Van der Linde was recruited by Abt to lead the outfit into the DTM’s new customer racing era in 2021, with the South African bringing with him nearly a decade’s worth of experience of GT3 cars – including two titles in ADAC GT Masters and an outright Nurburgring 24 Hours victory.

His know-how of GT3 machinery gave him an early edge last year, allowing him to stretch a 33-point lead in the championship at the halfway point of the campaign. 

However, Red Bull’s Liam Lawson was eventually able to catch up with him in the second part of the season, before the two drivers came to blows in the finale following an audacious divebomb from van der Linde – paving the way for Mercedes driver Maximilian Gotz to nab the title.

Abt has undergone a major reshuffle in its driver line-up since last year’s controversial title decider, with Rast returning to the DTM after a year’s absence to take the place vacated by Rockenfeller, and reigning GT Masters champion Ricardo Feller replacing Sophia Floersch in the team’s third entry.

Despite Rast’s relative lack of GT3 experience in comparison to van der Linde or even Abt newcomer Feller, Rockenfeller believes the South African will find it tough to beat the three-time DTM champion in 2022.

“It is a difficult situation for [van der Linde],” Rockenfeller told “Honestly, last year was a bit easier because he came in as a GT3 expert, he had a very good chance to win the championship and he missed it at the end, which I’m sure mentally is not easy. 

“Rene is now in the team and he takes a lot of attention on his side. They know each other well, so I don’t see a problem at all [in terms of their relationship]. 

“I think it’s not easy because expectations are now high [for van der Linde]. After last year people are expecting now that he wins the championship or at least fights for it. The question is how he himself takes it. 

“I expect him to be still the benchmark in the team on pure one-lap time. But [when] we had my car sorted [last year], I was matching his time sometimes and in the race we were close. So I think Rene will be tough to beat even though it’s a GT3 car.“

Mike Rockenfeller, Abt Sportsline

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Van der Linde extensively raced GT3 cars throughout 2021, competing in several rounds of GT World Challenge Europe (both Endurance and Sprint Cup) on top of his DTM commitments with Abt.

Rast, by contrast, racked up only a single GT3 outing in the Nurburgring 24 Hours, which ended in retirement just hours from the finish.

However, Rockenfeller remains confident that his countryman Rast will be in a position to challenge for race wins and podiums straight away on his return to the DTM, provided Audi proves competitive against its opposition in an expanded 29-car grid.

“Rene some years ago was only doing GT3 racing,” said the 38-year-old. “If you look back before he went to the DTM, he was only doing GT3. So he’s very experienced. He even did the GT Masters with the R8, so he knows the car. 

“Of course Rene was not involved in GT3 too much, just the long races. But he’s a very very good driver and I think there’s a good team around him. Abt learned a lot last year. So I think they are very well prepared and I expect that he is fighting from the beginning. 

“If the Audi is capable of doing it, I think Rene is capable of extracting everything. And even when he’s not the fastest in the car because of lacking experience or whatsoever, he’s good at scoring points when you need to score points.”

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