Kelvin van der Linde was “not expecting” to take as many on-track places as he did during an inspired stint that put Team WRT into a winning position at the 3 Hours of Imola.
The South African driver defied Imola’s reputation for being a difficult track to pass on by overtaking four cars in quick succession in the early stages of his middle stint behind the wheel of the No. 31 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo.
Van der Linde out-braked GPX Racing Porsche driver Louis Deletraz and AKKA-ASP Mercedes driver Timur Boguslavskiy at Rivazza, before taking the lead with repeat moves on Sergey Sirotkin and Nicklas Nielsen in the Pro-class Ferrari 488 GT3 Evos at turn one.
This proved to be crucial in setting up WRT’s victory, as van der Linde extended the gap before swapping for Mirko Bortolotti who managed two full-course yellow/safety car periods in the final hour to take the checkered flag first.
The two Audi factory drivers shared the win with Matthieu Vaxiviere, who started the race.
“I was really not expecting that going into the car,” van der Linde told Sportscar365 when asked about his mindset heading into the second stint.
“Imola doesn’t really lend itself to great overtaking and we spoke about this in our briefing before the weekend.
“The goal was to make up one or two spots to save the brakes and the tires for the end of the stint, but I felt straight away that I was confident on the brakes, and I managed to pick them off one by one.
“Following [other cars] was a really tricky thing for us in practice. We had a lot of aero wash, so that was one of my worries going in, but actually we managed to trim the car out really well for the race conditions and we managed to qualify close to the front which made life easier.
“With the Ferraris, I just pretended to cool my brakes on the right-hand side and then went for the lunge into turn one, and it worked out.”
Van der Linde said that he and Vaxiviere benefited from their Italian co-driver Bortolotti’s knowledge of the Imola circuit, which was hosting GTWC Europe for the first time.
It also marked the first race for this trio, with Bortolotti a new signing from Lamborghini and van der Linde joining WRT after two Endurance Cup seasons with Attempto Racing.
Additionally, Vaxiviere was announced as a late addition to the WRT lineup for Imola having made only a handful of previous Audi GT3 appearances with the team in NLS.
“I have shared the podium with Mirko quite often in the past, but unfortunately not with the same cars,” said van der Linde, alluding to Bortolotti’s previous role as a Lamborghini factory driver.
“This was the first time I got to know Matthieu and I was really impressed with him on his first time in the Audi this season; to adapt like that was really impressive.
“Mirko knows the track extremely well from Italian GT. I had never been here, so we relied a bit on Mirko to set up the car and give us a bit of a direction to go in.
“We worked through a lot of his data, and in the end we were able to get all three drivers on a very similar level, which is the key to winning an endurance race.”
Van der Linde described the season-opening victory as a “dream start” for WRT, which came away with its first Endurance Cup win since the 3 Hours of Monza in 2018.
“This will only carry on the team’s motivation during a difficult time, so they’re taking every bit of motivation they can get over the very busy next few weeks with the difficult travel schedule,” he said.
“We all get our love and energy off the good results. That said, it’s now the target to keep the good results coming in, and to keep that energy going throughout the season.”