The three-day spectacular run between 21 and 23 November is the fifth and final round of the 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge, and for the first time Kyalami has been included in the series which embraces four other classic race tracks: Bathurst in Australia, Laguna Seca in California, Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and Suzuka in Japan. Kyalami’s inclusion means the GT Challenge is now run over five different continents. What’s more, the race will be contested by the world’s top FIA-spec GT3 racing cars from eight different manufacturers: Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, Ferrari, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Nissan and Honda, with possible entries from Aston Martin and Lamborghini.
But, a quick history of the Nine Hour
The original Kyalami Nine Hour (it was spelt that way in those days) took place at the old Grand Central race track near the airport of the same name in 1958. Since 1961 it has been run at Kyalami and the winning car in that first race was a Porsche 550 Spyder driven by John Love and Dawie Gouws. The following year saw the first international entrant in the form of English privateer racer, David Piper, who shipped out a Ferrari GTO and drove the car up to Jo’burg from Cape Town for the race! Piper won the 1962 race with South African Bruce Johnstone as co-driver and repeated the feat with another South African, Tony Maggs, the following year.
Piper scored more memorable victories (with the brilliant Richard Attwood as co-driver) for Ferrari in the ’60s, but his last win here was in a Porsche 917 in 1969, one of the first victories anywhere in the world for that most formidable Porsche. In the ’70s, Ferrari entered full factory teams in the event, with Jacky Ickx scoring a memorable victory in 1970 in a 512 M prototype, as he had done earlier on two occasions in the Nine Hour, in 1967 and 1968, on those occasions driving a Mirage Ford.
Ickx was also the most recent winner of the Nine Hour. The Belgian, and German Jochen Mass, took victory in a Rothmans Porsche 956 in November 1982, the last time this annual South African endurance race was run as a full Nine Hour event.
Cars you can relate to
Much like in vehicles raced in the original Nine Hour, the secret to the global popularity of GT3 championships held all over the world is that these cars are all based on road-going cars you can buy. This means there’s an air of attainability about the machinery, and there is a much more emotional connection amongst the fans.
The FIA regulations for the GT3 series cars use a power-to-weight ratio formula to ensure that all the cars remain competitive with one another. Basically, the cars must run normally-aspirated petrol engines that develop between 275 kW and 450 kW while the dry weight of the car is specced at between 1 200 and 1 300 kg. It is for this reason that there have been so many winners from different marques in the GT3 series internationally.
South African drivers in with a great chance
There will be a number of South African drivers participating in the 2019 Kyalami 9 Hour, and at least two of them are in with a great chance of overall victory. Jordan Pepper is a contracted driver for the Bentley Continental GT factory team. In May, the 23-year-old from Edenvale won the Paul Ricard 1 000 km race in France, a major round in this year’s Blancpain GT Endurance Cup, the primary feeder series for the Intercontinental GT Challenge. In addition, Jordan drove his Bentley to eighth place in the opening round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge in Bathurst.
Kelvin van der Linde is the second South African driver to be confirmed for the Kyalami 9 Hour. Kelvin is a third-generation race driver from the famous Van der Linde family and the youngest driver ever to win a South African championship, winning the Polo Cup series in 2012 at the age of 16. Kelvin’s career includes a famous victory at the 2018 Nurburgring 24 Hour for Audi, and he has twice won the California 8 Hour, also in an Audi R8 LMS. He is at the very top of the GT3 racing tree, and could well be in with a chance for overall victory at Kyalami.
There are two other drivers who have competed overseas in GT3 class cars that could also be organising drives in the Kyalami 9 Hour. One is Gennaro Bonafide, who has done well in GTC (touring cars) in South Africa. Gennaro competed in this year’s Spa 24 Hour. Another is David Perel, a Cape Town driver, who has financed his own racing career, first in karts, and more latterly in Ferrari GT3-spec machinery. David also competed in this year’s Spa 24 Hour in a Ferrari 488 GT3, but unfortunately, the car retired early.
A local team of drivers who have excellent high-horsepower experience will be that of Andre Bezuidenhout, Franco Scribante and Sylvio Scribante. The Scribante’s come from a famous racing family and both have extensive track experience. The trio will be driving a private Porsche 911 GT3 run by an English team, and have already had shake-down runs with the car in the UK.
Another local GT car driver who has had good sprint race experience is Charl Arangies, who has campaigned with a GT3-spec Aston Martin to great effect locally. Charl won the local G&H Transport Extreme Supercar Championship in 2018. He is planning to run a Lamborghini Huracan in the 9 Hour, and is hoping to run the Aston Martin as a second car under his Stradale Motorsport banner with another team of drivers.
Multiple SA Touring Car champion Michael Stephen from Port Elizabeth is yet another successful local driver who was reportedly working on a deal to race. The highly-rated Stephen was very quick in the ex-Arangies Aston Martin GT3 car at a recent race meeting in East London, but he says he will be driving a newer-spec GT3 car in the 9 Hour, ‘if his deal comes off.’
If anyone deserves credit for making this year’s landmark 9 Hour race happen, it is Toby Venter. The owner of the South African Porsche franchise bought Kyalami at auction in 2014 and promptly spent a whopping R200-million revamping the circuit to FIA Grade 2 specifications, which permits the running of international races for the cars competing in the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
Toby’s vision included ‘returning Kyalami back to the race fans,’ introducing a new longer straight at Kyalami, and extended sections so that the track now measures 4, 522 km and is in brilliant condition. With the dates diarised and both drivers and machines rearing to go, we couldn’t be readier for the Kyalami 9 Hour spectacle.