The ear-banging, gut-rumbling sound of at least 30 GT3 cars will reverberate around Kylami on November 21-23 when the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli season finale gets underway.
The legendary race returns to the international schedule for the first time in 37 years next month when Intercontinental’s eight full-season manufacturers – Audi Sport, Bentley, BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Mercedes-AMG, Nissan and Porsche – are joined by Aston Martin and Lamborghini on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
While the event’s spiritual successor was held in different guises until 2000, the original nine-hour iteration hasn’t been staged since Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass powered a Porsche 956 to victory in 1982.
All that changes on November 23 when the world’s best drivers tackle the revived Kyalami 9 Hour. Indeed, 20 of the 30 entries will compete for points counting towards the world’s only global GT3 championship but, more importantly, gives race fans a chance to see the South African drivers that have been flying our flag overseas.
Mercedes-AMG heads to South Africa leading both the Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ Championships and has again nominated its maximum number of four Intercontinental entries.
Maxi Buhk leads Raffaele Marciello by three points and with both once again sharing GruppeM’s entry alongside Maro Engel, only the former can mathematically win the crown. Meanwhile, victory for fellow title protagonist Maxi Goetz – who shares one of two SPS Automotive Performance entries with Luca Stolz and Yelmer Buurman – would be enough to pinch the championship regardless of Buhk’s result.
The same scenario applies to Frederic Vervisch who also heads to Kyalami six points behind Buhk and with Audi Sport now unable to retain the Manufacturers’ Championship, their attention will be focused on the Belgian who reprises his Suzuka 10 Hours-winning partnership with WRT co-drivers Kelvin van der Linde and Dries Vanthoor.
Christopher Haase, Christopher Mies and 2016 Intercontinental GT Challenge champion Markus Winkelhock share a second R8 LMS GT3 entered by Land Motorsport, which also represented Audi at Laguna Seca and Spa.
Porsche, meanwhile, is the only marque capable of beating Mercedes-AMG to the Manufacturers’ crown. It is a tall order – Weissach trails Affalterbach by 22 points with a maximum 43 available – but Porsche’s four Pro nominations and 12 factory drivers underline its intent.
Total 24 Hours of Spa winners, GPX Racing, and victory contenders, KUS Team 75 Bernhard, are joined by Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup front-runners Dinamic Motorsport and long-time Porsche partners Frikadelli Racing Team.
Interestingly, and for the first time this year, Porsche has split its two full-season crews to increase its chances of also winning the Drivers’ title. Dirk Werner, Matt Campbell and Dennis Olsen start 10 points behind Buhk but are scattered across three teams, while the fourth – GPX – features Spa’s winning trio of Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre.
Bentley, Nissan and Honda are again represented by their full-season teams, while BMW’s Intercontinental commitment increases to three thanks to a second Walkenhorst-run M6 joining Suzuka 10 Hours pole-winners, Team Schnitzer.
However, two heavy accidents in as many rounds will prevent HubAuto Corsa from travelling to South Africa. Instead, Ferrari’s Intercontinental hopes rest with Rinaldi Racing who will be eager to add a record-extending ninth Kyalami 9 Hour win to Maranello’s trophy cabinet.
Elsewhere, three Aston Martin Vantages are heading to South Africa courtesy of Blancpain GT Series regulars R-Motorsport and Garage 59.
But it’s not just international teams making the trip to Kyalami. True to the event’s traditions, three South African squads have also entered: Stradale Motorsport, Pablo Clark Racing and Team Perfect Circle.
Three more South Africans – Jordan Pepper plus Van der Linde brothers Kelvin and Sheldon – are all part of Bentley, Audi and BMW factory rosters at Kyalami where they’re joined by compatriots David Perel, Gennaro Bonafede and Ignatius Michael Van Rooyen in #IntGTC-nominated entries. Lechner Racing also includes rising local talent, Saul Hack, in their driver line-up.
Meanwhile, SunEnergy1 are eligible to score points in all three Intercontinental GT Challenge championships, including the Bronze classification, thanks to Kenny Habul who shares his Mercedes-AMG with Bernd Schneider and Thomas Jaeger.