Tears for Honda, Bentley; joy for BMW as van der Linde adds 9 Hour win to DTM success
There were tears of joy and of despair at Kyalami on Saturday. Sheldon van der Linde’s BMW M6 emerged from a treacherous Highveld thunderstorm to win the Jo’burg Kyalami 9 Hour. The win handed an unlikely 2020 Intercontinental GT championship to his teammates Augusto Farfus and Nick Catsburg. They raced the whole season together, while DTM race winner Sheldon joined them at Kyalami.
Audi R8 trio Frederic Vervisch, Mirko Bortolotti and Charles Weerts came home second. Matt Campbell, Patrick Pilet and Mathieu Jaminet sealed the ICGT Manufacturers’ crown for Porsche in third. The race ended behind the safety car following a full course yellow for the the final hour. It started dramatically, too.
DRAMA AT THE START, MORE AT THE FINISH
Pole-sitting Mario Farnbacher, Renger van der Zande and Bertrand Baguette’s Honda NSX held off the Jordan Pepper’s Bentley and van der Linde BMW into Turn 1. But the Audi R8s of Marcus Winkelhock and Denis Marschall and Oliver Jarvis’ Bentley tangled at Sunset to bring out the safety car. Title contender Winkelhock limped back and lost three laps in the pits. The dominant Honda then controlled the pace from the front from there, with an intriguing battle in the chasing pack.
A second yellow period to extricate the Marschall Audi from the Esses kitty litter following its second contretemps came as most cars took their first stops after an hour. The top three continued to dominate until the first real drama of the day when Pepper handed the second-placed Bentley over to Gunon on its second stop. The car seemed to struggle as emerged from the pits smoking, before catching fire and coming to a fiery stop in the bowl. The gutted Bathurst 12 Hour winning trio’s title hopes were over.
From there, the Honda controlled the race with the BMW a consistent threat. Patric Niederhauser’s Audi however moved up to second and closed down to within two seconds of the Honda at a point, with Campbell’s Porsche flying in third as he set a new 1m42.021s. lap record. The had race started in searing heat, but the wind soon picked up and a dark front had threatened rain around the two hour mark. It only mustered a few drops. That was however merely foreplay for what was to follow.
HONDA DOMINATED THE 9 HOUR FROM THE FRONT
A second storm front arrived around sunset and it started raining at the seven and a half hour mark. The Honda had led all the way until that point, when Alex Buncombe’s remaining Bentley spun at the end of the straight. That brought out the first of a series of full course yellows and safety car periods. The Honda continued to lead until the eight hour mark, when Mattia Drudi’s red Car Collection Audi once again embedded itself in the sand to call another yellow flag period.
There was another yellow period when the second Bentley spun and stalled as the storm hit full strength. The BMW team was first to react to the deluge, which soon saw the rest pits for wet tyres. Unlike its rivals however, the leading Honda crew opted against also refuelling. That leeft no option but for the NSX to stop again for a full service before the finish, still under full course yellows. The full course yellows prevented the Honda crew from attacking or passing as the field circulated at a set speed delta. The leading BMW and the second placed Audi meanwhile ran close together, some way ahead.
The third-placed Porsche had bounced around the order all afternoon after an unscheduled pitstop for a cut tyre left it out of sequence. But it was well placed to steal that championship defining third when the rain came. The dominant Honda came home fourth — an undeserved result after dominating eight of the nine hours. Only to be caught out by pit stop strategy ahead of a full course yellow flag run to the finish. The
A THUNDERSTORM DECIDED THE RACE. AGAIN.
Niederhauser, Haase and Drudi Audi had challenged the Honda earlier but a late spin in that torrential dropped it back to fifth. The second Tomcyzk Pittard Yelloly BMW M6 ended up sixth ahead of title contenders Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor’s Porsche. They and Kevin Estre had driven into contention, but their hopes were dashed by a lengthy stop to mend a cracked splitter.
Kelvin van der Linde, Markus Winkelhock and Dries Vantoor eventually ended eighth after their first lap drama. Ahead of the similarly troubled Alex Buncombe, Oliver Jarvis and Seb Morris’ Bentley. And local crew Saul Hak, Andre Benzuidenhout and Dylan Pereira in a Porsche.
The Kyalami 9 Hour returns for its third ICGT title finale on 3 December 2021. While thrilled by the prospect, local pundits question the timing of a championship decider at a time when thunderstorms are likely to interfere with the racing. And have now done so two years on the trot. Surely a race run, or perhaps even starting at a time less likely to be so affected, would be a better racing solution than he gamble the weather has made the 9 Hour of late…?