***The Kyalami 9 Hour marks the final major endurance race of the year and the endpoint of the 2020 Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli season. All but three of the 12 cars entered have drivers capable of winning the IGTC title.
***To limit the risk of coronavirus transmission, spectators are not permitted to attend the second edition of the revived South African endurance classic as a GT3 race.
***Audi Sport Team WRT driver Charles Weerts reckons the series’ smallest-ever field of a dozen cars is unlikely to produce an uneventful contest. The GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Sprint Cup champion said: “The grid is more about quality than quantity, but it will be a very interesting race.”
***Several drivers kicked off their race week by experiencing South Africa’s impressive wildlife on safari. Bentley’s Jules Gounon was particularly pleased with the animals he encountered on a day out with his M-Sport teammates.
***This end-of-season race carries even more meaning for Bentley’s factory drivers, who are being released from their contracts at the end of 2020 as part of the manufacturer’s winding down of its GT3 program. “We have nothing more to lose and the fact that this is our last race together will increase our strength tenfold,” suggested Maxime Soulet.
***Hot weather has greeted the teams, although high humidity also raises the odds of wet conditions. “We have to expect rain at any time – last year’s severe thunderstorms are still etched in our memory,” said Porsche 911 GT3 R project manager Sebastian Golz.
***The minimum time for ‘long’ pit stops, indicating a service where a car takes on fuel and more than two tires, has been set at 68 seconds. ‘Short’ stops with no fuel added and no more than two tires changed must be completed in under 38 seconds. A one-second tolerance on these allowances can be used three times during the race.
***Drive-through penalties will be handed out after four breaches of the track limits during Saturday’s race. The count will be reset at halfway, on four and a half hours.
***The cars with the six fastest three-driver average times in qualifying – or the top half of the field – will advance to the pole position shootout. Last year the pole shootout involved the top 10 qualifiers. The number of candidates has been reduced in line with the smaller entry.
***A total of 15 drivers, or 42 percent of the grid, are contesting the Kyalami 9 Hour for the first time. The list of debutants includes Honda drivers Renger van der Zande and Mario Farnbacher, BMW’s Britons Nick Yelloly and David Pittard and the full lineup of Car Collection Motorsport’s Silver Cup Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo.
***Mayor of Johannesburg Geoff Makhubo visited Kyalami GP Circuit on Thursday. He received a tour of the paddock and a passenger hot lap in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS road car.
***The nine-hour enduro is being supported by a race for Volkswagen single-make machinery. There is also a drift competition taking place during the build-up.
***Two paid test sessions were held on Thursday ahead of Free Practice, which was led by Audi Sport Team Car Collection’s Christopher Haase. Team Perfect Circle’s Lechner Racing-run Porsche 911 GT3 R paced the first two-hour test with Dylan Pereira at the wheel. The second session saw Matt Campbell lead the way in GPX Racing’s No. 12 Porsche with the Australian setting an unofficial GT3 lap record of 1:42.697.
***Team Perfect Circle is the only South African team present this weekend. Five drivers – Kelvin van der Linde, Sheldon van der Linde, Jordan Pepper, Saul Hack and Andre Bezuidenhout – are competing in their home country’s international sports car race.
***Lechner Racing is mourning the death of its founder Walter Lechner, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 71. Under Lechner’s leadership, the team developed into a reference competitor in Porsche single-make series, winning 11 Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup teams’ titles to date and helping to produce several GT racing stars including Rene Rast and Earl Bamber, who is driving this weekend. Lechner also established the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East in 2009, providing a boost to motorsport in the Gulf region.
***Next year’s Kyalami 9 Hour date has been set for Dec. 3-4. The early December weekend is designed to give teams as much time as possible to prepare and transport their cars to Australia for the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, which is returning as the IGTC season-opener for 2022. According to SRO, it also leaves a sufficient gap ahead of Kyalami for teams also taking part in the FIA Motorsport Games on Oct. 22-24.
***Mercedes-AMG squad Haupt Racing team is looking to join the IGTC grid next year as part of its wide-ranging evaluations for programs in 2021. Team owner Hubert Haupt told Sportscar365 that appearances in “some IGTC races” are currently being targeted.
***K-PAX Racing is unlikely to return to GTWC Europe next season, according to the American team’s program manager Darren Law. K-PAX, which also contested two IGTC rounds in 2020, faced constant travel hurdles during the coronavirus pandemic to make its European debut happen. A domestic campaign next year is now the likely option.
“Until things settle down and we know we have a consistent travel program, it makes it really tough,” Law told Sportscar365. “It was great, but it was a tough year to deal with multiple piles of paperwork explaining what we’re doing with hotels and flights. I think next year it’s not going to change, so while it’s not out of the question I don’t think it’s very likely.”
***WRT is progressing with its plans to enter the LMP2 formula next year, in addition to its expected continuations in IGTC, GTWC Europe and ADAC GT Masters. The Belgian team’s director Vincent Vosse has suggested that if WRT downscaled its DTM program under the new GT3 rules, staff could be re-assigned to positions in an LMP2 squad. WRT has yet to announce its agenda for 2021 beyond a 24 Hours of Dubai entry next month.
***Kyalami is set to present an interesting title battle, with less than 10 points separating the top five sets of drivers in the standings. Dinamic Motorsport’s Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor lead GPX Racing’s Matt Campbell, Mathieu Jaminet and Patrick Pilet by a single point. Three points off the lead on 28 points are Bentley’s Jules Gounon, Maxime Soulet and Jordan Pepper. BMW pair Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus have a six-point gap to bridge, while WRT Audi driver Markus Winkelhock is currently nine points short.
***In total, nine sets of drivers can win the title. The manufacturers’ championship is less tight, with Porsche holding a 33-point edge over its nearest rival Audi. Manufacturer points, which are given out on the same scale as drivers’ points, are scored by the top two cars for each brand.
***Audi’s bid to overturn its deficit to Porsche is reflected in the manufacturer’s extended factory support of three cars. Moreover, Audi is the only brand maxing out its allowance of four entries eligible to score points.
***Friday’s track action opens with Pre-Qualifying practice at 9:45 a.m. local time (2:45 a.m. ET). The session lasts an hour and 45 minutes. It will be followed by the trio of qualifying sessions starting at 2:20 p.m. (7:20 a.m. ET) while the pole shootout is bookmarked for 4 p.m. (9 a.m. ET).
***The Kyalami 9 Hour gets underway on Saturday at 11 a.m. local time (4 a.m. EST). Live global coverage of the next two days will be available on the GT World YouTube feed. Live timing can be found here.
Laurent Mercier contributed to this report.