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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Nielsen’s Title Bid Falters After Ferrari Problem in Hour 4

Issue for No. 71 Ferrari removes one title contender; Audi seals manufacturer crown…

Image: SRO

Ferrari driver Nicklas Nielsen’s Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli title hopes were dashed by a technical problem three and a half hours into the Joburg Kyalami 9 Hour season finale.

Nielsen was running third when his No. 71 Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 ground to a halt through the Jukskei Sweep with what is believed to have been a driveshaft issue.

The Dane, who is sharing the car with Alessio Rovera and Antonio Fuoco, stopped on entry to the old Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit pits before rolling back onto the grass.

Nielsen was the only member of the No. 71 AF Corse crew capable of winning the IGTC drivers’ title after Ferrari elected to move the 24-year-old away from his fellow points leaders and title contenders Alessandro Pier Guidi and Come Ledogar in the No. 51 car.

The third-placed car’s retirement confirms Audi as the 2021 IGTC manufacturers’ champion, considering Ferrari needed to finish first and second to snatch the title away.

After three and a half hours, AKKA-ASP continued to lead the Kyalami 9 Hour with Jules Gounon at the wheel, around 10 seconds ahead of Pier Guidi.

The Pro-class order bunched up on the three-hour mark courtesy of a Full Course Yellow/safety period when the sole GT4 car in the race stopped just before pit entry.

Gounon took the restart ahead of Audi Sport Team WRT driver Mattia Drudi, but Pier Guidi moved up to second with a brilliant move around the outside at the sweeping Sunset right-hander before finishing the job into the next left at Clubhouse.

Drudi ended up falling into the clutches of Nielsen who later got through and stay in front despite Drudi almost getting around at Sunset in retaliation.

The AF Corse Ferraris deployed an alternative strategy in the first half of the race, starting when both crews elected to drive through the pits at the end of the first hour to reset their starting drivers’ stint clocks.

Rovera and Ledogar then pitted properly for the first time eight and nine laps later than the other Pro cars that opted for the conventional 65-minute stint length.

That strategy decision saw the Audi Sport Team cars from WRT and Sainteloc get ahead in the second hour, with AKKA-ASP’s Mercedes-AMG still in the lead.

When the rest of the Pro cars made their second stops the Ferraris cycled into first and second, but the No. 51 car lost 20 seconds to a drive-through for abusing track limits.

The mid-third hour Ferrari pit stops returned Gounon’s Mercedes-AMG and the Audis to first, second and third heading into the only FCY period of the day so far.

Gounon and Pier Guidi, whose car had not long pitted, chose to reset their drive times during the slow period and emerged at the head of the pack for the restart with six hours remaining. AKKA-ASP’s stint clock reset caused the Mercedes-AMG to go off strategy.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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