It was literally decades ago that the then Group N Production Car Series Championship used to be decided at the Killarney Raceway in a nine-hour season-ending endurance race.
Toyota Motorsport ruled the track back then with their pukka race car Conquest RSI offerings of the day.
Fast forward to 2022, and the Cape Nine-Hour is back on, and Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa returned to this iconic Cape Town track to do battle once again. It was decided to enter two of the six GR Yaris cars that have done duty throughout the year in the inaugural GR Cup that six of us motoring scribes went to battle with over seven rounds of Extreme National Series.
It was a long shot plan. These off-the-floor, almost stock standard, road going cars with a few safety upgrades only. Things like aircon, infotainment, electric windows, standard suspension, wheels and brakes were all still as specified in the new car brochure. The cars had already endured a year of full contact racing and now the keys were thrown back to us amateur scribes and a few Toyota SA execs, and told to finish nine hours of flat-out continuous racing.
There were 43 cars listed on the starting line-up, along with a bunch of big names that had won Le Mans to almost every other championship around the world that you could think of. Our little three-cylinder 1.6-litre turbo cars that produce 198 kW and 360 Nm were completely outgunned by much faster cars on paper. The brief was crystal clear, both cars had to finish, and there was nine hours of flat-out racing ahead of us. The pressure was on.
The two teams were united in achieving the same goal. Rivalries from during the year were put aside. While all too soon the flag dropped at 12:15pm sharp and we went racing.
We laughed at the high-tech strategies we had worked out for the Toyota GR Yaris. These consisted of marking the safety harnesses with tipex to make adjusting them a little easier during the driver changes, drive till the fuel light came on and don’t crash or break the cars. And that was it!
The ridiculously fast GT cars at the front would start lapping through the field every four laps. Being among the slowest in outright pace, you had to watch in front of you, next to you and almost always behind you.
The laps started to tick by and our little cars stayed on track. Slowly but surely, we started creeping up the leaderboard. We had heat, we had clouds, we had rain and we had darkness. But we stayed out of trouble.
We would swap drivers only when we needed to refuel since one set of Dunlop semi-slicks got the Toyota GR Yaris through nine hours of racing. And we only did a single change to the left front tyre for safety reasons and only had to change brake pads once. Without any technical failures, our climb up the ladder continued right till the end.
Come 9:15pm, we had achieved our goal. Both our cars came home to pit and not only had we worked our way up to eighth and 11th overall, but we also finished third and fourth in class.
We were celebrating like we had just won Le Mans, but big news was still to come. Our little road cars, driven by a bunch of clowns (our words), had not just finished and finished well, but finished first and second overall in the index of performance. Meaning Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa was crowned the most consistent performance team of the Cape Nine-Hour.