Audi Sport Team Valvoline driver Kelvin van der Linde arrived at Mount Panorama this week for the Bathurst 12 Hour one lesson smarter than a year ago. The South African was on his way last year to a podium finish, possibly even the win, when he made an uncharacteristic mistake and slid into the unforgiving concrete wall at The Esses. Now, Van der Linde is back with the same combination that came so close in 2018 and if the first practise sessions are any indication, he’s is back to make this one count.

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“It’s exciting coming back now not as a rookie anymore,” Van der Linde says.

“We learnt a lot last year, learnt from some mistakes that we made, and I think carrying that back with the same driving crew, same engineer and all that, we’re going to really use that as one of our strengths this year. We can basically pick up where we left off and I think that’s a really strong point for us leading into the race.”

While one Audi works team, WRT, won the race last year, it was the Melbourne Performance Centre-run team that led the Audi charge for most of the race.

“Audi was really strong last year,” he continues.

“It was a competitive package and looking at the latest Balance of Performance, not much has changed at least on our part, so we’re pretty confident that we can carry that same performance going into this year. For sure, we have the new Bentley coming, which will be very strong. The BMW is also really strong, especially at the top of the mountain. So, from that perspective, it will be an even tougher race this year than it was last year.”

The most important lesson in his debut Bathurst 12 Hour, Van der Linde says, is being patient.

“I learnt mainly that it’s not really a race until the last two hours. Actually, it’s just rolling around and making sure your car is in one piece. I think even guys that have a lot of experience also succumbed a bit to some mistakes, like in the case of BMW last year. From that point of view that makes me feel a bit better, but like I said, it’s not a race until the last two hours.

“We’re just going to circulate and make sure we have the best car until the end of the race.”

Van der Linde was one of 23 drivers who made the crossing from Daytona to Bathurst, a journey from one side of the planet to the other.

“I actually remember struggling a lot last year with that in terms of the logistical side when we had a quite bad connection flight-wise. I came off Daytona which was a full dry race, which is very physical for the body, and then having quite a bad flight connection meant I was really running kind of empty the whole week, whereas now I feel my preparation is much better. We didn’t have such a crazy physical Daytona because lot of it was wet running, so my body is a lot better conditioned. We had a direct flight here so I feel like my preparation coming here is much better physically at least and hopefully that will make the difference going into the race.”

Australia has seen an unusually hot summer this year and although temperatures have dropped for race weekend, they will still reach a hot 33 degrees on Sunday. No challenge for the 22-year-old from Johannesburg, however.

“Well, I’m a South African so I’m quite gotten used to the heat. I think my teammates suffer a little bit more with that than I do. For sure, though, it gets incredibly hot in the car, but we’re equipped really well. Our Audi has all the air conditioning and stuff inside so we’re as well prepared as we can be, but of course at the end of the day it is a tough race and it’s going to be tough physically – you just got to deal with it.”