The South African Nine Hour Endurance Race at Killarney International Raceway on Saturday December 5 had it all.
There were crashes galore, engine blow-ups, broken gearboxes, wheels coming off and even an onboard fire, during the course of a long day’s journey into night.
It seemed at times that the cars were spending more time cruising round behind the safety car than at racing speeds, but the action between safety-car periods was epic – a bruising, grinding, door-handle-bashing saga, testing the stamina and concentration powers of the drivers and pit crews to the limit.
Starting from pole with a qualifying lap of 1min09.488sec was the Scribante Racing Chevron B26 of Franco, Silvio and Dino Scribante. Built in 1973, the B26 was Chevron’s first sports-racing car with a monocoque “tub“ rather than a tubular space-frame.
Originally fitted with a two-litre, four cylinder Ford engine, the Scribante B26 now has two Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle engines mounted on a common crankcase to produce a screaming 2900cc V8 with more power than Chevron designer Derek Bennett would have dreamed possible.
Alongside it on the grid was the Harp Motorsport Pilbeam MP84 of Francis Carruthers and Steve Humble. They were followed by a huge field of 45 starters that ranged from the Stradale Motorsport Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 of Andrew Rackstraw, Adrian Dalton, and Charl Arangies to the Wheel Collision Golf Mk1 piloted by local heroes Byron Mitchell, Cyril Somerville and Elroy Vice, and included no less than 16 Lexus-engined Backdraft Cobras.
But the drama started less than three laps in when the Team Africa Le Mans Ginetta G55 GT3 of team principal Dr Greg Mills and Jaki Scheckter suffered a terminal mechanical infarction coming out of Kfm Corner and expired in the Bus Stop, bringing out the safety car for the first of many excursions.
Then the Ligier sprang a coolant leak, forcing a pit stop of more than half an hour and dropping it down to 41st.
At the end of the first hour the Stradale Gallardo was (theoretically) in the lead, having completed 41 laps, but was in the pits, while the Scribante Chevron and the Team Africa Le Mans “international” Ginetta G55 GT3, crewed by Scottish racer Anthony Reid, Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen and Hennie Groenewald from Johannesburg were on their 41st lap, 71 seconds apart.
After two hours, the Chevron had completed 76 laps, and was three laps ahead of the Lamborghini.
At the three-hour mark, the Chevron had reeled off 111 laps, while the Lamborghini was in the pits again, with 109 tours on its tally and Team Africa Le Mans had retaken third with 106.
After two-thirds of race duration the Scribante crew had completed 227 laps, seven more than Team Africa Le Mans, with the M Sport Polo SuperCup third on 212, the Mini fourth on 227 and the Ligier up to fifth on 210.
With seven hours of intense racing behind it, the Chevron was still holding a six-lap lead over the Ginetta, with M Sport 13 laps further in arrears, three laps ahead of the Mini and five laps ahead of the Ligier.
Eight minutes before the end of the eighth hour, Charl Arangies accelerated away from the pits in the Lamborghini after a scheduled refuelling stop, only to have the car burst into flames seconds later in Kfm Corner. Arangies stopped at the exit of the corner and was out of the car, unhurt, in seconds, just as the marshals arrived on the scene with fire extinguishers in hand.
Meanwhile, the Chevron continued to reel off the laps, while the Ligier crew pushed hard to pass the M Sport Polo and claim a podium finish. Venter finally made the pass with just 15 minutes to go before the flag fell at 9.08pm.
And so it was that the oldest car in the race took line honours (and Class S) after leading 317 of 347 laps.
Seven laps back was the leading Team Africa Car, second overall and the winner of the GT3 SA Class.
Third overall and second in Class S was the AidCall 247 Ligier on 323 laps, just 53 seconds ahead of the M Sport Polo.