After two hours of racing, Jordan Pepper continued to lead with Richard Lietz in the #20 Porsche 16.634b seconds behind. The first of the Silver Cup category was the #22 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari F488 GT3 driven by Leonard Weiss, Jochen Krumbach and David Perel while the #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes led in the Am Cup class.
With 88 laps run the #13 Stradala Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 driven by Dawie Joubert had an off-track excursion, making heavy contact with the barrier at Mineshaft. The race was neutralised with a Full Course Yellow and remained so for 15 minutes before the Safety Car was called in and racing resumed. The bulk of the field took the opportunity to pit.
There was drama at the restart with Christian Vautier in the #44 Mercedes going off at Crowthorne and making contact with Nick Tandy’s #31 Porsche in the ensuing scramble to make up places.
A further Full Course Yellow was required after Vautier went off with a braking issue, causing damage to the tyre barrier that required extensive repair.
Racing resumed with just under five and a half hours remaining and Michael Christensen, at the wheel of the #20 Porsche, immediately getting on the pace to pull out a gap to Nick Tandy in the #31 car. In the scramble for the lead, Christian Krognes in the #34 BMW saw an opportunity and passed the Porsche driver to take second.
Tandy regained second place but drove into the back of Michael Christensen on lap 136 when Christensen slowed for back-markers and Tandy misjudged his braking. Both cars spun onto the grass but got back underway. The incident was investigated by the stewards. Both cars pitted at the end of the lap for checks with Tandy’s #31 car being served with a drive-through penalty.
The race was neutralised again after Andy Soucek’s #108 Bentley shed bodywork over the circuit.
As the race approached the final three hours the battle at the front remained close. Kevin Estre in the #20 Porsche led Luca Stolz in the #10 Mercedes-AMG Team SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes. Mikkel Jensen, behind the wheel of the #34 BMW completed the top three, just over 3.3 seconds behind the #10 car. The weather, that had threatened rain, continued warm and dry although lightning was causing concern for some teams.
Leading the Silver Cup class was the #6 BLACK FALCON Mercedes with the #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes at the head of the Pro-Am category.
The rain finally arrived with just under two and a half hours remaining as a Full Course Yellow was called after Rodrigo Baptista had an incident in the #108 Bentley. Barrier damage meant that the stop was going to be a lengthy one as the rain began to fall harder.
The heavy rain, resulting in standing water on the track, meant that the field circulated behind the Safety Car for a considerable time before racing resumed with just 25 minutes remaining. Yelmer Buurman was behind the wheel of the leading #19 Mercedes with Richard Lietz charged with bringing the #20 Porsche home for GPX Racing.
Nick Tandy was back in the #31 Porsche with Nicky Catsburg hot on his heels in the #34 BMW.
Lietz took the lead on lap 248 with Buurman dropping back to fourth but Tandy in the #31 Porsche pushed hard to pass Lietz, securing teammate Dennis Olsen’s drivers title if the race finished in that order.
Catsburg moved into second with less than 10 minutes remaining and immediately set about chasing down Nick Tandy, the Dutch driver lapping nearly two seconds quicker than the race leader. Tandy responded, however, and the gap remained at nearly seven seconds as the minutes counted down to the chequered flag.
“That was the longest nine hours of my life! I have a pulse watch and it never went below 100 throughout the race. Thank you to everybody here – everybody has done the best job possible. Thank you to Porsche, thank you to Frikadelli, thank you to my teammates. This is for everybody!”
The 2020 Intercontinental GT Challenge gets underway at Bathurst on February 1 – 2.
All results are provisional.