Jumping into a car he’s never driven before, in a new set of rules and at one of Formula E’s most difficult and hair-raising tracks, makes Kelvin van der Linde’s series debut with Abt at Diriyah next weekend quite a challenge.
He was drafted replace the injured Robin Frijns who is likely to face a lengthy stint on the sidelines.
As if the challenge in front of van der Linde wasn’t enough, the highly rated GT3 driver will contest his first ever single-seater race.
In terms of this level of racing, he is a complete novice.
But if he looks down at the other end of the pit lane, he sees a gentleman named Rene Rast, who was in a similar position when he made his Formula E debut for Team Aguri in 2016.
While this was a one-off appearance, it paved the way for Rast to eventually return to Formula E through a bizarre set of circumstances.
Now another GT3 ace will join the grid following another extraordinary set of circumstances that have knocked regular driver Frijns down for at least most of the season.
However, Van der Linde has some Formula E pedigree and is held in high esteem by those who worked with him. One of them is former Audi Abt team boss Allan McNish.
â€œHe is fast and he will be fast from the start,â€ McNish told The Race after the South African was announced as Nico Muellerâ€™s new Abt Cupra team-mate.
â€œI think he has the raw speed you need. He’s a bit like Robin in a way, he relies on his senses which will stand him in good stead.
â€œAt the same time, he has a very good work ethic and that is why I really liked him.
â€œHe worked hard on it. He’s lighthearted and he’s positive and he’s always pushing.”
Van der Linde ran several tests for Audi, but spent most of the time on the Audi simulator. He made a public test outing at the March 2020 Rookie Test in Marrakech, where he was selected alongside fellow GT3 winner Mattia Drudi.
McNish said he was “delighted that he got his chance because he wanted it before.
“It’s probably not the worst of times because if it had been at the start of season eight (2022) when everyone was used to the car, I think it would have been harder for someone to get in.
â€œBut at the same time it is not an easy task to ever get into a championship without real testing.â€
In this Marrakech test, van der Linde started straight away and was fastest in the morning session ahead of drivers like Nick Cassidy, Sergio Sette Camara, Norman Nato, Jake Hughes and Sacha Fenestraz.
Despite having a little less mileage in the afternoon, van der Linde impressed the team. That was remarkable considering the Johannesburg native had never raced in a single-seater in his entire career.
At this point, it was looking increasingly likely that it would be a final season for Daniel Abt with the team and Muller appeared to be next in line. But with Mueller at Dragon and then a remarkable turn of events with Abt’s sacking, Rast was more clearly targeted for the 2021 seat alongside Lucas di Grassi.
Of course, Audi had previously announced that it wanted to leave the world championship in the summer of 2021 anyway, so that van der Linde’s racing seat was over.
“He certainly spent enough time in the simulator to get used to it because a lot of what we did in the sim was power management,” adds McNish.
â€œHe could be familiar with it, so now he just brings it to practice in another car.
â€œWe have to see with different power outputs and everything else, but he picked up the basics quickly. He needs to be able to keep up with the demands of Gen3 but I’m confident he will.
â€œIt will take a bit of learning but that particular point to get down to speed, which I mean is pure speed pace versus racing.
â€œWe saw Lucas drive in Mexico, didnâ€™t we? He was so strong because his core competency is that he has a good understanding of energy management.â€
Van der Linde’s entry into the Formula E hothouse is going to be intense, but he seems to have most of the tools at his disposal to put up a good fight.
Under the circumstances, expectations will be low and Abt Cupra is clearly a few steps behind the competition at the moment. But don’t be too surprised if van der Linde becomes one of the surprise packages later in the 2023 season.