Dries Vanthoor believes BMW M Team WRT’s focus on race pace in the buildup to the Kyalami 9 Hour was the key factor to victory in Saturday’s Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli round.
The Belgian and co-drivers Charles Weerts and Sheldon van der Linde led a 1-2 finish for the pair of BMW M4 GT3s, in only the team’s third outing with the manufacturer.
While having qualified a distant second and third to the pole-sitting No. 999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo, both the Shell-liveried and sister No. 33 BMWs came alive in the opening hour of the South African enduro.
Van der Linde took the lead on Lap 9, with teammate Augusto Farfus slotting in behind just two laps later.
The No. 32 BMW never looked back from that point, leading the remainder of the race in controlling fashion, which Vanthoor credits to the team’s strategy from the beginning of the weekend.
“From Session 1 we started to work on our long runs,” he told Sportscar365. “I think in the race it really showed. Our race pace was really strong.
He added: “I think that sums up why in qualifying we struggled getting our lap together and getting the full peak out. But clearly as we saw in the race we had a very good race car.
“A big credit to the team to be able to put the focus on the race this weekend and not on the one lap pace.
“We made some small updates coming into this weekend. I’m not going to lie, the BoP also for sure gave us a help. They actually needed to because Bathurst was just difficult for us. Maybe others find it difficult now.
“It’s always a backwards and forwards game. We did some updates on balance and on braking. I think it came alive here. But there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Vanthoor explained a change of direction in his car’s setup after qualifying on Friday could have also helped make a difference in the race, in relation to the sister No. 33 car of Farfus, Maxime Martin and Philipp Eng.
“At the end we were quite close to each other,” he said. “I think after yesterday we made a bit our own changes after qualifying where we found out that the car was not really handling like we thought it would be.
“I think there we made the changes for the race and the sister car didn’t do that. Maybe that made the difference in the end but I don’t think it made a world of difference.”
With the win, the No. 32 crew have moved into second in the IGTC drivers’ championship following their fourth place result in the season-opening Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, where the BMWs were unable to match the race pace of the Mercedes.
While aided by a mid-event Balance of Performance change, Kyalami saw the roles reversed.
“Bathurst was a bit difficult for us,” Vanthoor said. “We couldn’t really fight with the front runners.
“”Here we were able to be the front runners. We just made the right changes coming into this weekend, made the right updates. I think we can be happy with the race.”
Van der Linde: Late Race Yellow “Threw Spanner in the Works”
The race looked set to run caution-free until 30 minutes to go, when the No. 86 Stradale Motorsport Mercedes of Arnold Neveling spun into a gravel trap to bring out a Full Course Yellow, which turned into a safety car period.
Both WRT BMWs took advantage of the FCY to pit for fresh tires, with the contending Tressor Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo IIs opting to remain on its warm Pirellis.
“It was a bit of a spanner in the works but I think it’s what we needed for the race to be spiced up as well, to be honest,” van der Linde told Sportscar365.
“It got a little bit hairy in the end, obviously, but we put the new tires on during the safety car, so it was really difficult for me to get heat in the front tires.
“That’s also why I struggled the first three to four laps. Max was really on my ass and I had to really defend and make it worth it.
“But after I got temperature in the tires it was a bit more plain sailing, which was good. But still it was not an easy race to manage because you’re always out alone, so it was really hard to keep the focus but we managed it well in the end.”
Vanthoor added: “There was nothing happening the whole race and then the last 20 minutes. Of course it’s always like this!
“It was a great job by Sheldon to manage it. It was not easy. Max was also pushing and the Audi on the back was also coming back at the end.
“We managed it all very well and we can be proud of victory.”