Renger van der Zande felt Honda was “incredibly unlucky” to miss out on winning the Kyalami 9 Hour after it led for eight hours until a rain-hit conclusion dashed its chances.
Van der Zande, Mario Farnbacher and Bertrand Baguette had controlled the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli season finale from pole position, but their No. 30 Honda NSX GT3 Evo lost its established lead during a Full Course Yellow that was brought out midway through the eighth hour as torrential rain arrived.
The front-runners including Baguette pitted for wet weather tires when the FCY period was called, while the Belgian came back in after seven laps to swap out for Farnbacher.
That second stop cemented the Honda in fourth behind Walkenhorst Motorsport, Audi Sport Team WRT and GPX Racing, all of which took their cars to the end without making another long stop.
The top three did return to the pits before the end, but only briefly to reset their drivers’ individual stint clocks which couldn’t exceed 65 minutes.
With the rain intensifying, the race was kept under controlled conditions until the finish, preventing Farnbacher from regaining the positions his car had lost in the pits.
Walkenhorst was the first team to switch to wet weather tires and came in just before the FCY which helped bring the team’s No. 34 BMW M6 GT3 of Sheldon van der Linde and new IGTC champions Augusto Farfus and Nicky Catsburg to the front of the field.
“It’s been incredibly unlucky,” van der Zande told Sportscar365.
“We wanted the race to be eight hours because we led every single lap until one hour and 20 minutes when the rain came.
“I’m still figuring out what we should have done differently. The timing from everything we had when the rain came, and everything that came after that, was just wrong.
“We made zero mistakes in the race and the pit stops, and had fast drivers. The whole management of the strategy was going very well.
“At the end, I think we have been very unlucky with the timing of the rain.
“If they had red-flagged it at eight hours and 20 minutes, we would have won. I don’t want to blame anyone; it was just very bad timing.”
Van der Zande said Honda’s long pit stop after Baguette’s short seven-lap stint under the FCY was necessary to ensure the NSX GT3 Evo had enough fuel to reach the end.
While the other front-runners spent around 68-9 seconds in the pits during their changes to wet tires, the Honda was only on pit road for 52 seconds.
Honda also needed to carry out a driver swap because Baguette would have exceeded his total drive time limit for the race if he had stayed behind the wheel.
“We still needed fuel to make it to the end,” van der Zande explained.
“Maybe we should have put someone else in the car at the pit stop before that [when the car took on wet tires]. I had time left over on the drive time to make it to the end with one and a half stints.
“We had to make a full stop, but we don’t have a crystal ball to make those decisions.
“Looking at the BMW decision, they had nothing to lose so they went for it, and that’s how they won it.”
Honda Proud of Strong Campaign Despite Result
Van der Zande and Farnbacher, who contested the first three rounds of the season with Dane Cameron, ended up fifth in the drivers’ standings but came close to causing a championship upset at Kyalami.
The positions heading into the final FCY period with Baguette in the race lead would have been sufficient for Honda’s full-season duo to seal the championship.
Despite ultimately losing out on the title, van der Zande was able to take the positives from a strong campaign for Honda Racing which finished third in the Indianapolis 8 Hour and took eighth-place points with a top-ten finish at the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
The Japanese manufacturer joined the IGTC at round two of the 2019 season, making this year its first full term in the global GT3 series.
“I have big respect for the Japanese involvement and for the JAS Motorsport people, who are building and developing the car in Italy and ran the team here,” said the Dutchman.
“They’ve just improved so much. We’ve had to learn with one car where other manufacturers [have been] in this championship for longer, and we were the newcomer with only one car.
“Every time we were right up there, to fight for the podiums with this car, even though we only had one shot with one car. Audi, Mercedes and Bentley have up to four cars sometimes, but there’s no-one else who shows up with only one car even though we did very well.
“I think that shows the mentality of this team. They have really put everything into a steep learning curve about endurance racing and how to work in this championship.
“I think we can be very proud with what we’ve achieved and how competitive we’ve become.”