Audi claimed victory in the Suzuka 10 Hours, coming out on top in a field of 36 GT3 cars exclusively equipped with Pirelli tyres. The Italian firm has agreed a four-year deal to supply the epic Japanese endurance encounter held on the same circuit as the Japanese Grand Prix.
Dries Vanthoor, Kelvin van der Linde and Frederic Vervisch took the win for Team WRT, completing 275 laps in their Audi R8 LMS around one of the world’s greatest racetracks in the penultimate round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
This was despite some rain in free practice that denied teams the chance to fine-tune setups and strategies for the race, as was also the case at the Spa 24 Hours last month. With free practice and the race run in very different conditions, previous knowledge of the Pirelli product as well as the drivers’ experience made the difference.
BMW led the way in the early stages before the WRT Audi used the undercut to move ahead. It was able to rebuild its lead even after its advantage was wiped out by a safety car.
Audi was on course for a one-two, but when the Absolute Racing entry of Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Mies and Christopher Haase suffered a refuelling issue and dropped, the GruppeM Mercedes-AMG (which won the race in 2018) was able to claim second with Rafaelle Marciello, Maximilian Buhk and Maro Engel sharing the driving duties.
There were three different manufacturers on the overall podium, with an Absolute Racing-entered Porsche taking third in the hands of Dennis Olsen, Matt Campbell and Dirk Werner. BMW, Nissan and Bentley were also represented among the top eight finishers.
The high-class field of driving talent included the two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen: he finished 22nd on his return to competition in a McLaren 720s GT3.
Pirelli circuit technical manager Matteo Braga: “Our Pirelli P Zero DHD2 tyres performed perfectly in line with expectations on one of the most challenging circuits in the world, in slightly cooler conditions compared to last year. The drivers were able to use their past experience to find the right balance between performance and degradation, with Suzuka being notoriously unforgiving of mistakes. The mix of manufacturers in the top places also underlines the closeness of the competition, as well as the ability of our tyres to work equally well on all the different types of car represented. Our four-year agreement to race at Suzuka demonstrates once more our commitment to GT racing, especially in Asia, with a wide range of prestige car manufacturers that are increasingly prominent in this important region – which enjoys a rich motorsport heritage.”
The 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge concludes with the Kyalami 9 Hours in South Africa on November 21-23: the first time that the competition has visited the African continent.