The ‘sunset’ for Team Perfect Circle in Kyalami 9 Hour occurred just three hours into the race when a mechanical fault ended the team’s dreams for a magical race on home soil. For the whole crew, it was a bitterly disappointing end to what had been such a positive build up to the race. Faced with a very real chance of scoring a solid finish with possible class honours, the trio of local drivers including Andre Bezuidenhout and Franco and Silvio Scribante, went home empty-handed, but nevertheless encouraged.
Officially the race got underway at 12h58 under November’s typically sunny Kyalami skies and with the temperature showing 29ºC. On the first lap, the pack was headed by the pole sitting #31 Frikadelli Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Nick Tandy, Dennis Olsen and Mathieu Jaminet. Before long, a spearhead of three Porsches took command at the front, these being the #31 Frikadelli Racing car, the #20 GPX Racing car and the #12 Dinamic Motorsport car. After several laps, the world sports car champion, Michael Christensen in the #20 Porsche, moved into the lead, and it was then their turn to defend the top spot.
At about one-third distance, the news came through that the #09 Porsche GT3 R of Bezuidenhout/Scribante/Scribante had officially retired. With 85 laps on the board and three-and-a-half hours into the race, the #09 Team Perfect Circle Porsche suffered a broken third gear, and was withdrawn. This was a bitter blow to the substantial effort that had been mounted by team principal Andre Bezuidenhout. Based on determination and enthusiasm alone, this team was right up there with the best of them, but this was not to be.
Watching the proceedings from the pit garage was 1969 9-hour winner David Piper and his wife, and no doubt the whole Team Perfect Circle crew were hoping for a strong finish in this, their first outing on the international stage.
As the race progressed, Tandy tagged his Porsche team-mate Christensen into a spin, but fortunately, both 911s rejoined without damage. The subsequent drive-through penalty for Tandy’s move initially dropped the newly-installed Olsen out of contention, but Tandy was later to make up for this misdemeanour. True to form, Kyalami delivered its customary thunderstorm on the day with two-and-a-half hours left on the clock, preventing any green flag running. With just 25 minutes left to run, the track went green once again as the Clerk of the Course correctly determined that the storm had passed. This safety car period caused no small amount of chaos as those cars that had to refuel found themselves out of position and unable to do anything about it. However, Nick Tandy, Dennis Olsen and Mathieu Jaminet dominated the action when it mattered most, and at 23h07 local time, the #31 Frikadelli Racing Porsche was declared the winner.
Porsche had to overcome a 22-point deficit in order to beat Mercedes-AMG, but they did enough to earn the decisive points needed to clinch their first Intercontinental GT Challenge manufacturers’ title. This was thanks to the third-place finish by the #20 GPX Racing squad of Kévin Estre, Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz. The drivers’ championship title also went to Porsche as Dennis Olsen secured the crown with his second victory of the season after winning the season-opening round at Bathurst in Australia.
Sebastian Golz, Project Manager 911 GT3 R: “Three wins from five races, and podium finishes at all rounds – that’s how you win championships.”
Dennis Olsen, #31 Frikadelli Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R: “This is definitely the best day of my career by now. 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.”
Team Perfect Circle
For the Team Perfect Circle, it was team principal Andre Bezuidenhout who pointed out that the dream was actually not over, it was merely the start of more good things to come. It is this positive attitude that has characterised this journey from boyhood dream to fruition this last Saturday. Despite retiring the car early, drivers Andre, Franco and Silvio, as well as the whole crew were overwhelmed by the response and reactions of friends, well-wishers and racing colleagues alike. In fact, it is their never-say-die attitude that has prompted both the race organisers and stakeholders to encourage Team Perfect Circle not only to return to the Kyalami paddock next time, but to join the Intercontinental GT Challenge rounds at Bathurst, Silverstone, Spa and Suzuka. This invitation is in itself evidence that the Team Perfect Circle effort at Kyalami was at least on a par with the rest of the paddock, if not better.
To have behind them the skill and experience of a racing team of the order of Simpson Motorsport, was unquestionably a major plus on the side of the team. In Julian Smith and Jonny Westbrook, there lies many years of experience at the top of the sport and their commitment to the Kyalami endeavour was evident.
At this stage, Team Perfect Circle have not yet decided which of the 2020 Intercontinental GT Challenge rounds to contend, and a decision will be made in due course. As team principal, Andre Bezuidenhout summarised, “A successful life consists of many cogs in a wheel working together. Motor racing is no different. If something small fails (in this instance a third gear which is no larger than half of your wrist) it brings a team of committed enthusiasts, engineers, technicians, supporters and ultimately drivers, to a halt. We are disappointed, but we are not demoralised. This is life and if you go racing, you must expect failure to be around the next corner. It is only when this happens that victory is sweet.”
Kyalami 9 Hour Porsche race results
The 2020 Intercontinental GT Challenge campaign begins in just over two months’ time at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia, on 31 January – 2 February 2020.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: David Marchio, Porsche Werkfoto and SRO