The fight for the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli drivers’ crown has tightened following last weekend’s Suzuka 10 Hours, with a four or potentially a five-way battle shaping up for the title-deciding race in Kyalami.
A runner-up finish for the No. 999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 has seen Maxi Buhk move into the sole lead of the championship, three points ahead of co-driver Raffaele Marciello.
Frederic Vervisch, who teamed with Kelvin van der Linde and Dries Vanthoor for victory on Sunday, is now within six points of the lead, courtesy of maximum points in Japan.
Maxi Goetz, who entered Suzuka tied with Buhk for the points lead, had slipped to fourth after having been moved to Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Mercedes for the race.
Goetz sits eight points back, but two ahead of the Porsche trio of Dirk Werner, Matt Campbell and Dennis Olsen, who also remain with a realistic chance of the title.
An additional five drivers, including Maro Engel and Dries Vanthoor, still hold mathematical chances of the championship, although unlikely.
Much will depend on each manufacturer’s driver pairings for the South African finale, which have not yet been determined.
While Porsche is expected to keep its season-long trio in the same car, Head of Mercedes-AMG customer racing Stefan Wendl hinted to Sportscar365 they could make further changes after splitting Buhk and Goetz in Suzuka.
“There are so many scenarios that are on the table that could happen,” Wendl said pre-race.
“We’ll take a look at where we are in the championship, where our drivers are and to form for Kyalami the best possible driver pairing for two championships.”
Head of Audi Sport customer racing Chris Reinke said it’s “too early” to make a decision on driver lineups, although admitted that Vervisch is likely their best hope for the title.
A total of three AMG factory-supported teams will be in Kyalami, compared to two each expected from Audi and Porsche.
Bathurst 12 Hour winner Campbell, who is ten points back, has remained optimistic on his and co-drivers Olsen and Werner’s chances.
“Anything can happen,” he told Sportscar365. “There’s still one more round.
“It’s going to be tough because it will be a new circuit for all. No one’s really been there before. It will be a big challenge but it will be exciting.
“It’s a new track [for us] racing on a continent racing for most of us. I’m sure it will go down to the wire one again.”
Audi Eliminated from IGTC Manufacturers’ Race
There will be a first-time IGTC manufacturer champion crowned in Kyalami, with three-time and defending champions Audi mathematically eliminated from taking the crown.
The German manufacturer has a 44-point deficit to Mercedes-AMG, which capitalized on late-race misfortunes for the No. 125 Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo.
A refueling issue on the car’s final stop denied a likely Audi 1-2 result and maximum points in Suzuka, which would have kept its title hopes alive.
“That was a heartbreaking thing, that we had trouble getting the fuel into the car,” Reinke told Sportscar365. “It took an extra longtime and therefore they lost out on their podium finish.
“Especially as AMG inherited that very position, it was kind of a double loss. We lost it and they won it and therefore it makes a big difference [in the points].”
Porsche, which scored third and tenth-place points on Sunday, now trails Mercedes-AMG by 22 points.
A maximum of 43 points are up for grabs in South Africa, should a manufacturer place 1-2 in the title-decider.