Tomorrow the Kyalami 9 Hour returns for the first time since 1982, with the Intercontinental GT Challenge hosting its finale at the South African circuit.
During the weekend there will be plenty of storylines to follow, be it the championship battles for the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles and the reception that the revitalised circuit gets from paddock members and fans alike. There are also plenty of hometown heroes that are over the moon to be part of an international sportscar race in South Africa, so tracking their performances will be worthwhile.
One South African native, who is extremely positive about the IGTC’s decision to bring back the 9 Hour, is Kelvin van der Linde, who is driving the #25 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 2019 with Dries Vanthoor and Fred Vervisch. He spoke to DSC recently about what we can expect from the event, here’s what he had to say:
This must be a huge moment on your career, the revival of a historic race, the Kyalami 9 Hour, in your home country, at your home track, and bringing world class endurance racing back to the continent of Africa for the first time in decades?
“Yeah, fantastic. I’m super, super excited. I really never thought in my career that I would actually have a home race!
“It came as a bit of a surprise when it was first announced I have to say but to see the reaction and the positive vibe around the event have definitely been overwhelming for me. Seeing the growing home support behind the event is cool too.
“I normally go back to South Africa anyway for my holidays with the family but now going back for a race it’s a unique feeling and I would love to go and win it!”
We don’t know a lot about the track since its revival, very few of us have been down to see it since the recent developments at the circuit.
Tell us a little bit about the facility. Tell us a bit about what to expect at Kyalami?
“Well, it’s been a massive development that’s gone on there.
“Porsche have taken over the property and you can see by everything that they’ve done, they’ve really made it a business in terms of their driving Academy.
“All their Porsche events are there now, the club days and so on.
“The track is the highest spec, pretty much, as I have raced on in my career so far in terms of asphalt and everything. It’s up there with some of the best F1 tracks in the world and, I think, back to the level that it deserves.
It’s up there with some of the best F1 tracks in the world and, I think, back to the level that it deserves
“It was such an iconic track back in the day, it has seen some truly great races in the past and to have that kind of legacy coming back now with the revival of the Nine Hours, something that’s deep in the heart of all the endurance races and something I look back fondly on.
“You know, watching some of the old videos back in the day definitely gives me an extra beat or two so yeah, it will be cool to be part of the history now going forward.”
South Africa has got a proud heritage in racing, and particularly in endurance racing. Can you tell us a little bit about the local vibe around this race coming back?
“Well, I think what makes it unique is that we just haven’t had a big race therefore for quite a few years. I think the last one was probably World Superbikes, which was probably 2012.
“So you know, we’re looking at almost 10 years ago since we had a World Championship style event and I think IGTC is the perfect event to come back and re-spark that passion that Africans have for motorsports where you know even though rugby and cricket is a big part of our heritage I think motorsport is for many people is still a reminder of how good it was in the past.
“It brings us back to the good old days, my father and grandfather played a role in that and with my younger brother and myself now coming in, and hopefully doing a good job in the inaugural race, that will be a very cool continuation of the story.
“I think it’ll be well anticipated by everybody back home and I hope I can give them a great result.”
It does strike me there’s an opportunity here for South African Motorsports in having flag carriers with you and your brother, and with other young drivers like Jordan Pepper?
We’ve seen this with other motorsport markets in New Zealand with Brendon Hartley for instance, and with Tom Kristensen and that fantastic heritage that’s given Denmark a love of, and a lasting representation in, endurance racing drivers.
What do you think? Might we see another generation of South African talent coming and snapping at your heels on the back of having a blue riband event in their home country?
“I think that’s basically what we need at the moment.
“When I first came to Europe, it’s probably six years ago now, I was the only South African at that time, trying to make the first steps of a European career.
“And now, you know, we’ve got quite a few. I think we’ve got five guys in, I think three or four factory drivers. So, you know, it’s definitely taken a step since I made my first strides to Europe.
“And that’s the kind of influence I want to make, you know, for the young karters and the grassroots guys coming up.
When I first came to Europe, it’s probably six years ago now, I was the only South African at that time, trying to make the first steps of a European career
“It’s a proud thing for me, and I try and help as much as I can back home giving them advice.
“We didn’t go the typical route of shooting for F1. I think for a South African background, you have to begin modestly, but as we grow up, and we build it up slowly, you know, the sky’s the limit I think.“
The final question is about that. That national pride aspect. A lot of your teammates have got their home races that are big races already. Marcus Winkelhock, Christopher Haase and Christopher Mies have the Nürburgring 24 Hours, Dries Vanthoor has the Spa 24 Hours.
What’s it going to mean to you to actually go head to head with your peers from around the World on your home track with the possibility of a top step of the podium?
“I mean honestly I just have to smile. It’s so proud for me you know already just talking about it.
“I just want to go show everybody my cool country now, because I think a lot of people don’t believe, what, what kind of a gem we have down there.
“Africa is a little bit like Australia, we are a little bit separated from Europe and America in terms of not always seen as being the trendsetters but we have plenty of racing talent and sporting talent and we relish a showcase to show that.
“So I’m just excited to go there. And you know, whatever the result is, I’m going to enjoy it and my family is going to love it. So we’re going to make the most of the week for sure.”
Images courtesy of Audi Sport and IGTC