SA racer makes his motorsport dream a reality in Germany

Mark Smyth chatted with DTM racing driver Sheldon van der Linde

18 July 2019 - 08:48 By Mark Smyth
South African BMW DTM driver, Sheldon van der Linde. Pic:SUPPLIED
South African BMW DTM driver, Sheldon van der Linde. Pic:SUPPLIED

You would think that all racing drivers dream of making it into Formula One, but that was never the case for SA racer Sheldon van der Linde. His dream was to drive in DTM, the German touring car championship and it’s a dream he achieved in 2019 when he secured a works drive with BMW.

We caught up with him and the director of BMW Motorsport, Jens Marquardt, at the Norisring in Nuremberg, Germany.

Van der Linde comes from a well-known SA motorsport family, a third-generation racer after grandfather Hennie, father Shaun and uncle Etienne — all of them former SA title-holders. Sheldon is also the younger brother of Kelvin who races in the international Blancpain GT Series and ADAC GT Masters.

Sheldon won SA’s 2014 one-make Polo Cup championship at the age of 14, and won it again the following year before he went on to compete in Europe in the Audi Sport TT Cup, ADAC GT Masters, Touring Car Racing championship and Blancpain GT series, before landing his dream drive in DTM.

“It’s quite a hard business,” he said. “I’m making that statement, getting in their [rivals] heads as they’re getting in mine.”

Mind games are part of motorsport, but Van der Linde is a real professional in spite of being just 20 years old. It’s one of the things that impressed BMW.

“As a person, he’s got it all,” says Marquardt, adding that “he impressed us.”

He points out that one thing a driver needs to be able to do is relay exactly what a car is doing to the engineers so they can make the car even better and Van der Linde has that ability.

Sheldon van der Linde in action in the BMW M4 at the Norisring round of the DTM championship. Picture: SUPPLIED
Sheldon van der Linde in action in the BMW M4 at the Norisring round of the DTM championship. Picture: SUPPLIED

Things didn’t go to plan at the Norisring though. Van der Linde made contact with his BMW M4 DTM teammate, Timo Glock in the first race and both failed to finish. Race two saw Van der Linde start sixth on the grid and at one point during the pit stop window he was leading, but then a mechanical issue forced him to retire but he remains 11th in the overall championship standings.

Reliability was always going to be an issue this season says Marquardt. Regulation changes for 2019 and component issues with the new 447kW four-cylinder turbocharged engines meant the team had to prepare for reliability problems early in the season.

Even more changes are likely to follow, with Marquardt saying that DTM has now done the downsizing step in terms of engines, the next thing will be to look at other technology. He says hybrids are most likely.

“We have to be flexible,” he says, adding that they can look at the traditional internal combustion engine, as well as hybrids and even hydrogen, which he says would be suitable for endurance racing.

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Marquardt has a number of categories to look after, but is keen to ensure that the focus is on the racing more than the technology. He says F1 technology is too far away from what is happening in the cars we actually buy. DTM and others like it need to remain about classic racing.

“We want to get back to pure racing,” he says, adding that the recent banning of radio communication between teams in DTM has removed some of the strategy reactions and made it more about the on-track action.”

Marquardt acknowledges that there is a chance for technology and fans to come together, particularly in Formula E. He suggests there could be 10 human drivers on the grid, as well as 10 autonomous race cars, controlled by an artificial intelligence computer. Then there could be 10 virtual cars, raced by someone in their living room. It’s hard to imagine this scenario, but 10 years ago we probably couldn’t have imagined electrically-powered Formula E cars racing through the streets of the world’s major cities.