As the clock ticked down to zero in the opening qualifying session for the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, it was the Audi Sport Team Land outfit which emerged on the top of the time sheets. The car, which carries the number 1 thanks to its exceptional victory in last year’s N24, was taken to the top by factory Audi star Kelvin van der Linde after the South African lapped the 25km circuit in a 8mins 18secs .914.
Kelvin’s tour put him 0.3s ahead of the nearest challenger, stamping the defending champ and Land Audi’s authority early on in the weekend aboard the synonymous green R8 LMS GT3. Land’s race winning drivers from 2017 may be split among other teams and even other manufacturers in the form of Connor De Phillippi who this year takes on the event with BMW, but the car still boasts one of the strongest line ups on the grid.
Sharing the Land Audi with Kelvin this weekend is Christopher Mies, Rene Rast and younger brother, Sheldon van der Linde. who has been making waves of his own kind in the sportscar and GT community over the last 12 months. It’s a combination that needs no introduction whatsoever, and with Free Practice and Qualifying 1 in the books, Kelvin is confident the German squad is on the right track to potentially repeating its success from last year.
“It’s a very proud feeling, we worked hard for that number one and we suffered through a lot of tough moments last year so, it would be nice this year if there was a little less drama for us,” joked Kelvin.
“We are for sure fighting hard and we have a good lineup, some experience, some fresh talent so I think it’s a good combination and hopefully we can use it well on Sunday.
“If you look at Q1 it looks like it,” added Kelvin when asked by GT REPORT if he can take back-to-back N24 wins.
“If it stays like that then I guess the chances are all open, but, of course, the race is long so we need to just survive the 24 hours. I mean, this year it’s very competitive and very close, much closer I would say than last year. That’s what we like, we like to see the close racing, close competition – it makes it more exciting when you manage to do a good job.
“The key will be to stay out of trouble; the rain is back, it’s not like last year where it was pretty much dry the whole race. We’re expecting some rain Saturday night to Sunday so it will be very important to make it through the early hours of the morning without any scratches on the car and then see where we are at lunch time on Sunday and push to the finish.”
For brother, Sheldon, this weekend marks the 18-year old’s first ever Nürburgring 24 Hours and he got his first taste of driving around Green Hell in the dark during Thursday night’s qualifying session.
“The session was was really just about my first laps in the night – it’s my first Nürburgring 24 hour so I’ve got a lot to learn,” said Sheldon.
“I’m just really looking forward, the car is performing really well so far and I’m really positive for a good result in the race.
“Kelvin gives me a lot of tips, which I think other drivers don’t really share as much as we do. It does for sure help and it’s cool to be driving the winning car from last year with him.”
With 150 cars on the entry for this year’s race, there is no doubt traffic and the fluctuation of Code 60s will make an unprecedented challenge in the race. Given the win-lose situation with both of those factors, Kelvin explained the importance of a strong race car for the Nürburgring 24 Hour vastly outweighs that of a qualifying set up; something the Land Audi squad put to play in Thursday’s running.
“I think we used the clear track very well early on in the [qualifying] session,” said Kelvin.
“We saw that there was a lot of Code 60s towards the end of the session; a lot of cars struggled to repeat their lap times from the beginning of the session.
“From that point of view, we did everything perfectly and then we just used the time well to start preparing the car for the race. We know we have a good qualifying car so it’s more important to see what we can do over the long runs and then of course we got Sheldon in for the night time session. It was I think very productive.”
Track action from the Nürburgring-Nordschleife kicks off again on Friday with Qualifying 2 at 14:55 CET before the all-important Top 30 Shootout at 19:00 CET.
Miguel Bosch contributed to this report.