2019 has been a year of change for Sheldon van der Linde. The young South African grabbed the chance of a lifetime to follow in his father’s footsteps and race with BMW in DTM. Learning the ropes in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters left Van der Linde with little time to race sportscar, entering only a handful of races. Now that the season in DTM is over, he’s back in the BMW M6 GT3 to end the year in Kyalami, the place where he grew up.
Van der Linde was picked up by Audi for 2018 to drive alongside his brother Kelvin in some of the biggest races on the GT calendar. It was a marriage, however, that lasted just a single season. Leaving Audi for BMW was a decision made with his heart, says Sheldon van der Linde: “It was very simple: There was a place in DTM with BMW and not Audi. My dad was racing for BMW as well a few years ago, so it was always a dream of mine to continue with BMW. Now I’m in DTM with BMW, I think it doesn’t get any better than this. I’m very happy to be where I am and hope to have a long future ahead.
“I always want to be loyal, but I wasn’t so long with Audi, so it made sense to make the change now instead of being with Audi and then make the change. I want to build up a long-term relationship with BMW and I feel that this was the right time. I’m very young in my career to do this and build up something special until – I don’t know when, hopefully very long into the future.”
In the past the ‘VDL brothers’ often teamed up in the Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3. This year, however, the two are going up against each other for the first time in their careers.
“We have Kyalami coming up for the Intercontinental GT where it’ll be the first time we’re gonna race in different cars against each other,” says the driver from Johannesburg. “But I think it’ll be the same as any car on track, we probably want to beat each other even a bit more because we always push each other along! But I think it’s no added pressure, we’ve both helped each other to where we are now so there’s no reason why it should be more pressure.”
The Kyalami 9 Hour will be homecoming for Sheldon van der Linde: The BMW Team Schnitzer driver grew up just minutes away from the former World Sportscar Championship racetrack.
“I can’t wait to go to Kyalami! It’s 15 minutes from my home so it really is my home race. I’ll be racing with Schnitzer as well and with really good teammates – the line-up that we have is super strong. I’m looking forward to it because we know the BMW should be quite strong around that track, it’s got a lot of medium and high-speed corners so the package should be good. I just hope we can bring it all together without any mistakes in the race because this race is so competitive. It’s unbelievable how many strong cars are on the entry list. It’s gonna be important to not make any mistakes, be fast, qualify at the front and then hopefully spray some champagne on Sunday!”
As special the race will be for Van der Linde, as equally important will the return of high-level international racing be for South Africa’s motorsports community. To date, well over a dozen local drivers and one local team are entered for the race hosted on 23 November.
“I enjoy racing against my fellow South Africans and I think it’s always a good thing for our sport as well because we’ve got so many more fans coming because of all those drivers. Obviously, the more South African drivers, the more fans we have, I think it’s great.
“There’s a massive hype. People are saying to expect 45.000 fans. We’ll have to see if that is true, but I know there’s a big hype. Between myself, my brother and Jordan Pepper for Bentley, us three have really tried to push it as much as possible when we knew it was going to happen. There’s not much more we can do, really, we’ll have to wait and see how big it’s gonna be.”
The South African drivers’ successes in championships such as Blancpain GT and in the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring have helped spur interest in motorsports in their homecountry, Van der Linde says: “We’ve kind of opened people’s eyes to Europe again and they’ve been really interested in what’s going on with us in Europe. In terms of that, it definitely opened discussions. We have a really good facility in South Africa with Kyalami. It has been resurfaced, the lay-out has changed, so there’s no reason why we should not race there.”
With the season over after Kyalami, Van der Linde looks forward to next year.
“I can’t wait for some holiday before Kyalami! And after that, it’s just chilling out until next year. I don’t know what my program is yet. My plan is to stay in DTM and hopefully get some good results in DTM, I think we deserve that. We’ve learned a lot in the rookie season.
“The plan is also to do some more GT3 races than this year. I did only two VLNs and the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring and Kyalami coming up, so only four in total. The plan is definitely to do around eight GT3 races next year.”