The first DTM champion from South Africa: Sheldon van der Linde

11 Oct. 2022 • 16:57
The DTM championship trophy: this is the trophy he already dreamt of when he was a young boy and for this, he has always kept a free space in the living room. During the season finale at Hockenheim, Sheldon van der Linde turned his dream into reality: he is the 2022 DTM champion. The story of the 23-year-old almost sounds like a fairy tale: his father Shaun, his grandfather Hennie and his uncle Etienne were racing drivers in his home country South Africa for many years. Grandfather even won three national touring car titles in the 1980s.
Photo : DTM

At the age of six, Sheldon turned a steering wheel for the first time. In the years that followed, he became South African karting champion several times and subsequently honed his skills in the South African Volkswagen Polo Cup. Aged 15, he became the youngest Polo Cup title winner. Then, he went to Europe, relocated to Germany, converted from right- to left-hand steering and initially, there was also a language barrier to deal with.


Sheldon van der Linde’s story can’t be told without the most important person in his life: his brother Kelvin. Together, they form a real racing driver apartment share. Living together in Kempten, the two increasingly enjoyed success and developed two illustrious motorsport careers in Germany. Looking around in the living room is like a trip down memory lane in the recent past. One trophy after another is on display in the van der Linde brothers’ living room. Souvenirs with an emotional value, symbols for the successful careers of the brother pair. And now, one trophy is standing out, coveted by the two of them: the trophy for the overall DTM title. The elder brother Kelvin already had one hand on this trophy during the finale at Norisring last year, but now, Sheldon is holding it firmly in both hands. A racing simulator next to the bed reflects the ambition and the unbridled focus to become one of the best racing drivers in DTM. After all, anyone wanting to become and to remain a professional also has to put in 100 percent all the time away from the race track. 


In 2016, Sheldon raced in the Audi Sport TT Cup, part of the DTM support package. Soon after that, he got support from Audi and in 2018, he and his brother even became teammates racing for the brand with the four rings. At the time, the two only lacked a single point to turn their dream of a joint championship title win into reality. Only one year later, BMW beckons. Being a works driver for the long-standing brand from Munich was his new duty. And here, he finally made it into DTM in 2019 as well. But: this step let him and bis brother become rivals again. At the track, there are intense battles, but at home, there usually is idyllic harmony. And that also brings special talents away from the race track to the fore: Sheldon is the chef in the kitchen, cooking, looking after the well-being of the two South Africans. “The best lasagna in the world” is often on the menu in the apartment in Kempten as far as brother Kelvin is concerned.


But being in the same business and living together also comes with fuel for conflict. The two hardly ever argue, but if it happens, they make up for it pretty quickly, too, as Sheldon and Kelvin both emphasise. Two kids racing each other, that also involves a certain heart attack risk for their mum. When things get a bit too hot, it can happen that the odd phone call from South Africa comes in to tell them off in no uncertain terms.  


A quiet, almost even a normal bloke: that is the way people around him would describe him, exactly like his father Shaun. In conversation, he is rather in the shadow of his elder brother, but he knows how to make his mark. Sheldon is somebody who always speaks in a friendly and thoughtful way, never in rage or provocatively. Quite normal, actually. Celebrating success with BMW was the plan, and it worked out. Who else but one of the BMW DTM legends would be at his side to help him: ex-DTM and Formula 1 driver Timo Glock. The master and his student. A fruitful cooperation as it went upward with Glock as his mentor: Sheldon was able to rack up one success after another.


All the work, the perfection that Sheldon put in are now paying off. After a difficult 2021 DTM season, a year without any wins and with only few points, he was freshly motivated taking on the new year, with a new team, Schubert Motorsport, and with the newly developed BMW M4. During the second DTM race weekend at Lausitzring, he already scored two victories that turned out to be the foundation on the way to his big triumph, a way during most of which he was at the top of the points’ table, until the very end, until the final chequered flag of the season was waved during the finale at Hockenheim.


Opposition was huge as ten drivers in total still had chances of winning the title prior to Hockenheim. The pressure on his shoulders was accordingly immense. His brother Kelvin was helpful, too, with good conversations, with his experience from the previous year in which he was battling for the title himself. Sheldon, the quiet guy, kept his nerves in control, kept cool. Third place in the final race of the season was enough to be crowned the 2022 DTM champion. A title that he had wanted for such a long time and that is now finally his, as Sheldon van der Linde is the first South African to win the title in the internationally highly acclaimed DTM, making the entire van der Linde family proud. 


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