Kelvin van der Linde says he felt Audi was playing “catch up” to BMW throughout the race, with the cooler night-time hours and gains under Full Course Yellows ultimately putting the pair of BMW M6 GT3s with an advantage in this weekend’s Total 24 Hours of Spa.
The South African and co-drivers Sheldon van der Linde and Jeffrey Schmidt took their Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS to a third place overall finish and the best-placed Audi in the Intercontinental GT Challenge centerpiece.
It came after an up-and-down race for the German squad, in its Blancpain GT Series debut race, that saw multiple penalties and an ill-timed slow tire puncture turn into a strategic advantage for the No. 29 Audi.
A call from race strategist Peter Baron to complete a drive-through the pit lane to reset the car’s 65-minute maximum stint length following an unscheduled early stop for a slow puncture, ultimately put them into the lead prior to nightfall.
“We had to stop early and were always getting caught out with the Full Course Yellow,” van der Linde explained.
“[The stint length reset] actually gave us an advantage because we were stopping five laps later again. We benefitted from the one Full Course Yellow that put us in the lead by 30 seconds.”
However, contact with a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 at Eau Rouge, which bent a toe link and two track limit violation penalties, including a ten-second penalty for Kelvin cutting through the Bus Stop, cost them time.
“The safety car neutralized the race after the ten second [penalty],” Kelvin said. “It may have just been a bit of track position.
“The five seconds at the end could have made a bit of a difference if Fred [Vervisch] and them didn’t have their fuel calculation issues.”
Vervisch, who was running as the lead Audi at the time, slowed with 52 minutes to go in the No. 25 Audi Sport-backed Sainteloc entry, which ultimately gave them a 15-second buffer at the end.
Van der Linde, however, felt none of the Audis were a match for the BMW, which scored its third Spa victory in the last four years with a controlling second-half performance.
“We knew from Bathurst the BMWs are very strong when it’s very cold outside,” he said.
“That was their advantage in the night; they were untouchable when it was cold outside. And that always put them in the position where they could use the Full Course Yellow to their advantage.
“I think that’s where we were always playing catch-up. We lost out on the technical stop where we couldn’t do it under yellow.
“When you’re always playing catch up, it’s difficult in that scenario with the Full Course Yellows and stuff.”
“Best-Feeling” Third-Place Finish
Van der Linde said he’s satisfied with the podium result considering the steep learning curve the team had.
“For Land coming here, their first [Blancpain GT] race, and Montaplast as the lead sponsor… I think it’s pretty impressive for them,” he said.
“We came for the test and it was the first time with [tire] heating tents. It was all new for them.
“Luckily for me, I’ve been driving with Attempto since the beginning of the year so I had a bit of experience with the tire heating, so I could give some tips. It was a steep learning curve.
“This is probably the best-feeling third place finish I’ve had in my life.”
Making it even more special was the fact that he shared the podium with his brother, 19-year-old Sheldon, who along with Schmdt and Christopher Mies, missed out on a likely class victory in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.
A controversial mid-race Balance of Performance penalty issued by IMSA, while leading comfortably, dropped their Land Audi out of contention in that race.
“There was obviously a bit of a bitter taste after Daytona,” van der Linde said.
“To be honest, I said to my brother, coming here, I would just be happy to be on the podium with him.
“We were dreaming as kids to drive in one car. It’s remarkable to think in 12 months the journey we’ve been through together.
“We never would have thought it has worked out the way it has. For that I’m extremely thankful to the team that’s made it possible.”