There are many enthusiasts who believe the most compelling endurance race in the world today is the Nurburgring 24 Hour. Run on the most daunting race track of them all, the famous 22 km-long Nordschleife. Fans turn up in their hundreds of thousands, camping out in the forests of the Eifel mountains for up to five days before the race. Hosted between 3 pm on Saturday until 3 pm on Sunday in mid-May each year since 1970. In 2018 a new official attendance record for the event was set at 210 000 paying spectators.
Ensuring that those race fans are kept entertained, the race is unique in that over 200 cars are allowed to start each year, split into four groups from the fastest GT3-class racers such as Audis R8s, Porsche GT3s, Mercedes-AMGs and the like, down to modest touring cars such as Renault Clios and even legends such as the Opel Manta from the 1980s.
One of the most dramatic race victories ever was that of South African Kelvin van der Linde, who won the event in an Audi R8 LMS in 2017, along with his three co-drivers, Connor De Phillippi, Christopher Mies and Markus Winkelhock. They had dominated the race but an electrical problem with just an hour to go dropped them down to third, some three minutes off the lead. Then a canny pit stop was made for wet-weather rubber as heavy rain had begun to fall at the far side of the circuit, and Van der Linde, driving like a man possessed, stormed through to an emotional win.
This year, Kelvin van der Linde will be competing all over the world in GT3 endurance events as an Audi factory driver. Racing in various series, he has tasted podium success in California at Laguna Seca as well as race wins in Germany. It is remarkable that at the age of just 23, this young man from Dainfern, South Africa, is already an acknowledged veteran in the German ADAC Masters Championships, having won the championship at his first attempt back in 2014, at the age of 18.
Kelvin’s victory followed a championship in the previous season in the one-make VW Scirocco Cup in Germany. That was a feat that would be echoed by his younger brother, Sheldon, who scored four race wins in his first season in the German Audi TT cup. This lead to Sheldon sharing an Audi R8 LMS with his brother Kelvin at the 2018 Spa 24 Hour, where they finished on the podium. Sheldon has also competed in the ADAC GT Masters series and placed second overall last year, as well as scoring impressive results in the prestigious Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup.
All of this early international success led to 19-year-old Sheldon being invited to test for a seat in a factory BMW in the highly prestigious DTM series, the German Touring Car championship. In late 2018 it was announced that Sheldon van der Linde had secured the seat and would be the first South African driver ever to compete in DTM, a huge honour, as this is seen as the premier touring car series in the world.
His maiden season has begun in fine fashion, taking a pole position in round two at the Zolder circuit in Belgium, and scoring four top-10 finishes in the first six races of the season, with a fifth position at Hockenheim being the best result at the time of writing this article. However, no sooner had the excitement settled over the announcement that Sheldon van der Linde would be the first South African to compete in DTM, than it was announced that fellow South African Jonathan Aberdein would be competing in DTM in an Audi.
The son of former Wesbank Modified front-runner, Chris Aberdein (he campaigned an Audi Quattro to great effect in South Africa in the 1990s), Jonathan (like Kelvin and Sheldon) started his racing career very successfully as a front runner in the Rotax karting series, before opting for single-seater racing. He first competed in the Formula 4 championship in Germany with limited success in 2016, but followed that up with victory in the UAE Formula 4 Championship in 2017.
A season in Formula 3 in the FIA European Championship brought limited success, and thus his inclusion in the Audi Sport WRT team in the 2019 DTM series was something of a surprise. But the 21-year-old from Cape Town has impressed from the outset, qualifying well and scoring an eighth and a seventh place finish at the two races comprising the 2019 DTM fourth round at Misano, Italy.
The 2019 racing season has been a great one so far for the Pepper racing family from Edenvale. The vivacious Tasmin Pepper followed up her 2018 victory in the South African Volkswagen Polo Cup series by securing a seat in the inaugural season of the W Series, an international single-seater series comprised entirely of up-and-coming woman drivers.
It has been a huge challenge for Tasmin as she has had to learn most of the circuits she has raced at so far from scratch, unlike most of the other European-based woman drivers who have considerable knowledge of all the major circuits in Europe. Nevertheless, Tasmin has been racing extremely well, as befits a South African champion, and as this story is written, her best result is a sixth place at Zolder in Belgium, backed up by an eighth at Hockenheim and a seventh at Misano, Italy.
Things got even better for the Peppers in early June as Tasmin’s younger brother, Jordan, scored a brilliant victory for the factory Bentley team at the Paul Ricard circuit in France in the Blancpain GT Endurance series. This is where the top exotic car marques, such as Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-AMG and Aston Martin compete.
The 22-year-old shared his Bentley Continental GT race car with Briton Steven Kane and French driver Jules Gounon to beat out a strong challenge from a Mercedes-AMG and a Ferrari. Talking of Ferraris, a driver that has been enjoying a few seasons of good success driving a Ferrari is 33-year-old David Perel from Cape Town. David enjoyed promising success in karting in South Africa as a youngster but soon ran out of money. He then started a hi-tech business with his brother which was so successful he managed to fund an entry into international racing. Now based in London, he drives a Ferrari 488 in the Pro Am class for the respected Kessel outfit and also for another Ferrari team, Rinaldi. Last year Perel won the Pro Am class at the Spa 24 Hour race for top-line GT3 cars.
How to get into top flight international racing:
Karting: Motor racing is not cheap. But if you have wealthy parents, or some other means of attracting a budget, then karting is the way to go. The South African Rotax series has produced many karting world champions in the past two decades and many of them have gone on to successful international careers. But you need to start early. The Rotax and ROK karting series cater for kids as young as five-years-old. But bear in mind that a successful karting season can run into hundreds of thousands of rand.
Tin tops: The next step is generally a move to the main car-racing circuit in the Volkswagen Polo Cup series, a one-make series that places an emphasis on driving skill and car preparation. From here, opportunities can well open up internationally, as they have done for the Van der Linde brothers, and the Pepper brother-and- sister stars.
Overseas: Many shrewd (and well-healed) parents have moved their talented off-spring into international junior formulae as soon as possible after first notching up karting/Polo Cup success. The level of international competition is intense, so an early move into international single-seater Formulae, such as Formula 4, is essential. But to compete at international level, budgets at the millions of rand level are commonplace, until you make the big lap to being a paid factory driver!