***SunEnergy1 Racing’s Kenny Habul and Jules Gounon maintained their overall lead in the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli drivers’ championship by scoring third place outright points and the Pro-Am class win in the Kyalami 9 Hour. The Bronze-rated driver, who won the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour overall with Gounon, now hold a three-point advantage over WRT’s Sheldon van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts, who combined to claim overall honors on Saturday.
***The points haul came despite the No. 75 SunEnergy1 by SPS Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo, shared by Yannick Mettler in the South African enduro, finished fifth on the road, as the pair of Tresor Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo IIs were not eligible to score IGTC points. Habul, Gounon and Mettler also had the highest-placed Mercedes in the race.
***It will mark the second consecutive season the U.S.-based Australian heads into the 24 Hours of Spa as the overall points leader. “We’ll do Spa in Pro!” Habul joked post-race.
***Gounon told Sportscar365 that he was “a bit scared” about the car’s gearbox in the closing stint because it became “very noisy” although he managed to bring it to the checkered flag without drama. “I don’t know if it was because I was just paranoid because we had a big lead and a two-lap advantage in Pro-Am,” he said.
***Gounon added: “I think Kenny did a fantastic job on his two stints. He was clearly the quickest amateur and even at the pace of some Silvers. Yannick did a very good job. The Pro-Am class win is cool and leaving Kyalami as the leader in the IGTC standings is a great feeling.”
***BMW scored its second overall Kyalami 9 Hour victory following Walkenhorst Motorsport’s triumph in the 2020 race that also featured van der Linde in the driving lineup and had been the most recent IGTC victory by the German manufacturer. “Every time I race in my home country, it seems to go fantastically well,” the South African said. “I have been here three times now and have finished on the podium each time – and won twice.”
***WRT, which scored a 1-2 finish with the No. 33 car of Augusto Farfus, Maxime Martin and Philipp Eng coming home in second, picked up its first IGTC win since the 2019 Suzuka 10 Hours, a race that Vanthoor was also part of the driving strength. Its Kyalami win came after claiming top overall honors in January’s 24H Dubai, in what was its first race with the M4 GT3.
***BMW M Motorsport boss Andreas Roos said: “It is impressive to see how quickly the new member of our BMW M Motorsport family has reached such a high level with the BMW M4 GT3 that it has been able to win two of the first three races. I hope this strong run with the BMW M4 GT3 at the start of this season will continue into the coming months and that we will have even more cause for celebration.”
***With the sweep of the top two positions, BMW is now tied with Mercedes-AMG for the lead of the IGTC manufacturer’s championship.
***The race, which had run caution-free for eight-and-a-half hours, was on track to secure a new GT3-era distance record until the No. 86 Stradale Motorsport Mercedes of Arnold Neveling spun into a gravel trap to bring out a Full Course Yellow. The neutralization turned into a safety car period. The top three cars completed 306 laps, one lap shy of the record set by the Akkodis-ASP Mercedes of Gounon, Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy in last year’s postponed 2021 season finale.
***GruppeM Racing’s Marciello, Maro Engel and Mikael Grenier salvaged seventh place IGTC points after gearbox issues impacted their race just prior to the halfway mark. Engel and Grenier completed nearly two hours of the race using only third, fourth and fifth gears in their No. 999 Mercedes and successfully reached the 70 percent race distance mark to score points.
***It came after the Mercedes battled electrical gremlins all weekend, including a non-functional transponder and radio issues for Grenier, who briefly returned to the track in the final hour after the car spent nearly 90 minutes in the garage.
***The car, which started on pole, struggled for pace in the opening hours , which Marciello attributed to a pre-race Balance of Performance change. “The race was decided on paper before the weekend,” he told pit lane reporter Amanda Busick. “It’s a pity because we just want a fair battle and if you go speak with the Audi and BMW guys, it’s the same.”
***The two Attempto Audis, which had a late commitment to Kyalami, shared the same refueling rig in the race, which put the cars on different strategies. The German squad had a trouble-free run except for a pit lane penalty for the No. 99 car and an off-course excursion by Alex Aka in the closing stages of the race.
***Nine of the ten cars that were scheduled to go the full distance were classified, with the GruppeM Mercedes the only car, along with the No. 80 MJR Motorsport Audi, that failed to get to the finish.
***The No. 3 NGK Pablo Clark Racing Mercedes of Mikaeel Pitamber won the Kyalami Supercup race-within-a-race, which concluded at the one-hour mark for three entries.
***SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO Stephane Ratel revealed that they had hoped for up to eight additional local entries, which would have competed in the Supercup, although it did not materialize for unknown reasons.
***Ratel said on the future of the event: “We’re going to continue working hard on it. Maybe the mistake we made was to try to be here during the pandemic. Many international series stayed home. We wanted to continue going around the world. It’s now been three difficult editions. I’m not alone to decide [the future]. We have an event promoter and the circuit but I think the general feeling and intention is to try to continue because it’s a unique event with a huge heritage and we have to make it work.”
***Ratel indicated to Sportscar365 that he’s still working on a revival of the Suzuka 10 Hours, with SRO waiting on a decision from the Honda Mobilityland-owned circuit on how it would proceed with its traditional summer endurance race, which has not been held since 2019 due to COVID-19.
***Kyalami likely marked the final IGTC race with Pirelli’s first-generation DHF tire according to the manufacturer’s technical manager Matteo Braga, who confirmed to Sportscar365 that an updated version of the tire, featuring a new cushioning system to help better support extreme loads, will be utilized in European races this season, prior to a rollout in North America and Asia once its 2022 stock of the original DHF runs out.