At the final round of the world’s most important championship for GT3 cars, our 911 GT3 R customer racers were out in force en route to a momentous victory.
It was a dream weekend in South Africa for factory-supported Frikadelli Racing, which took up the nine-hour race from pole position following an inspired final qualifying session courtesy of wet-weather expert Nick Tandy. In terrible conditions, Tandy hit the barriers in the third session, forcing the team into some rapid repairs. But the 2015 Le Mans winner and current IMSA factory driver was still able to squeeze the car into the top ten shoot out, from where his mastery in the rain saw him dominate the field, lapping the 4.5 km Kyalami circuit with an unbeatable 1:53.825.
Two more GT3 Rs, being campaigned by GPX Racing and Dinamic Motorsport, also put in a good showing, taking up fourth and fifth amid a tightly packed 28-car field. The GPX Racing entry, sporting the legendary Gulf colours, was driven by Richard Lietz and world sports car champions Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre. Dinamic Motorsport had a similarly illustrious line-up, with Australian Porsche Young Professional Matt Campbell joined by the IMSA champions Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor. Tandy, meanwhile, would be swapping seats with two more Porsche Young Professionals, Norway’s Dennis Olsen and Mathieu Jaminet from France.
There was less luck in qualifying for KÜS Team 75 Bernhard, who found themselves back in 12th after Romain Dumas lost time during the first session. His colleagues Sven Müller and Dirk Werner made up five positions in the remaining time, but it was not enough to get them into the all-important top 10 finale.
This was the first international long-distance race at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit since 1982. With the mercury reaching 29-degrees and track temperatures nearing 50, Frikadelli Racing, GPX Racing and Dinamic Motorsport formed a confident spearhead from the off. After several laps, however, it was world sports car champion Christensen who moved the GPX GT3 R into the lead.
With around two hours left on the clock, an intense thunderstorm changed the order at the front, however. Due to essential refuelling stops behind the safety car, which had been deployed due to the difficult conditions, the two best-placed GT3 Rs were initially relegated to third and fourth. With just 25 minutes to go, the race officials gave the green light, leaving the field tightly bunched for a hectic sprint finish. Tandy then pulled out all the stops, demonstrating immense skill and the power and agility of the 2019 GT3 R by scything his way through the field over just one lap. When he crossed the line for an unexpected outright win, he did so with an incredible 6.746-second advantage over the next-best car.
‘This is definitely the best day of my career by now,’ remarked Olsen in the aftermath. ‘When I was asked recently to name my greatest achievement, I said it was the victory at Bathurst. When I was then asked what could be better than that, I said a victory at Kyalami, winning the manufacturers’ title with Porsche as well as the drivers’ championship. That has now happened – unbelievable, it feels like a dream. When the race was finally restarted, I had a good feeling. If you have someone like Nick Tandy in the Porsche 911 GT3 R on a wet track in the final sprint, then anything is possible.”
Behind the victors, the 24 Hours of Spa winners Lietz, Estre and Christensen claimed a commendable third for GPX Racing, while Campbell, Bamber and Vanthoor wound up in eighth with Dumas, Müller and Werner right behind them in ninth for KÜS Team 75 Bernhard. With four cars finishing in the top 10, Porsche was clearly the strongest manufacturer in the field, and following the Spa win and podiums at Laguna Seca and Suzuka, rounded off the 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge as number one in the manufacturers’ championship.
“Three wins from five races, and podium finishes at all rounds – that’s how you win championships,’ said Sebastian Golz, Project Manager 911 GT3 R. ‘The key to our success was the excellent teamwork of our squads around the world. The final race at Kyalami with sun, heat, lightning, thunder and rain was like a rollercoaster ride. In the end we deserved to win. Now it’s time to celebrate.”