South African driver Kelvin van der Linde pulled off the best possible debut in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup by taking victory at Zolder with co-driver Steijn Schothorst. With championship success in both his native South Africa and current home Germany where he added a Nürburgring 24 Hours win in 2017, Van der Linde was as surprised as anyone with his Zolder weekend, considering the package only game together in the last couple of months.
“We obviously didn’t expect that coming into the weekend,” said van der Linde.
“We were hoping to get into the top 10, as a realistic goal for a new Audi team. Only about six weeks ago they decided to go with Audi, so it was very last-minute to put the whole package together with engineers, drivers, mechanics. So then you have to come in with an open mind, but for sure now the expectations will be different for the rest of the season.”
Racing an Audi R8 LMS GT3 with Attempto Racing, the bar has been set high for the coming season, but Kelvin is confident that they can build on this success.
“The team is growing and we’re trying to develop. WRT has been in the business for years, whereas [team-owner] Arkin Aka and his team have just come to Audi now, so they have a lot to learn with the engineers and mechanics to get the car and the whole package up to the speed of WRT. They obviously are great at pitstops and this we need to practice.
“We’re trying to get closer every weekend. We have a great line-up with Steijn and myself and for Endurance as well. That’s what we have to capitalise on and see where we end up.”
Recalling the race, Van der Linde felt that it was great teamwork and a little bit of luck that brought the win.
“We had to pass Will [Stevens of WRT] because we knew from race 1 that he was perhaps a bit slower than us at the end of the race, so we tried to overtake him and make a gap before the pitstop. That worked out, we managed that and built a gap.
“I had a bit of traffic on the in-lap, which didn’t help me, but I don’t know if it would have made the difference to overtake them at the pit exit. But it didn’t help and we came out in second position.
“The Lamborghini already had their pitstop issue and WRT got the drive through and that gave us the win. You could say we were a bit lucky, but in the end, racing is a team sport and the mechanics need to be on point and the drivers as well, and you need a bit of luck.”
Looking to the rest of the season including the ADAC GT Masters, 24 Hours of the Nürburgring and Blancpain GT Endurance Cup where Steijn’s brother Pieter will be joining the pairing, Kelvin is expecting to be busy.
“Monza for sure is not an Audi track, but we have a very strong driver line-up and with the new qualifying format with the average drivers’ lap times, we can for sure do something in qualifying.
“You know how it is: if you start at the front you can maybe go with the lead bunch and try and do something with strategy in the race. Everything is open and we are motivated from the win now and try and keep the momentum going.
“The next two months will be very busy with racing. I’m in the car every weekend until the Nürburgring 24 Hours, so for me that race actually feels very far away. Of course, it’s my number one race on the calendar, especially after winning it last year. We’re coming back and want to defend the win from last year.
“The Nürburgring is a world-wide known race. It’s not necessarily like the GT Masters which is famous in Germany or Blancpain GT which is a European championship. The Nürburgring is recognised around the world so that helps a lot within my home country. It makes me very proud and see if we can keep that going for them.”
Having won two VW championships in South Africa, the Afrikaner is keen to bring some high-level GT racing back to his homeland.
“Yeah, we are always chatting about it, there’s always a lot of rumours about the Intercontinental GT Challenge going to Kyalami next year. I’m behind the scenes trying to promote it as much as possible and if it does go ahead I will try and get as many South Africans on the grid as I can.”
Miguel Bosch contributed to this report.