Last held officially as a 9-hour race back in 1982, Kyalami will play host to the revival of a great classic endurance race next month, the Kyalami 9 Hour. Run by the masters of the international endurance motor racing scene today, the SRO Motorsport Group, this event on the Highveld of the Transvaal (today Gauteng), will bring the 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge to a close.
The classic South African 9-hour endurance race was first run in 1958, and this was won by Ian Fraser-Jones and Tony Fergusson driving a Porsche 356 Speedster Carrera. In fact, a Porsche has won the 9-hour endurance race no less than seven times, starting with the first race in 1958, and culminating with the last time it was run as a 9-hour race when Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass took the chequered flag in 1982 driving a works Rothmans Porsche 956. Porsche then claimed a further three titles when the race was shortened to a 6-hour race and later a 3-hour race. So, the Stuttgart manufacturer has a proud history of endurance wins at the Kyalami circuit.
The Intercontinental GT Challenge (IGTC) was set up by the Stéphane Ratel Motorsports Group in 2016, and consisted of three endurance events in its first season. Now into its fourth season, this series has been expanded to include five of the world’s biggest GT3 endurance races on as many continents, making it a truly global championship. The IGTC is made up of some established races (Spa, Suzuka, Bathurst), a new race (California) and the revived Kyalami race. Kyalami is thus the second-oldest race on the IGTC calendar, being beaten into second spot by the Spa 24 Hours which enjoyed its 71st running in 2019. This year’s Kyalami race will see no less than 30 top GT3 cars representing eight full-season manufacturers including Porsche, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Mercedes-AMG and Nissan. Aston Martin and Lamborghini will also be represented at Kyalami but neither are registered to score IGTC points.
Rand Daily Mail 9 Hour – 8 November 1969
Turning the clock back precisely 50 years, it was David Piper and Richard Attwood who took the chequered flag in their 4.5-litre Team Perfect Circle Porsche 917K. 1969 was of course the year in which the Porsche 917 was first raced in anger, but its early reputation as a stable race car left much to be desired. Many top international drivers opted not to drive it, preferring instead to drive the tried and tested 908 even though it was the slower of the two cars. At Le Mans that year, amateur driver John Woolfe lost his life on the opening lap in the first 917 sold to a privateer team. David Piper, together with Jo Siffert, drove chassis #917-010 to a sixth-place overall finish in the Japanese GP on 10 October 1969, and on 19 October, Piper finished third in the Hockenheim 300 km race.
It should be mentioned at this point that, prior to 1969, David Piper had won the South African 9-hour race no less than five times (1962, 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1966), all of these victories were in Ferraris. This was the first race at Kyalami that Piper switched to Porsche, and with the 917 being such an unproven race car at that point, the move was anything but secure.
David Piper was still waiting for the Japanese authorities to release his engine after his race there, and so it was that he and Richard Attwood commenced practice and qualifying for the Kyalami 9 Hour in 1969 with a spare engine. Piper had converted the 917 into a short tail or Kurzheck body, and the car’s handling was much improved. Unfortunately, the car developed an oil leak under the engine, and this proved very serious, and so the repair was entrusted to VOMS (Vehicle Overhaul and Maintenance Services) who welded the crack in the crankcase with the engine in situ. Despite the best efforts by VOMS, the crack in the magnesium crankcase reappeared the following day again after qualifying, and so this time the car was taken to their workshop in Johannesburg. VOMS had a very high reputation for good work, and in order to carry out a proper repair, a McLaren magnesium wheel was sacrificed, and a patch was cut from the wheel and welded in place on the 917 engine which did the trick.
At this stage, all of Piper’s sponsors abandoned him, as he recalled, “They didn’t want to be associated with a race car that was potentially going to break down a third time, and not finish the race. I set up a meeting with them and negotiated a deal, that allowed us to race with their sponsorship still on the car, and if the car should break down they would owe us nothing but should we win, they would pay up in full.” The Porsche was placed second on the starting grid for the following day, with Brian Redman on pole in the #1 Team Gunston 6.2-litre Lola T70 Mk.3B GT.
Pressed up against the fence on race day, was a young boy, just 8 years old, who was attending the race with his father. The impression left by the Porsche 917 as Richard Attwood streaked away at the start, remained imprinted on the mind of Andre Bezuidenhout, whose dream it became to participate in the classic endurance race one day. In the intervening five decades, Andre has been busy building his dream; he is a committed amateur racer and has played a meaningful role in the South African motorsport administration since the early 1990’s. He is the sitting President of the National Court of Appeal of Motorsport South Africa and also a Judge of the FIA’s International Court of Appeal – but more about that later.
Richard Attwood recalls that day in 1969, “We both didn’t know how secure the welding was that had been done, so you might have seen me tear away down the straight because we had this power, but I would not have been driving flat out.” Boasting 560 bhp, the Porsche 917 was the dominant car in those days because it was so powerful and there wasn’t really anything else to compete with it, as Richard Attwood also confirmed.
“We put a big spoiler on the back and we threw away the factory fitted brakes and fitted Girling brakes,” Piper told the author.
Due to the car’s superior power and speed, they didn’t need to drive at the limit. Attwood again, “We drove the race with hope and a prayer, and just pulled out enough [of a lead] that we needed to win the race. Because we knew the repair was suspect, we didn’t go blasting off into the lead, we just tried to manage it as best we could and keep away from the others.”
Fortunately for the Team Perfect Circle Porsche 917, the car’s main opposition succumbed to mechanical woes. Despite the traditional heavy Highveld storm in the late afternoon, the white Porsche was still able to take the chequered flag with a comfortable cushion after nine hours. “We only just finished the race because the engine started leaking oil again quite badly towards the end and we just about made it. But we were just so glad to have the help of the locals to get us back into the race,” Attwood revealed.
In 2001, Andre Bezuidenhout was in the paddock at Kyalami when David Piper and his wife Liz were out in South Africa. The three got talking and the relationship developed. When the news broke that the South African 9 Hour was to be revived, Bezuidenhout began to flesh out his plan to run a car in the classic endurance race. It occurred to him that it had been exactly 50 years since he had stood wide-eyed at the fence as a young, impressionable boy back in ’69. He put the word out that he was putting a team together that could run in the 9 Hour, and here Jonny Westbrook and Julian Simpson of Simpson Motorsport stepped in. Andre Bezuidenhout elaborated, “When Stéphane Ratel and Toby Venter announced that the 9-hour would be returning to South Africa, I immediately embarked on putting the plan into action. Fifty years to put a dream into place is a long time. I could wait no longer.”
Enter a Porsche 911 GT3 R, not just any GT3 R, the very same car that won the 2010 British GT Championship which was owned and run by Trackspeed Racing. When Westbrook heard that Andre Bezuidenhout was looking for a Porsche he got in touch, “I said to Andre, this is a good car, and it is in amazing condition. Essentially it started to come together in December last year , and the deal was probably completed in early January this year.”
Team manager, Jonny Westbrook explained the car’s background, “It was bought by Trackspeed at the start of 2010 as a brand-new model 997 GT3 R. It ran in the British GT championships for four years, winning the championship in 2010, and then it was upgraded gradually over the years.” The car had a big accident at Oulton Park in 2014 after which it got re-shelled, rebuilt and remained unused for the rest of the season. The old shell must be returned to Porsche to be destroyed, before a new shell is sent back to you with your original chassis number. So, with the old shell being destroyed, there is never going to be a situation of two cars with the same chassis number. Westbrook continued, “When we got the car it was immaculate really, and the engine had probably done about 16 hours in a 30-hour life. This means we’ve got one of the freshest 997 GT3 Rs in the world.”
One of the challenges facing the team was that, with this car essentially being a 2010 car upgraded to 2014 spec for the British GT championship, there was no other similar car running in a current series on which to base its Balance of Performance (BoP). That was until a 997 GT3 R ran in the 2019 Suzuka 10 Hour, and so a BoP could then be calculated for the Kyalami car. Being an older car competing against current, more sophisticated and advanced machinery, Westbrook feels that they have been given a favourable BoP in terms of weight, air restrictor and ride height.
Since locating the car, Bezuidenhout and his two driving partners have had a chance to put the car through its paces on a couple of occasions. Cousins, Franco and Silvio Scribante who hail from the Eastern Cape in South Africa, are no strangers to endurance racing. Between test sessions, and in accordance with FIA regulations, Jonny Westbrook has had to replace the driver’s seat, install nets either side of the driver and replace the fire extinguisher system. In addition, the brakes have been replaced with endurance brakes which includes bigger pads and slightly different steel discs. The plan is not to change the pads, as Westbrook feels they should do the nine hours without any problem. The carbon spring clutch has been replaced with a sintered unit which is an endurance clutch.
Because the Kyalami 9 Hour race runs from daylight into the night, lights become an issue. However, endurance lights were never homologated by Porsche for this model and so an agreement had to be reached with the race promoters, SRO Motorsports, to fit these. So as not to cut the bumper, shallow spotlights were fitted within the front ducts. Another factor to be considered, is that it can be expected that the Highveld will deliver one of its early summer thunderstorms. Not only does this require good lighting, but racing strategies must take this possibility into account. In addition, the car was fitted with illuminated number panels on the doors and due to night running, the cockpit dials and switches must be lit as well for the driver’s benefit.
In addition to the above, new windows were installed all around the car to avoid any scratches creating unwanted glare or distortion. Westbrook again, “For an endurance race you will be checking looms, foam taping stuff to stop it chafing, anything that might touch or rub something or any cable ties that might break or are in the wrong place. If a car has to last an hour that is one thing, but if it has to last nine hours it is a different story. We will change fuel pumps for instance as a matter of course even if they work perfectly because everything has a finite life, so we will change anything that might be coming close to the end of its life.”
And so, with the preparation work complete, the car was rolled into its container which will be its home for the next six weeks as the ship makes its way from the UK to Durban, South Africa. The container will be offloaded and ultimately make its way to Kyalami, Johannesburg, where the team will be reunited with their car.
When asked what he was hoping for, team manager Jonny Westbrook replied, “My aim in all of this, is firstly to get the car to the finish and secondly to present ourselves as professionals on the international stage. I want Andre and all of the guys to be comfortable and to look good on the world stage. That’s my ambition!”
Andre Bezuidenhout, Franco Scribante and Silvio Scribante will all be teammates in the Team Perfect Circle Porsche 911 GT3 R on 23 November at Kyalami. A further cousin of the Scribante’s, Dino, has also been asked to ready himself for the event so as to ensure that the team has a full complement of drivers available. The combination of particularly Andre and Franco hasn’t always been this way, as they have been arch-rivals in the Knysna Hill Climb for many years. Andre has won the event for the last three years running and is the outright record holder for the event. He has twice been the winner of the Zwartkops Africa 2-Hour endurance race between 1994 and 2019 and has enjoyed several podium finishes in endurance events in South Africa in 2-Hour and 6-Hour races. His CV is bursting with participation in numerous other motorsport events, both national and international.
Franco Scribante is likewise a multiple Knysna Hill Climb champion and the current record holder in the GT category. He is currently leading the Extreme Super Car Series in South Africa, having won it in 2012 and 2017. He holds numerous other motorsport titles. In previous years, he was twice the national 250 SA Go-kart champion amongst many other achievements. Franco is known as a fierce competitor in African motorsport events.
Cousin Silvio Scribante has been SA Karting Champion in 125cc GP class three times, and multiple other years as Provincial champion. He won Class E of the South African Group N production car championship, and has had two wins in the Mopar SA Endurance Championship, a 4-Hour endurance racing series and has also been awarded his Springbok Colours for Motorsport in South Africa. His CV is also bulging with more achievements than we have space for here.
Bezuidenhout is realistic about their chances in the race, “We are up against the best GT drivers of the world. We are totally realistic that as amateurs we will be aiming for a category win in our class and as high as possible a finish amongst the overall competitors.”
These three drivers are to combine their skills in November in the Kyalami 9 Hour in the AM class. Of experience they have plenty, they have a great car under them and a wealth of racing experience backing them in the pit garage. It’s all looking good then for the Team Perfect Circle as the 2019 team look to repeat the success of the 1969 team – not to win overall of course, but to take home a class win. That dream, which began to take shape within the mind of an 8-year old Andre Bezuidenhout fifty years ago, has now come full circle as the 911 GT3 R is prepped and ready to do battle under the African sun.
Kyalami 9 Hour – 23 November 2019
Back in 1969, the competitors raced around Kyalami in a clockwise direction, but today the track is run in an anti-clockwise direction. The field will comprise 30 cars, with the possibility of a further two late entries, all of which will be competing with the hope of winning the race be it in an overall capacity or their class. The competition will be fierce as they all seek to add the Kyalami 9 Hour trophy to their list of achievements.
About the future, Bezuidenhout revealed, “Our effort is not a once-off as a team, we would all like to compete at Bathurst, Suzuka, Spa, etc in forthcoming years, keeping our participation to one event per year. For us as amateurs, these are bucket-list items, so our commitment and passion drives us to this. The 911 R is eligible until 2022, so time will tell as to how successful our efforts will be.”
Porsche Road & Race will be following the team’s progress and preparation during the race week and we will also be publishing a report on the race after the event. So be sure to stay tuned for our updates. The race starts 13h00 local time (12h00 UK time) and will finish at around 22h00 (21h00 UK time) which means that the cars will run for up to three hours in darkness.
Note: Thanks to all those who gave their time to be interviewed. Thanks also to Andre Loubser whose book, Kyalami – A Reflection on the History of the Original Circuit 1961-1987, was used as reference for this feature – you can read a review of this fine book by clicking on the link above.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale, Kyalami Racing Circuit, Team Perfect Circle, David Marchio