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Van der Linde stays with Abt for DTM after leaving Audi factory pool

DTM race winners Kelvin van der Linde and Ricardo Feller will remain with Abt in the GT3 series this year, despite the South African leaving Audi's factory driver roster.

Kelvin van der Linde, Team ABT Sportsline Audi R8 LMS GT3

The long-time Audi squad which won five titles with the brand between 2002 and 2009 has, as expected, scaled down to two cars following the departure of Rene Rast to BMW, but has retained the three-time champion's two team-mates from the 2022 season.

Despite his own exit from Audi's factory driver pool, van der Linde's involvement was not in doubt as he has raced for the team's Formula E arm since the wrist injury sustained by regular driver Robin Frijns in Mexico.

Two-time ADAC GT Masters champion and double Nurburgring 24 Hours winner van der Linde explained to Autosport that he is now "brand neutral" and is contracted to race for Abt across its various programmes, which is set to include a Nurburgring 24 Hours assault with Lamborghini this year.

He said his "difficult decision" to leave Audi was prompted by there being "no more future perspective on certain programmes with the continuous reduction of factory involvement" in GT racing.

With "no clear direction of new programmes coming" in sportscar racing, as focus shifts towards its Formula 1 tie-up with Sauber for 2026, van der Linde believes it was the right time to cut ties and says his deal to race an R8 LMS GT3 evo II was concluded independently of Audi.

"This is purely an Abt deal, it's basically an extension of what I'm doing with them in Formula E," he told Autosport.

"There will be additional projects within that let's say sphere, within that role as an Abt driver during the year, so you could pretty much call me a full-time Abt driver at the moment in all of the roles that I do.

"I'm brand-neutral, so you will see me driving for different manufacturers during the year.

Kelvin van der Linde, Team ABT Sportsline Audi R8 LMS GT3

Kelvin van der Linde, Team ABT Sportsline Audi R8 LMS GT3

Photo by: DTM

"In DTM there's no factory involvement for me and it's just purely a decision on our side to do the things how we want to do it for DTM."

Van der Linde challenged for the 2021 DTM crown on his way to an eventual third in the points, but slipped to ninth last season after a winless campaign that peaked with pole at the Norisring and second to his brother Sheldon at the Nurburgring.

This year he will have a new group around him led by Leon Wippersteg, who was brought into the team on a consultancy basis in 2022 after regular engineer Marc Roca was sidelined by COVID.

Having worked with former Team Phoenix and Toksport WRT engineer Wippersteg during a race-winning 2017 GT Masters campaign for Aust Motorsport, van der Linde is confident that he can challenge strongly.

"It's kind of like just picking the guys we want to have and the guys we think we can be really successful with this year, because it's a big year for us and we want to start on a good footing to try and go for the championship," he said.

"From a personal perspective we work really well together, so we think we can give it a shot."

Feller, who retains Audi factory status, enjoyed a strong rookie season in 2022 after winning the ADAC GT Masters title the previous season.

Ricardo Feller, Team ABT Sportsline

Ricardo Feller, Team ABT Sportsline

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

The Swiss won a safety car-interrupted race at Imola from pole and also finished third in the first race at the Nurburgring, but slipped back to 15th in the standings with a run of seven races without points to close the season.

Team boss Thomas Biermaier lauded his drivers as "among the fastest GT3 drivers in the world" and believes their experience with the Pirelli tyres the DTM will use this year from GT Masters will be an additional benefit.

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"They got on very well with us from day one and work perfectly together," Biermaier said of van der Linde and Feller.

"What’s more, they are cool guys who fit in well with ABT Sportsline. And they have a lot of experience with the DTM’s new tyre partner, which is a factor that should not be underestimated.

"I’m sure that with Kelvin and Ricardo, we can continue our success story in the DTM."

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