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Intercontinental GT Challenge

ASP Mercedes Wins Kyalami 9H as Ferrari Drivers Seal Title

AKKA-ASP wins Kyalami 9H as Ferrari’s Pier Guidi, Ledogar earn IGTC drivers’ title…

Photo: SRO

Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA-ASP dominated the Joburg Kyalami 9 Hour while Ferrari drivers Alessandro Pier Guidi and Come Ledogar finished second to secure the 2021 Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli drivers’ title.

Jules Gounon, Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy converted pole to victory in the IGTC season finale, which took place two months later than originally planned after its December date was thwarted by the arrival of the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant.

Gounon crossed the finish line 15.6 seconds ahead of Pier Guidi in the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 that the Italian and Ledogar shared with Miguel Molina.

It was a commanding run for the AKKA-ASP team, which only dropped out of the lead when off-sequence pit stops enabled AF Corse to hit the front.

Despite being unable to challenge the Mercedes-AMG’s outright pace, Ferrari ended the day with two drivers’ champions while Audi Sport clinched a fourth IGTC manufacturers’ title after its Italian rival only saw one of its cars reach the checkered flag.

Pier Guidi and Ledogar arrived in South Africa with a two-point advantage over Markus Winkelhock, Patric Niederhauser and Christopher Haase who contested the race in different Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evos.

Ferrari also split up its crews, with Nicklas Nielsen moving over to the No. 71 entry.

The Audi Sport Team Sainteloc trio of Winkelhock, Niederhauser and Kelvin van der Linde rounded out the Kyalami podium, 25 seconds and five points behind the champions.

In the manufacturers’ stakes, Ferrari needed to finish first and second but those hopes were dashed after three and a half hours when Nielsen pulled the No. 71 car to one side with a driveshaft issue.

At the start of the race — which was contested by only eight IGTC entries and 13 starters in total — Marciello led away from the AF Corse Ferraris with the factory-supported Audis in tow.

AF Corse elected to roll its cars through the pits at the end of the first hour, resetting each car’s stint and putting the Ferrari contingent off-sequence on strategy.

This meant that when the main pack pitted as standard at the end of the second hour, the Ferraris took a turn at the head of the field up until their later services occurred.

The only Full Course Yellow of the event, caused by an Audi R8 LMS GT4 stopping at pit entry shortly before the three-hour mark, interrupted the early strategy developments.

AKKA-ASP used the FCY to perform a stint clock reset with Gounon at the wheel, while AF Corse brought its cars closer to the conventional top-of-the-hour pit cycle.

ASP’s move kept Gounon in the lead and ensured he would pit mid-hour rather than at the end of each hour. He remained out front after the safety car retreated, while Pier Guidi and Nielsen each worked past WRT’s Mattia Drudi for second and third.

Shortly after, Nielsen pulled the No. 71 Ferrari to one side, dashing Ferrari’s manufacturer title hopes.

The Mercedes-AMG and the remaining No. 51 Ferrari then took turns to lead from three hours onwards, courtesy of AKKA-ASP pitting a few laps later off-sequence.

However, AKKA-ASP always held the net advantage because after making its mid-hour stops, the Mercedes-AMG team continued to run ahead of the Ferrari.

Boguslavskiy did well to keep Ledogar three seconds adrift in the fifth hour, before Marciello stepped in and raising the difference to 16 seconds.

AKKA-ASP returned to a more conventional pit rhythm in the seventh hour when Marciello rolled through the pits to reset the stint clock, before handing the lead car over to Gounon who completed a near two-hour double stint to secure the victory.

While AF Corse lost touch to AKKA-ASP, Audi dropped off the tail of the No. 51 Ferrari.

WRT and Sainteloc traded third place in the penultimate hour, with Haase overtaking Niederhauser only to spin off the track at Barbeque a few moments later.

Haase reduced the gap to Niederhauser in the closing stint but ultimately settled for fourth along with his WRT driving partners Drudi and Charles Weerts.

Lucas Legeret, Nicolas Baert and Simon Gachet completed the top five in Sainteloc Racing’s privateer Audi, which was the only entry in the Silver Cup class.

They were the least delayed of the non-Pro IGTC cars, all three of which made trips to their garages to solve issues at various points in the race.

Sainteloc finished one lap ahead of the WRT-operated High Class Racing Audi which took Pro-Am honors ahead of SunEnergy1 Racing’s Mercedes-AMG.

Despite missing out on the race win due to a power steering issue, SunEnergy1 driver Kenny Habul nonetheless scooped the Intercontinental GT Pro-Am Challenge title with Mikael Grenier and Martin Konrad.

The highest-finishing National class entry was the Stradale Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo driven by Charl Arangies, Arnold Neveling and Michael van Rooyen, 29 laps down on the overall winner.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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