Honda Racing controlled the opening half of the Kyalami 9 Hour as Bentley’s Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli title bid was dashed by its second-placed car retiring due to an engine issue.
After four and a half hours, Honda’s Renger van der Zande led from Porsche driver Mathieu Jaminet after taking over from pole-sitter Bertrand Baguette, who had extended the car’s advantage to seven seconds by the end of his second turn behind the wheel.
Baguette and van der Zande kept the challenging No. 7 M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 at bay during a lively opening two stints that saw plenty of action in the chasing pack.
However, the Bentley misfired coming out of its second pit stop and only completed part of its out-lap before Maxime Soulet parked up in retirement with smoke billowing from the engine bay.
This triggered the second Full Course Yellow period and third safety car intervention of the race. The first two safety cars occurred due to spins for the No. 8 M-Sport Bentley and the Silver Cup-class Car Collection Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo during the opening hour.
It also dashed Bentley’s title hopes after Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour winners Soulet, Jules Gounon and Jordan Pepper arrived third in the IGTC standings as the British marque’s only crew capable of winning the 2020 drivers’ championship.
Out front, Honda’s Mario Farnbacher dictated the restart at the beginning of the third hour, with Sheldon van der Linde second in the No. 34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3.
The jostling behind resulted in Matt Campbell’s GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R slipping to seventh, but the Australian made a string of overtakes to climb back up to fourth.
Campbell first squeezed past Mirko Bortolotti and David Pittard in one go at The Crocodiles before taking Laurens Vanthoor at the same spot around half an hour later.
GPX Racing’s Porsche then moved up to third as Patrick Pilet emerged from the next round of pit stops ahead of the Audi Sport Team Car Collection’s Patric Niederhauser.
At another set of stops occurring shortly before the halfway mark, both GPX and Car Collection vaulted Walkenhorst, pushing the No. 34 BMW down to fourth.
This helped put GPX drivers Pilet, Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet into a strong position for the IGTC title race after the trio arrived at Kyalami sitting second in the table.
Points leaders Vanthoor and Earl Bamber, along with their co-driver Kevin Estre, were running fifth in their Porsche at halfway behind Walkenhorst driver Augusto Farfus.
Honda’s van der Zande and Farnbacher need both Porsche factory-supported crews to finish off the podium for them to have a shot at the championship with a race victory.
The No. 32 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo was in sixth, 20 seconds off the lead, while the No. 35 Walkenhorst BMW was a further 45 second back in seventh place.
M-Sport’s No. 7 Bentley has been the only retirement out of the 12-car field so far.
The British team’s No. 8 machine is running in eighth position, with Oliver Jarvis working to reduce a 20-second gap to BMW driver Nick Yelloly.