South Africa, a country famous for its stunning landscapes, unique wildlife, diverse culture and places like Cape Town and Johannesburg has produced many successful racing drivers in the past. Those include 1979 F1 world champion Jody Scheckter, Touring car driver Mike Briggs, F1 Medical car driver Alan van der Merwe and former F1 driver Desirè Wilson. Its role in motorsport though continues with the next generation of drivers seeking triumph and glory. One of those is 25-year old Kelvin van der Linde.

Kelvin was born in Johannesburg as the son of Bernie and Shaun van der Linde. Seeing as his dad was a BMW Factory driver in South Africa Kelvin soon developed an interest in motorsport himself. From there onwards he made his way through different categories and moved to Europe while collecting plenty of silverware.

I got to talk to Kelvin about moving to another continent, his immediate success in Europe, his first season in DTM, the role of his family throughout that journey and much more.


Inspired by his father Kelvin started karting in 2005 where he won multiple championships. In 2011 he then moved on to cars and participated in the Sout African Polo Cup which he claimed the title in the following year. When asked why he didn’t go the formula route Kelvin told me it was not possible as he didn’t have the financial support. It’s a problem that many aspiring racers face and that keeps them from pursuing a career with the goal to reach Formula 1. Nevertheless, Van der Linde went on to search for new opportunities which he found in Europe. A logical step as he wanted to build a career in racing.

KelvinI always wanted to be a Pro Race Driver and the natural step is to go and compete in Europe or Germany.

Moving to Germany Kelvin had quite a difficult time with the language barrier which ceased once he started to learn German. Put under lots of pressure from a financial side he still performed and went on to secure the Scirocco-R championship in 2013 and became GT-Masters champion in the following year. Definitely a big success story for the young man from Johannesburg.

Kelvin: Initially [the move was] very tough but once I began speaking German it made my life a lot easier. [I never expected to be so successful when I arrived], but I only had sponsor money for 2 seasons so I knew my only chance to make it was by winning.

The 2013 and 2014 seasons gave Kelvin his first big breakthrough as became an Official Audi Sport driver which provided many opportunities. He started racing for Audi in 2015 and participated for them in the GT-Masters until 2020. While becoming champion for the second time in 2019, he also took successfully part in many long-distance races like 8h California, 24h Spa-Francorchamps, 24h Daytona and 24h Dubai. He himself though feels like his biggest success was the victory at the 24h Nürburgring in 2017.

Kelvin: I returned to the GT-Masters because it’s very competitive, there are a lot of top drivers and also a lot of Manufacturer support. I just felt at home in the paddock. The challenge of racing at night [in long-distance races] is something I really enjoy and because it’s only 3-4 times a year, it is somehow special and unique. [The win at the 24h Nürburgring] was my big break within Factory racing and opened up many doors for me going forward.


With Covid 19 the world then shut down in 2020 and as a consequence, Kelvin couldn’t see his parents back in South Africa which was extremely tough. But in the end, he came back even stronger in 2021 and almost accomplished one of his goals in racing. For the first time ever he competed in the DTM, a very prestigious GT- championship in Europe. From race one he was there and constantly fought for pole positions and victories. During the season it looked like he would go into the last races with a big points lead but all of that changed with several unlucky incidents. The last race became a dramatic championship decider. Kelvin made a risky move into Turn 1 and ended up cutting the track and pushing Liam Lawson wide. That made both of them lose a chance on the title and Van der Linde earned many critical comments. All of those were justified but when trolls on social media started handing out death threats to him and his family it became a much more severe situation. Kelvin took a big social media break and did some self-reflecting. After all, though the season was much more than its ending and helped to develop Kelvin not only as a racing driver but also as a person.

Kelvin: I had big expectations [going into 2021] and also wanted to prove that I deserved my spot on the grid after having to wait for so many years. In general, I really enjoyed the whole year. I made many new friends in the paddock and also enjoyed a lot of success on track. As it is every year, you learn a lot, there’s things you did well and some things you didn’t do well as a driver but the top guys can convert that for the following season and come back as more complete drivers. That’s my goal for 2022.

Addressing the comments on social media he said:

I think it’s part of life, as athletes we accept that we are living life in the public eye and every move we make can be judged. In the same way that we are celebrated for doing things well, we are criticised for things we don’t do well, and that’s totally Ok, as long as it does not become personal and disrespectful towards people and their families/beliefs or background

 

During his time with ABT Sportsline in DTM Kelvin was partnered by the experienced Mike Rockenfeller and 20-year-old Sophia Flörsch. Contrary to many other female racers she chose not to be a part of W Series, an all-girl competition. A very important step in the motorsport industry in the eyes of Van der Linde who is very open-minded to the idea.

Kelvin: Series like W series have given many women a great platform to show their talent. I am a fan of that and I believe we will see more women in the sport as a result. In the end, Motorsport has no racial or sexual boundaries. We are all the same in the car once the helmets go on and that’s why I love it so much.


Apart from financial means, the support of family and friends is something very substantial for every racing driver. Parents help financially in the early stages of the career but later it becomes much more important to just have them as someone to talk to and where you can switch off. To recharge Kelvin often visits his home, South Africa, in the off-season and spends time on the Golf Course.

He grew up in a motorsport family with his dad being a racing driver and his younger brother Sheldon also pursuing a career in the same industry. Both had the same goal in reaching DTM but the younger brother made it first which may seem like a clash of interest to us outsiders. Surprisingly though there was never bad blood between the two and just immense support for each other’s achievements. In 2021 they even moved in together and travelled together to races as they both participated in the same category. When at home they also spent lots of time together as they had common hobbies due to their mutual profession. For Kelvin, living with Sheldon was very enjoyable albeit at times quite chaotic.


Looking ahead to 2022 Kelvin will once more compete in DTM with ABT-Sportsline. He’s committed to claiming the title and feels confident in his abilities even after the events of last season. But while that is his current goal he also hopes to compete for another very prestigious piece of silverware in the future.

Kelvin: I have had some of my best years following defeat. So, it is sometimes a nice reminder to keep working harder and to prove all the naysayers wrong. One day I would like to win a Championship in DTM and I would like to win Le Mans 24h overall.

 


A huge thank you goes to Kelvin Van der Linde for being so nice and taking the time to answer all of my questions!

Picture credits: @Kelvinvanderlinde on Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

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