9 Hour

Recalling SA’s favourite race on the eve of its Kyalami return

A Franschhoek Motor Museum initiative

“The hooter blasts, the flag drops and the hush explodes into a deafening crescendo as a horde of cars embarks on an endurance test of man and machine second to none. “Lasting three-quarters of the way around the clock, the atmosphere is electric as this tremendously popular race vies with the Grand Prix as South Africa’s ultimate.

“Racing against the clock from a massed start with speedy pitstops and feverish activity, both in the harshness of the day and the eeriness of the dark make for unsurpassed spectacle. “It is amazing how a quite conventional machine by day, can turn into an awesome, unearthly entity by night.

“The element of danger adds tension, this is not a race for faint hearts. “They promise that the pleasure of all things increases with the very danger they should repel. “That is why these are the most colourful, exciting, atmosphere-filled motor races imaginable.”

9 Hour
Stormy 1966 9 Hour night stop

That is the essence of the 9 Hour race

Thus, great scribe Ken Stewart’s grappled with the 9 Hour race in his epic book, Sun on the Grid, the default reference on pre-70 South African motorsport.

The 9 Hour was never just a sports car race. The 9 Hour race was also responsible for what would become South Africa’s incredible production car racing legacy. While the sports and GT cars stole the headlines, the allure of watching the same car you or your dad drove in, dicing against the fastest cars in the world, proved a huge attraction.

So, not only did the 9 Hour return premier motorsport to South Africa for the first time since World War 2, but it also saw to it that production car racing became the cornerstone of the local racing scene.

It all started 65 years ago in 1958, when the Sports Car Club planned the ultimate race at Grand Central, alongside the airfield in Halfway House, Midrand. It was to be the greatest racing challenge, commencing in the heat of the day and racing for nine straight hours into the dark of night.

9 Hour
Start of the first 9 Hour in 1958

First 9 Hour attracted the cream of the crop

That first race drew the cream of the South African crop racing. Everything from a Mille Miglia Ferrari to Porsches, Jaguars, and Mercedes, to humble Fiats, Fords and Goggomobils. Ian Fraser Jones and Chris Fergusson’s Porsche 356 Carrera won from Rhodesians John Love and George Pfaff’s Healey. There was a shock in third as the Pieterse brothers fended off an exotic pack in their humble Alfa Romeo Giulietta TI.

The die was set. Not only did the supercars impress, but everyday family cars stunned to set the 9 Hour race apart as something truly special in South African motorsport. Chris Fergusson went on to win again alongside Huge Carrington in a proudly South African Dart in 1959, from Sarel van der Merwe senior and Izak van Heerden’s Porsche 356 Speedster, with a gaggle of Alfas and Volvos in the top ten

John Love and Dr Dawie Gous’ Porsche RS Spyder won the next two 9 Hour races. They beat Ernest Pieterse and Gene Bosman’s Lotus 23 Alfa at Grand Central in 1960 as Tony Woodley and Mike de Beer won Index in their Goggomobil. And love and Gous won the 9 Hour again at Kyalami’s first ever race meeting in 1961 from Nick Kingwill and Bruce Johnstone’s David and Goliath Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

9 Hour
David Piper won seven 9 Hours. This is 1963

It became an international affair

The 9 Hour became an increasingly international race as it progressed. David Piper and Bruce Johnstone won the 1962 race overall and on index in their Ferrari 250 GTO from Bob Olthoff and Tony Maggs’ Austin-Healey 3000, with Peter Markham and Basil van Rooyen’s Volvo 122 S sixth. In 63’ Piper and Tony Maggs won both categories again in the Ferrari 250 GTO from Olthoff and Frank Gardner’s Shelby Cobra, with Collin Burford and Phil Porter’s Renault R8 a giant-killing forth.

Piper made it three in a row with Maggs in his Ferrari 250 LM in’ 64 from Love and Peter de Klerk’s 250 GTO. Arnold Chatz and Scamp Porter’s Renault R8 came home an incredible fourth overal. George Armstrong and top SA lady driver Pat Sonnenschein’s Mini Cooper S won Index. Piper then took his fifth win on the trot alongside Dickie Attwood in his Ferrari 365 P2/3. From Peter Sutcliffe and Innes Ireland’s Ford GT40 in ’65.

Piper made it six in a row with Attwood in the 365 P2/3 in ’66, from Peter Clarke and Rollo Fielding’s Ferrari 275 LM, as Dirk Marais and Frank Wingels Volvo 122S took Index. It took Jacky Ickx and the Mirage Ford to stop Piper with double Kyalami 9 Hour wins. He and Brian Redman beat Paul Hawkins and John Love’s Lola T70 Chev in 1967. And Ickx and David Hobbs beat Tony Dean and Basil van Rooyen’s Ferrari Dino 206 in ’68. Chatz and Spencer Schultze’s Volvo took Index.

Regazzoni hands over to Merzario, 1972

Ferrari made the race its own

David Piper switched to a Porsche 917 to take his final 9 Hour victory alongside Dickie Atwood in 1969. They beat Frank Gardner and Mike d’Udy’s Lola T70. A typical 9 Hour thunderstorm allowed Scamp Porter and Geoff Mortimer’s Renault Gordini to snatch fourth and the Index win. Ferrari sent a factory 512M for Jacky Ickx and Iganzio Giunti in 1970. It set the fastest ever 9 Hour average speed as it demolished Jo Siffert and Kurt Ahrens’ Porsche 917.

Ferrari was back with a pair of 312PBs in 1971, and ’72. Clay Regazzoni and Brian Redman beat Ickx and Mario Andretti in ‘71. Regazzoni won again with Arturo Merzario in ’72, ahead of Gerry Birrell and Jochen Mass, and John Hine’s Chevron B23s. Jan Hettema and Willie Vlok’s 7th placed Ford Escort BDA won on Index

Reinhold Joest and Herbert Muller won the final original Kyalami 9 Hour in their Porsche 908/3 in 1973 from Derek Bell and James Hunt’s Gulf Mirage. Cris Swanepoel and Louis Cloete’s Toyotas Cotona won on Index. The fuel crisis saw the ’74 race shortened to 6 hours. Gerard Larrousse and Henri Pescarolo’s screaming V12 Matra Simca MS670C won. The race was later changed to a 1000 km format.

1981 9 Hour

The 9 Hour returned in the early-‘80s

The classic Sports, GT and touring car 9 Hour format returned after seven years in 1981. Reinhold Joest and Jochen Mass’ 936 led a Porsche 1-2-3. Robbi Smith and Brian Cook’s BMW 530 was a fine fifth overall. Dick Sorensen and Barry Flowers won Index in a Datsun 160Z.

Ickx and Mass to lead a Porsche top six from Derek Bell and Vern Schuppan, in ’81. Paddy Driver and Wayne Taylor’s Mazda Rotary ended 8th. Maurizio Bianco and Serge Damseaux’s Group 1 Alfa Romeo GTV6 2500 won Index.

That was the last of the great original 9 Hours. Race formats changed before the old Kyalami was ripped up. Other 9 Hour races included production car and SA Endurance races at Killarney over the years. And retro events at Kyalami. The 9 Hour has since returned to Kyalami as a round of the GT-only Intercontinental Challenge.

2020 GT3 9 Hour

GT3 9 Hours have thrilled

The GT3 9 hours have delivered some scintillating races in typical style with traditional thunderstorms adding to some thrilling results. Dennis Olsen and Mathieu Jaminet’s Porsche 911 beat Mikkel Jensen, Nicky Catsburg and Christian Krognes BMW M6 to a dramatic 2018 win

Raffaele Marciello, Timur Boguslavski and Jules Gounon’s Mercedes-AMG GT beat Alessandro Pier Guidi, Come Ledogar and Miguel Molina’s Ferrari 488. Kelvin van der Linde was best of the locals third in his Audi R8. Brother Sheldon van der Linde, Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus’ BMW M6 GT3 won the lockdown delated 2022 race. They beatFrederic Vervisch, Mirko Bortolotti, and Charles Weerts’ Audi R8 and Matt Campbell, Patrick Pilet and Mathieu Jaminet’s Porsche.

The Kyalami 9 Hour returns this weekend. Sheldon van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts, and Philipp Eng, Augusto Farfus, and Maxime Martin’s M4s will defend BMW’s Kyalami 9 Hour title. They take on Mattia Drudi, Ricardo Feller and Patric Niederhauser’s Audi R8. And Mercedes-AMG GT3 crew Maro Engel, Mikael Grenier and Raffaele Marciello to beat. See you at Kyalami!

This Auto Classic Feature is a Franschhoek Motor Museum Initiative
The Franschhoek Motor Museum has a regular display of significant cars, articles, and memorabilia on display including several of South Africa’s significant Formula 1, Formula Atlantic and indeed the Formula South Africa eras. Visit www.fmm.co.za to learn more and plan your next visit.

Tagged with: