Big Bang: Sheldon takes the double at Lausitzring
After an agonising 2021 sitting in a lemon of a car, local boy, Sheldon vd Linde’s year looks to be showing a complete turnaround in the new M4 GT race car.
After a near-perfect race weekend, Sheldon grabbed P2 in the first qualification round and went on to win race one. He then qualified P1 for the second race before going on to win that too, making him the first-ever South African to achieve a double victory on a DTM weekend.
This is on top of being the first South African to ever win a DTM race back in Assen 2020. If that’s not deserving of a phone call from the Pres, well, then we have even bigger problems on our hands…
Now regardless of how you spin it, the balance of performance (BOP) will always have a part to play. Sometimes it goes your way, other times, it doesn’t but that is the nature of racing. Unfortunately, 99% of the time it doesn’t so for Sheldon to achieve what he did is just spectacular for him and the team. Judging by the tears in the Schubert Motorsport camp, we know how much it meant.
Even though Lucas Auer grabbed pole position, it was Sheldon vd Linde who got the gap into the first turn, getting that M4’s nose ahead with absolute commitment. The weekend’s action reassured why DTM is the premium sprint tin-top racing series with plenty of chopping and changing in the positions. It’s frantic even keeping up with it. The first few laps are really for the picking. You can make up a lot of places, but you can also – like Kelvin vd Linde and Porsche factory driver Denis Olsen found out in the first race – lose out by going off and falling back. It’s the type of gamble spec racing should produce. If, however, you’re not in the tow of the car in front of you, it’s impossible to make up time without a mistake by your opponents.
By the time the pit window opened, the top 20 were only split by 14 seconds with Sheldon pitting earlier, risking the lead Luca Stolz nearly capitalised on a slower pit stop by the BMW. Kelvin vd Linde’s race was ended after technical issues forced the Audi into retirement.
Towards the end of the race, there was a threat of rain but it wasn’t enough to halt proceedings as the inclement weather merely passed over without issue. Vd Linde’s dominant form saw him cross the line ahead of Stolz and Auer. An impressive run by Rene Rast and Nick Cassidy who showed great pace, yet ten retirements in race one is not the type of attrition the series needs. Given the limited number of tyres a car can use, one understands why someone would just park a car, a definite limitation of the series.
Qualifying for race two on Sunday saw the session red-flagged after a heartfelt moment with Felipe Fraga’s Ferrari catching on fire. There was a tense moment of waiting for the Brazilian to exit the car, then scrambling for a fire extinguisher to help extinguish the fire. A driver's worst nightmare. At the restart, Sheldon continued his dominant form grabbing pole for race two ahead of Rene Rast and Maro Engel.
The second race saw the typical first corner aggression you’d expect from DTM with Engel getting tagged by Mirko Bortolotti and re-joining the circuit ahead of the Italian. A sketchy re-join of the track but retribution for the earlier infringement. No foul, no harm from the stewards as the action continued. This all meant vd Linde was able to get some clean air between his M4 and the rest of the pack. The fight was on between Maro Engel and vd Linde with Engel trying to get the undercut but the Schubert Motorsport team was up to the task of getting vd Linde back out in front.
If there may have been some critique of the lack of mid-race action in the last meeting in Portimao, someone may have been listening. Lausitzring flipped the script. Perhaps another success factor of well-ironed BOP changes but either way, it worked and we ended up seeing more textbook-like moves than ever before as well as more drama with multi-car battles through each race. The fights between Nico Müller, Mirko Bortolotti and Marco Wittmann followed by Nick Cassidy and Ricardo Feller all served up some textbook race-craft opportunities. It was a treat to watch.
Even with 25 kg of success ballast causing some real damage to the tyres, vd Linde proved his mettle and was unstoppable finishing 0.3 seconds ahead of Maro Engel. Rene Rast proved that he still has what it takes by completing the podium standings in third.
DTM currently has six different brands and with murmurs of Aston Martin planning a return to DTM, I feel that this series can deliver on expectations going forward. With the superb weekend, and BMW getting the 50 years of M celebrations off to a head start, Sheldon leads the championship standings as the series heads into the third round at Imola.
Words: Brent Van Der Schyff