On 23 November 2019, the sound of approximately 15,000 bhp will break the long silence that has persisted over the famous Midrand circuit as twenty-eight top GT3 race cars tear down the start/finish straight in the SA 9 Hour for the first time in 37 years. The Kyalami race marks the final event in the 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli season, and it is set to be a thrilling showdown as Mercedes-AMG and Porsche thrash it out for the championship. With Mercedes 22 points ahead of their Stuttgart neighbours and 43 points up for grabs (25 points for first and 18 for second place), it will be a fight to the flag.
Arrival at Kyalami
But let’s take a step back for now, and see how one of the teams has spent the race week so far. For the crew of Team Perfect Circle, it has been a hectic time as this will be their first foray into international racing, so besides being a busy time it has also presented a steep learning curve for all concerned. The container with car arrived safely at the circuit on 17 November after its six-week journey by ship from the UK, and the team were eager to get their hands on the equipment and to get set up.
Tuesday & Wednesday
On Tuesday 19 November, the crew arrived at the circuit and on Wednesday they were greeted by their first Highveld thunderstorm, which of course is par for the course at this time of the year. With the vastly experienced crew of Simpson Motorsport with team manager Jonny Westbrook in charge, the Team Perfect Circle team are in good hands. Wednesday was the day for scrutineering, team track walk, admin checks, manufacturer photo shoot and submission of driver nominations. The #09 Team Perfect Circle Porsche 911 GT3 R passed scrutineering with flying colours, much to the relief of all concerned. Since the car’s arrival, work has included fitting endurance lights and other general endurance race preparation. Unfortunately for the team, the traditional photo shoot had to be abandoned due to the storm, which also saw some of the PRO teams unpacking their wet weather tyres and gear.
Joshwin Bock, a 16-year old motorsport enthusiast from Cloetesville, Stellenbosch is to attend the Kyalami 9 Hour race. He was flown up to Johannesburg for the race, his first time in an aeroplane, and will spend his time with the team in the pit garage. Team Perfect Circle and the Porsche Club Cape collaborated to create the opportunity for Joshwin to experience this motorsport event. Jane Plit, the President of the Porsche Club Cape said: “Porsche Club Cape is excited to be embarking on this venture with Joshwin and Team Perfect Circle. It is our objective to encourage and motivate young South Africans with a passion for cars, through their involvement in motorsport in a very hands-on and direct way.”
Team Perfect Circle team principal Andre Bezuidenhout said: “We are delighted to have Joshwin joining us. I was 8-years old when I experienced a life changing event being the Kyalami 9-hour in 1969. I was inspired by motorsport heroes and we sincerely hope that Joshwin will have a great experience to take away from Kyalami.”
Well-known South African television personality, Leatitia Solomons who identified Joshwin said: “There is no greater opportunity for adults than to create career direction and experiences for the youth. My television program tells the story of hope to many young people of South Africa, that there are good people out there to give you a chance in life. Go Joshwin – this one is yours!”
Far from just being a watcher, since his arrival on Wednesday, young Joshwin has been helping in the garage with preparing wheels, cleaning the car, all relatively small tasks, but it has made him certainly feel part of a team. This is of course how many full-time crew start their careers in motorsport, and it can lead to a hugely satisfying vocation in the industry.
Thursday 21 November
The first actual track action came on Thursday when the teams could take advantage of two ‘paid test sessions’ (10h00-12h00 & 14h00-16h00), before the official night practice session from 18h00 to 19h30. Because the Team Perfect Circle Porsche 911 GT3 R hadn’t really been tested in a competitive environment, the team elected to take advantage of this opportunity. During the shakedown session on Thursday morning, a driver error caused a mechanical problem which was fixed in time for the night session. These are the type of challenges that would face any team and it is how you respond to them that determines the outcome. This is what the Test sessions are designed to do, and it is just as well that any problems get sorted out at that early stage, and not during the race! During the afternoon Test session, another Highveld thunderstorm gave the track a good drenching which in one way is not so nice for everyone concerned, but should those conditions prevail in the race, at least the crew and drivers will have experienced the conditions already.
Out of the 28 cars on track, six will be the 911 GT3 R model, four will race in the Overall category, and one each in the Silver class and the AM Cup, making up more than a fifth of the field. The four Overall class cars are all piloted by Porsche works drivers, so you can expect them to be really quick. In the Silver class car, Lars Kern is the factory test driver and one of the top drivers they have, so that car won’t be hanging around either. The AM Cup car, the #09 Team Perfect Circle car is manned by three South African drivers – Andre Bezuidenhout and Franco and Silvio Scribante – between them they have a vast motorsport experience – so watch the white Porsche as well.
Porsches in the 2019 Kyalami 9 Hour
|#911||Porsche 911 GT3 R||KÜS Team 75 Bernhard||Sven Müller, Dirk Werner, Romain Dumas||Pro|
|#20||GPX Racing||Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen, Richard Lietz||Pro|
|#31||Frikadelli Racing Team||Dennis Olsen, Mathieu Jaminet, Nick Tandy||Pro|
|#12||Dinamic Motorsport||Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor, Matt Campbell||Pro|
|#9||Lechner Racing||Saul Hack, Lars Kern, Dylan Pereira||Silver|
|#09||Team Perfect Circle||Andre Bezuidenhout, Franco & Silvio Scribante||AM|
Friday 22 November
After their first day on track on Thursday, various gremlins needed sorting and so it was a case of getting the glove to fit first, before being able to really push the car. The Pre-Qualifying session on Friday (10h50-12h35) was the first real opportunity for the drivers to stretch their legs, and the word is that they are all happy with the car. All three drivers turned in lap times within 0.4 seconds of each other, making the lives of the crew a lot easier. However, one area still needing attention was the brakes, so there is still work to do for the crew before the Qualifying sessions in the afternoon.
First out of the gate for Qualifying was Franco Scribante (14h45-15h00), and he didn’t hold back, posting a personal best of 1:48.638 – well done Franco! His laps were completed in brilliant sunshine which is a plus for the team because the threat of a hailstorm was hanging in the air. A weather report from the team’s outlying weather agent contacted them to say that it had just started raining and that Kyalami was going to get it in about 17 minutes from then.
“Today the car was running much better and we were below 1:50 from the start. I’m looking forward to the race now as I think our times will continue to improve,” Franco commented after his session.”
Silvio was next on track and his session (15h07-15h22) was red flagged five minutes early due to a car being stuck in the kitty litter on the exit of the Esses. Nevertheless, Silvio’s time was impressive as he posted an even quicker time of 1:48.152. Given a full Qualifying session of 15 minutes, the drivers should be able to complete around seven to eight laps.
Although his time was cut short, Silvio had this to say, “I had a little spin yesterday and that stopped our daytime practice sessions. Therefore, it was great to get more seat time today. The car felt good and I was able to get consistent lap times in my qualifying session.”
Andre got ready to take his turn behind the wheel (15h30-15h45) under the red flag conditions from the previous session and as the pit lane opened, it began to spit, bang on the estimated 17 minutes predicted by the team’s weather agent. The team elected to leave Andre on slicks and to wait for the track to get properly wet before switching to wet tyres. As the car was dropped onto its wheels to leave, the leading car driven by Nick Tandy, the #31 Porsche, slid off the circuit on his slicks and into the tyre barriers at Clubhouse. This meant that Andre’s session was red flagged with 11 minutes still on the clock, and although he did pit for wets, he only had time for three laps and was ultra-careful without ABS to avoid any risk of going off.
The main thing for the team is that the car finished the day unscathed and running well, apart from the brake problem. The drivers were running without the ABS system working which accounted for between two to three seconds per lap.
“We’ve had some issues with mostly electrical gremlins yesterday and today. The qualifying sessions ran well for both Scribante boys and if we hadn’t had the rain, I think we’d be in front of the Lamborghini and Ferrari ahead of us. We’re working on getting the ABS sorted for tomorrow now and feel ready for the 9-hour race,” team manager Jonny Westbrook said.
Andre Bezuidenhout summarises the team’s position, “Yesterday was a very difficult day. We were plagued with small issues that wrecked our daytime practice sessions. We managed to run in the evening session, but the car was still not right. We were having issues with the traction control engaging at random times throughout the lap plus the ABS was not working at all.
The team worked hard until midnight though, and today we had a race car that was much better. We still had the ABS issues though and that costs us a couple of seconds a lap in the dry. The other cars are able to brake much deeper than we are able. In Q1 we broke 1:50 for the first time, Franco managing a 1:48.6; then in Q2 Silvio put in lap after lap in the 1:48s with a best lap of 1:48.1.
As that session finished, the rain started. We felt it wouldn’t last and given the short time for Q3, it was worth me going out on slicks ready for a decent time when the track started to dry. Unfortunately, Nick Tandy went off in Q3 and that stopped the session. We returned to the pit with time only to get a few laps in to set a time, so we had to go to wets and the weather didn’t improve. Without ABS, it was very tricky, so I decided to be careful and make sure I didn’t bin it. So, we aren’t where we want to be, but it’s a long race tomorrow and we have the chance tonight to get the ABS working – hopefully we will.
Saturday 23 November
The driver order for Saturday’s race is: Franco Scribante, Silvio Scribante and Andre Bezuidenhout, and they will repeat their stints in that order. It is planned that the drivers will just do single stints in the race. The weather forecast for the race is rain and thunderstorms, from just after the start through to almost the finish.
I grew up in little South Africa, the last piece of land in Africa before the South Pole, and where you felt that you were at the end of the world because very few people even paid you any attention. As a motorsport writer and photographer, I have been around race teams, drivers and team staff for many years, and I have seen first-hand how the big manufacturer teams have everything on tap, and provided for you.
But being privy to the building up of the excitement for Team Perfect Circle has been a huge privilege and an eye-opener for me. Seeing just how much organising has been done to get the team to the Qualifying stage of an international endurance championship, has left me in awe of those involved. It all started, though, back in ’69 when a little boy watched the 9 Hour at Kyalami as David Piper and Richard Attwood brought their Porsche 917 across the line first to win the race that day. The seed that was sewn in the mind of a very young Andre Bezuidenhout back then, has finally come to fruition as it has been his ambition to compete in this very race for the last 50 years.
South Africans have always had the attitude that anything was possible and that if you put your mind to it, you could compete with the best. The locals have a saying that sums it up: ‘n boer maak ‘n plan – which translated means ‘a farmer makes a plan.’ Andre never let his dream die, and after approaching Franco and Silvio Scribante in 2018, the plan began to take shape and as a result, they have now been able to line up to Qualify in the world’s fastest growing endurance series.
Being party to the arrangements and the organising that has brought this dream into the real world, I can reveal that it has been a monumental effort – from arranging extra lights for the pit garage, the catering, accommodation, PR and a thousand other things that go into making a functioning team. That is quite apart from acquiring a suitable race car and getting it vetted for the race, finding a quality motorsport team to prepare and look after the car. This has all been down to the determination of one man, Andre Bezuidenhout.
And then Andre brought on board a young man, Joshwin Bock, to experience what it is like for a motorsport enthusiast to see how a team works in the heat of battle, a once in a lifetime opportunity. As a very young boy, I can recall when my father would take me to the races in East London (Eastern Cape), to watch the top sports cars fight it out around a circuit that was for a long time the centre for motorsport in South Africa before Kyalami was built. In the mid-60s I saw David Piper’s Ferrari go up in flames there, and I have never forgotten it. My journey to that of motorsport writer and photographer covering races from Kyalami to Silverstone, Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps, the Nürburgring and many more top circuits, has left many memories imprinted in my mind. And so, for young Joshwin, motorsport is not just about driving, it includes possibilities in journalism/photography, PR, engineering, aerodynamics, race car design, driving, team member and so much more. It’s a case of keeping your ears and eyes open and being ready to grab the opportunity when it presents itself. The latest word on Joshwin is that when the team spoke to him on Friday, he said he really wanted to be a race car engineer now – watch this space!
A final word from Andre Bezuidenhout, “I’ve not had much luck yet, as I didn’t run at all in yesterday’s daytime sessions. In the evening session had issues and in Q3 today we had a red flag and rain. But, I’m loving every minute and cannot wait until race day now.”
David Piper arrived at the circuit on Thursday and spent all on Friday with the team, watching all qualifying session from the garage. Interestingly, Friday 22 November 2019 marks 50 years – to the day – that David Piper won in 1969.
There is huge interest and support for the local Porsche Team Perfect Circle team, and you can only admire the challenges that they have overcome to get to where they are today. Well done to Andre and the team and VOERSPOED for Saturday!!
After a 37-year hiatus, the race on Saturday should be a thrilling race, so stay tuned for further reports from Porsche Road & Race.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: David Marchio, Tony Alves & SRO