TOBY VENTER AND THE KYALAMI 9 HOUR
The story of how one race and one man with a vision completely changed the trajectory of South African Motorsport
Five years ago, the Kyalami racetrack was in a mess. The racetrack was liquidated and there was a high possibility that it would be turned into a shithole by some rapacious morbidly obese housing developer. Luckily, that wasn't the case. Enter Toby Venter: The CEO of LSM Distributions whose company single handily bought the Porsche, Lamborghini and Bentley brands to the South African market (Did I mention that he was an avid racing driver and owns a Porsche 918.). Anyway, he ended up buying the iconic track for a mere 205 million Rand back in 2014 (That's about 15 million Dollars in today's terms which is cheaper than a Ferrari 250 GTO) and you guessed it, Kyalami remained a race track.
Fast forward 5 years and Kyalami is almost unrecognizable. It has been transformed from a racetrack on the brink of extinction to one that is fit for Formula 1 again (well almost). It also boasts a state of the art conference centre and world class pit lanes. Historically, Kyalami has been the pinnacle of South African Motorsport since it was first built in 1961. From the Formula 1 Grand Prix which has seen many legends including Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell, Niki Lauda, Jackie Stewart and Alan Prost compete there to it hosting three official rounds of the Supercar World Championship, Kyalami has seen it all. (Well except for Le Mans and the Cricket World Cup). I could go on forever about Kyalami but there are billions of articles on Google that you can view to read further about it. So instead, let's talk about why 2019 is a special year for this special racetrack. I am talking about the first race ever held there in 1961, The first endurance race the legendary Porsche 917 ever won. A race which has been finally bought back into existence after a 37 year hiatus. Yes, I am talking about the return of the legendary Kyalami 9 hour.
Now picture this, you are sitting at home happily playing FIFA and losing every game when suddenly, your mate messages you telling you he has two free pit lane hospitality tickets to the Kyalami 9 hour. (In English, this enabled my mate and I to have access to a hospitality suite with a prime viewing deck as well as access to the pits after the race to see the cars and meet the drivers) Now it doesn't matter whether you're playing a round of golf, sipping cocktails in the Bahamas or fornicating with Jennifer Lawrence, you do the only logical thing known to man which is stop whatever you are doing and make your way to Kyalami to watch the 9 hour. Which we did.
Arriving at Kyalami, I was greeted with the immaculate site of a Porsche 918. This particular 918 is owned by Toby Venter himself and is probably the only one in South Africa at the moment (See Picture below).
From there, we went to our hospitality suite where we were welcomed with unlimited free food and alcohol. Once I saw this, my Jewish tendencies kicked in and immediately went to get a free glass of Champagne. From there, I went to the viewing deck which was situated right on the Ingwe corner just before the main straight which gave us a prime viewing spot of the race. After the race, we headed to the pit area where we managed to view the various cars that took part in the race (For a full list of cars, teams and drivers included in the race, click here). These included:
• An Audi R8 LMS GT3
• A Bentley Continental GT3
• A Porsche 911 GT3 R
• An Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3
• A BMW M6 GT3
• A Ferrari 488 GT3
• A Nissan GTR Nismo GT3.
• A Ferrari 458 GT3 which was owned by local racing team Pablo Clark.
I have included some pictures of some of the cars at the bottom of this article in a gallery as well as a diagram showing the layout of Kyalami itself. I do apologise for the quality of some of the photos as they were taken with my phone. I also apologise for not taking any pictures of the race itself as trying to take quality pictures of the actual race with a phone is near impossible when the night is darker than the outcome of implementing Communism anywhere in the world.
As the saying goes, you cannot have an endurance race without drama. An endurance race without drama is like a John Wick movie where Keanu Reeves doesn't chop someone's head off with a book. Which in my opinion, is frankly quite boring to watch. Luckily, we didn't have to wait long for drama to strike as in the first lap, the AMG GT3 of Maxi Buhk, Maro Engel and Raffaele Marciello had some electrical issues which forced them to retire without even completing a lap. This is quite significant as coming into this race, Maxi Buhk was leading the overall driver's championship for the Intercontinental GT challenge and Mercedes was leading the overall constructors championship. Porsche was the only other team who could realistically win both the constructor's and driver's championships for the Intercontinental GT Challenge of which the 9 hour was the last race of the series. Throughout the rest of the race, the lead changed various times between the different manufacturers of which the highlight for me was local driver Jordan Pepper taking a 13 second lead in his Bentley Continental GT3 during the 2nd hour of the race. This was due to his team deciding not to change tyres after the first hour which shaved vital seconds off their first pit stop. This illustrates the crucial decisions that need to be made behind the scenes during an endurance race such as when to change tyres and these types of decisions can determine whether a race is won or lost.
Just over two hours before the end of the race, there was more drama. The Bentley Continental GT3 of Andy Soucek, Steven Kane and Rodrigo Baptista crashed. This combined with the gates of hell wreaking havoc on the track caused the safety car to be deployed which lasted for around 2 hours. At the time when the Safety car was deployed, the Mercedes AMG GT3 of SPS Automotive Performance was in prime position to take the race and win the constructors championship for Mercedes. But then everything changed. As the race resumed, the Porsche 911 GT3 R of GPX Racing with Richard Lietz as the driver managed to muscle it's way in front of the pack after an error on the entry into the mine-shaft corner by the Merc. However, there was a problem. While this would have been enough to secure Porsche the constructors championship for the Intercontinental GT challenge, there was a bit of a problem. The GPX racing team did not have a driver eligible to win the driver's championship for Porsche. So it was decided that Nick Tandy of Frikadelli Racing must pass the GPX racing Porsche and go into 1st position. This decision paid off as Porsche ultimately won both the constructors championship and the driver's championship with Dennis Olsin securing the drivers’ championship for Frikadelli Racing. The highest placed South African driver of the race was Sheldon Van Der Linde of BMW Team Schnitzer who placed 7th in his BMW M6 GT3. Notable achievements for South African drivers included:
- Saul Hack winning the silver class in his Porsche 911 GT3R.
- David Perel coming 3rd in the silver class in his Ferrari 488 GT3.
- Jordan Pepper, Kelvin Van Der Linde and Sheldon Van De Linde finishing 12th, 11th and 7th respectively in the pro class in their respective cars.
- Michael Van Rooyen winning the Amateur class in his BMW M6 GT6.
While there were no South Africans were in the top 3 overall, it was still a hugely significant moment for South African Motorsport and Porsche winning both the race and the championship made it even more significant since it was the vision of Toby Venter and Porsche South Africa which ultimately put South Africa back on the map when it comes to International Motorsport and ultimately restoring Kyalami Racetrack to within reach of its glory days. In my honest opinion, this was quite an emotional day for South African Motorsport fans as many of us never thought a day like this would ever arrive where we would see South African Motorsport thrust back into the international spotlight once again at a track which holds so much significance in our history. And this ladies and gentlemen (assuming we are allowed to use those terms in this day and age where everybody is offended by everything) is the story of how one race and one man with a vision completely changed the trajectory of South African Motorsport for the better and by bringing back the 9 hour to Kyalami, he has potentially opened the floodgates for aspiring young South African drivers to compete with the rest of the Motorsport world.
Thank you Toby Venter, we are forever grateful for what you have done for South African Motorsport.