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How BMW's new "freestyle" flagbearers swept to 2022 DTM glory

BMW secured its first DTM title since 2016 with a team new to the series and a brand-new car. Impeccable preparation meant Schubert Motorsport got out of the blocks quickly and with Sheldon van der Linde delivering the goods behind the wheel, it was the South African who came out on top after a tense final weekend at Hockenheim

Champion Sheldon van der Linde, Schubert Motorsport with the team

Photo by: DTM

Schubert Motorsport enjoyed a dream maiden DTM campaign in 2022 as it swept to the drivers' crown with Sheldon van der Linde and collected the teams' title too. New to the series, its control Michelin tyres and the BMW M4 GT3 that replaced the venerable M6 GT3 this year, it had a mammoth learning curve to get on terms with teams who had enjoyed continuity from the DTM's first season with GT3 rules in 2021.

But in van der Linde and series returnee Philipp Eng, it had two drivers with DTM race-winning pedigree, while a two-car parallel programme in ADAC GT Masters helped to level off its M4 learning curve. Although that series runs on Pirelli rubber, the Italian company's new DHF range means "the difference between these two tyres is not so big anymore", according to Schubert team manager and van der Linde's DTM engineer Marcel Schmidt.

"I would say maybe 70-80% of the baseline set-up work is the same," he says. "That's helped quite a lot to learn the car. The last 20-30% is really related on the tyre, set-up wise, but the rest was the same."

Tyres were a major talking point all year, chiefly because of supply chain problems that meant there were none available at points when teams wanted to test. But that wasn't a problem for Torsten Schubert's well-prepared team.

"We were quite happy that we bought quite a lot of tyres at the beginning of the season," says Schmidt. "We were not limited on our test days during the season. We did a private test in Portimao before, we were on so many tracks before the season started just to sort out everything."

Little wonder then that van der Linde "had a [good] feeling from the start of the season". He was in the points for both races in the Portuguese opener, where Grasser Lamborghini's Mirko Bortolotti took the early points lead with two podiums, only losing out in race one to Winward Mercedes man Lucas Auer after a misfire on a restart.

Then came the Lausitzring weekend in May, the first of Schubert's two GT Masters clashes, which Schmidt reveals "was difficult to manage". But it did have an upside: "I went to the Thursday test at Red Bull Ring for the GT Masters and tested some stuff there, and then I brought this to Lausitzring. We put it on the car and it worked quite well."

Van der Linde was in dominant form at Lausitzring, taking the year's only weekend clean sweep which put him in the championship lead

Van der Linde was in dominant form at Lausitzring, taking the year's only weekend clean sweep which put him in the championship lead

Photo by: DTM

Van der Linde got his title challenge under way with victory in race one, blasting past poleman Auer into Turn 1 and winning comfortably from Luca Stolz's HRT Mercedes. Then, in race two, he defied his 25kg success ballast and converted pole to a second win. No other driver managed a weekend clean sweep in 2022, and Schmidt reckons the series' Balance of Performance partner AVL Racetech "learned quite a lot off that".

"This was the second weekend and they had not enough data to really put the car in the right spot on the BoP side," he says of a weekend when Schubert also swept both GT Masters races.

Remarkably, Lausitzring was the scene of van der Linde's only technical glitch, a stone in second practice causing his engine to stop.

"That was quite lucky because that can be in the quali," says Schmidt, who tasked his mechanics with working collaboratively across both cars rather than splitting them into separate crews. "The rest was 100%, we had no issues."

"The Nurburgring weekend was the key for the championship. We had so many points at Nurburgring and we never expected that on this track" Marcel Schmidt

This was an important factor in van der Linde's title success. His only non-finish came when he was one of several innocent drivers caught up in the Norisring race one start melee and, unlike his rivals, he never once lost hefty points to contact or mechanical problems.

"He was really strong in these battles," points out Schmidt. "He was not stupid and was every time there when others made mistakes."

Van der Linde's healthy run of points finishes continued at Imola, but he entered the second half of the season at the Nurburgring trailing Bortolotti by nine points following a pointless Norisring. On the Nurburgring's sprint layout, which Schmidt reckons should have been "the worst track for our car", the South African came away leading the standings by 21 points.

Fog caused qualifying for race one to be canned, and the grid lined up in championship order. Van der Linde was set for third when Bortolotti's ill-judged move on Norisring winner Felipe Fraga's AF Corse-run Red Bull Ferrari put both out and opened the door to an unexpected win. He then took pole for race two and, although he dropped back with a cautious restart that allowed Stolz to win, ninth still extended his advantage over Bortolotti, who clashed with Kelvin van der Linde while disputing fourth.

Schmidt believes van der Linde's Nurburgring weekend was crucial in the final championship outcome

Schmidt believes van der Linde's Nurburgring weekend was crucial in the final championship outcome

Photo by: DTM

"The Nurburgring weekend was the key for the championship," Schmidt reckons. "We had so many points at Nurburgring and we never expected that on this track."

One-lap pace was a real van der Linde strong suit relative to Eng, reckons Schmidt. Only once all season was the Austrian BMW's highest-placed driver in qualifying, but he could have won the second Nurburgring race without a safety car that ruined his afternoon.

Neither Schubert driver scored in race one at Spa after changeable conditions in qualifying left them line astern in 22nd and 23rd. But van der Linde was in inspired form for race two, leading from his front-row grid slot until a slow tyre stop dropped him behind Nick Cassidy's Ferrari. Mental strength in responding to setbacks, Schmidt believes, is one of van der Linde's best traits.

"For me one of the strongest points is really the pressure," he states. "Every time when you have a down, then he is coming back faster and stronger than before. In Spa we had a zero-point race and then he was completely bang on in qualifying and quite close to a win in the second race.

"Through the whole season it was a little bit like this. Every time after a down, he came back stronger. Especially the qualifying, he is so strong and really on-point. That is really the key to win this championship… We were there when it counts."

That was evidenced again after van der Linde's worst weekend of the year at the Red Bull Ring, where Schmidt believes BMW had a less than optimal BoP to ensure the championship went to the Hockenheim finale. Van der Linde earned a nine-place grid drop for excessive track limits abuse in the dry opener, which he finished 11th, before spinning on the opening lap of a soaking race two.

With van der Linde non-scoring in Austria, the top five were split by just 16 points heading to Hockenheim with Auer (11), Rene Rast (12), Thomas Preining (14) and outsider Bortolotti covered by the proverbial blanket. And van der Linde's weekend got off to a nightmare start when he was hit with a 10-place grid drop for a procedural tyre infringement, leaving him 16th.

Schmidt says van der Linde's mental strength was a key asset, allowing him to bounce back from a non-score in race one at Spa to challenge for victory in race two

Schmidt says van der Linde's mental strength was a key asset, allowing him to bounce back from a non-score in race one at Spa to challenge for victory in race two

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

"It was obviously hard for me to keep a cool head after I experienced what happened," van der Linde reflected after his title win, admitting he "thought [Schmidt] was joking actually" when informed of his penalty. But he picked himself up and, as chaos ruled, cleanly picked his way through to second. While race winner Auer closed to two points adrift in the standings, the damage could have been far worse.

A battling run to third in the finale was enough for van der Linde to secure the crown, the culmination of "a childhood dream of mine ever since I was four or five years old". It was also a high-water mark in Schubert's BMW story, the team having returned to the marque after a brief dalliance with Honda in 2018 when, Schmidt says, "some personnel changed at BMW and relationships started getting better again".

"[Schubert] are also a lot more freestyle, which I think could help in a sense because you kind of don't overthink things. They are very intelligent on the fly" Sheldon van der Linde

"The passion that the team has with Torsten, it is amazing to see," van der Linde observed at Hockenheim. "You don't have that in some teams, where you really feel that they put in everything in to win.

"They are also a lot more freestyle, which I think could help in a sense because you kind of don't overthink things. They are very intelligent on the fly and we can just adapt to new situations and that is where the team is extremely strong, it's not in overthinking things."

"Absolutely," Schmidt agrees, when asked about his driver's comment. "Especially when you work with a new car, you have to be a bit more open and try things. At some points it paid off, and some points it was the wrong direction, but that was quite important to learn so quickly about the car. If you have just one direction, then maybe you are lost.

"It's important that we continue on this level and then maybe we get also this name like Schnitzer and the others."

Schmidt is hopeful that van der Linde will stay on at Schubert to defend his title next year. But whether he does or not, the team has done more than enough this year to show that it merits being taken as seriously as one of BMW's most esteemed names.

Van der Linde was a worthy champion after a consistent season with Schubert

Van der Linde was a worthy champion after a consistent season with Schubert

Photo by: DTM

Van der Linde's rivals

Without suffering a puncture apiece at Spa, there's a case to be made that either one of Lucas Auer or Rene Rast could have been the 2022 DTM champion.

In race one, where eventual champion Sheldon van der Linde languished outside the points, Winward Mercedes driver Auer was running second behind Dennis Olsen's Porsche when his front-left tyre gave up. That cost him a likely haul of 18 points, which would have given the Austrian the title by seven points.

Three-time champion Rast's case is less strong. His Abt Audi was running third in race two – although a five-second penalty due to be added to his race time for earlier contact with Nick Cassidy means the position wasn't assured – when his left-rear failed. Add the 15 points he might have scored and his seasonal tally is level with van der Linde's, albeit with one win to the South African's three.

Auer was also left to rue a wheelgun problem during his pitstop in the second Algarve race, which forced his retirement after running well early on, while Rast suffered an early puncture in the second Imola race and was turfed off by David Schumacher at the Nurburgring. He could have won the Hockenheim finale, but ran wide and lost out to BMW veteran Marco Wittmann.

Mirko Bortolotti's biggest points hit came at the Nurburgring, but other factors also cost the Lamborghini man. He was denied victory in the Portimao opener by a misfire, had the pace to win at Imola without a grid penalty for using incorrectly allocated tyres in practice - evidenced by recovering from 16th to third in race one with an aggressive overcut strategy - and lost out badly to a slow pitstop in the Hockenheim opener.

Auer limps back to the pits at Spa after the race one puncture that cost him the title

Auer limps back to the pits at Spa after the race one puncture that cost him the title

Photo by: DTM

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