GT3 manufacturers have supported the addition of Kyalami to the Intercontinental GT Challenge, which, according to Audi Sport customer racing’s Chris Reinke, brings the “Spa of Africa” to the globe-trotting series.
The SRO Motorsports Group-run championship will feature the most diverse endurance racing calendar in more than 30 years, with the IGTC season set to be contested on five continents for the first time.
The feat, which hasn’t been repeated since the 1984 FIA World Endurance Championship season, has been largely praised by manufacturers, with the potential of further growth still possible.
“It becomes a series that you can get your teeth into,” Bentley Motorsport director Brian Gush told Sportscar365. “I think the proof of it will be how many people sign up for it.
“Let’s hope more cars sign up for it. You need a reasonable grid size.
“Laguna last year wasn’t great. You need more GT3s on the grid.
“Hopefully for Kyalami the grid will be bigger. Then the Intercontinental GT Challenge is looking like quite a nice series for factory teams.”
A total of five manufacturers, including Bentley, Audi and Porsche, are registered for this year’s four-round championship, which kicked off with the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in February and concludes with the second annual California 8 Hours at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
A change from Sepang to a new ten-hour enduro at Suzuka, which is set to feature upwards of 40 GT3 entries from 12 manufacturers, comes as a welcome move according to Audi’s Reinke.
“I remembered my first time coming down [to Sepang], it was us with our cars entered by Phoenix and there was a Porsche by Manthey. Those were the only two supported entries,” he said.
“There were no spectators and it wasn’t well activated.
“If there was one thing that needed renovation it was Sepang and they replaced that with Suzuka.
“I can’t wait. If you think of endurance racing’s heritage in Asia, in Japan especially, it’s the race to be in. Getting that format onto solely GT3 is a dream come true.”
Reinke said he’s also excited on the addition of Kyalami, which will close out the 2019 season.
“When the next step is Africa, we could go to Morocco as everybody goes, or we could go on the other end,” he said.
“If you look at what is really iconic races, the name that everybody has on his mind is Kyalami and nothing else. It’s the Spa of Africa. That’s where you want to be.”
With a relatively untapped market, with limited GT3 cars in the region, the success of the South African event, at least initially, will hinge on involvement from foreign teams.
It contradicts IGTC’s vision of utilizing locally based teams and cars for each of its rounds although isn’t a concern according to Head of Porsche Motorsport Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser.
“We see customers came to Spa from all over the world so I’m sure we’ll find teams to make it an attractive round,” Walliser told Sportscar365. “For sure you can’t go with the local teams.
“I think it’s a nice calendar now and it fits in the overall strategy of SRO.”
Ratel: “Never Say Never” on Sixth IGTC Round
While reaching his goal of five races on five continents, SRO founder and CEO Stephane Ratel hasn’t completely ruled out the addition of a sixth race in the future.
Ratel, however, has stressed that it would be dependent on manufacturers’ desires.
“There are six continents with South America. Let us digest,” Ratel said. “We’re growing fast.
“You have to say, ‘Never say never’ but then it gets very expensive and the manufacturers [then] think it’s too expensive.
“Don’t forget the idea is to use the local cars and reinforce the local teams. Already in South Africa, it’s not the concept because you don’t have local [teams].”
Reinke, who in his former job as Head of LMP1 at Audi Sport was part of the WEC’s trips to Sao Paulo, believes the Brazilian round could complete the package.
Much like Ratel’s revival of the Kyalami 9 Hours, Interlagos has played host to the country’s long-running 1000-mile enduro the Mil Milhas, which had briefly served as a round of the BPR Endurance Series and was to be FIA GT Championship race in the late 2000s.
“With the economic situation, we had great races in the WEC in Sao Paulo, and there is some endurance heritage also around there,” Reinke said.
“Do it step by step. There is a way to go with Laguna Seca to develop that race and we have to see how it kicks in at Suzuka.
“We have to develop Kyalami as there is no local GT market. [We can’t] rush it but to have eventually an intercontinental series with all continents respected would be sexy.”