Missing out on the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles is “bitter and disappointing” for Mercedes-AMG, according to its head of customer racing Stefan Wendl.
The German marque lost both IGTC titles to Porsche in Saturday’s season-ending Kyalami 9 Hour despite heading to the South African race in the lead of both.
Two of Mercedes’ leading cars dropped out early on, as GruppeM Racing’s car retired with an ignition coil failure on the opening lap and a crash for Tristan Vautier taking Strakka Racing out a couple of hours later.
This left its hopes resting on just the SPS Automotive Performance car of Yelmer Buurman, Luca Stolz and Maxi Goetz, as well as Black Falcon’s Silver class car driven by Patrick Assenheimer, Hubert Haupt and Sergei Afanasiev.
“It feels really bitter for us to lose both championships in the last race,” Wendl told Sportscar365.
“The race started with a big disappointment for us and then after a few hours we had another down when we lost car No. 44.
“We decided to put everything on the two cars left able to score points for the championship as best as possible and what I think was a very clever strategy move.”
Buurman leapfrogged erstwhile leader Richard Lietz in the pits during the safety car period, putting the SPS car out front for the restart with 25 minutes remaining.
Despite this, the Dutchman lost positions to Lietz and a number of other drivers and could only finish fifth.
Wendl explained that this was purely because of the car’s setup favoring dry conditions.
“We put Yelmer in a perfect position with 25 minutes to go and he was in the lead but we knew in case of a restart we would have no chance in the rain, especially if the water was there, he was without any chance to defend against the Porsches,” he said.
“This is where we are. Congratulations to Porsche and Dennis Olsen for the championship, but it’s bitter and disappointing for us.
“We didn’t have the right setup [for rain]. Everybody expected it to rain early in the race but we had different forecasts and we decided to go more in the dry direction.
“It paid out, and we had a really competitive car in dry conditions. Towards the end it was heavy rain and at the restart it was not our conditions in this moment.”
Wendl says he supported the decision to keep the field behind the safety car for two hours in unpredictable conditions rather than calling the race early or waiting longer before waving the green flag.
“I didn’t expect the restart to come but at the end, seeing the pictures, there was nothing speaking against it, seeing it afterwards,” he said. “That’s why I have nothing against the race control, for sure.
“At the end, it was a successful season, we had really good results thanks to our Performance and customer teams scoring points for us and coming here to South Africa in the lead of both championships.
“I don’t know if we were unlucky at the last event or if we can do something better but for sure we will deeply analyze everything after the race, sit together, put our heads together with the teams and try to do better next year.”