The ABT Sportsline driver line-up for the comeback on the Nordschleife has been announced: Kelvin van der Linde, Marco Mapelli, Jordan Pepper and Nicki Thiim will compete in the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO2 at the Nürburgring 24 Hours on May 20 and 21. The international line-up combines plenty of GT3 experience, as well as several overall victories at the endurance classic at the “Green Hell”.
ABT Sportsline returns to the Nordschleife and takes on one of the greatest motorsport challenges of all at the legendary 24-hour race: from 18 to 21 May, the team will compete with a Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO2.
"We are excited about this new motorsport partnership. Lamborghini is a great brand full of history and passion for motorsport and sports cars," says Thomas Biermaier, CEO of ABT Sportsline. "We have already experienced many emotional moments on the Nordschleife over the past two decades and now want to start a new chapter together with Lamborghini. The preparations have already begun." The programme includes test drives as well as participation in two rounds of the “Nürburgring Langstrecken-Serie” (NLS) prior to the 24-hour race with the option of further races in preparation for the 2024 season.
For ABT, it is the tenth appearance at this classic of long-distance races. The debut was in 1999 with an Audi A4 quattro powered by natural gas – the race with the innovative drive concept was a minor sensation at the time. Entries with the ABT-Audi TT-R from the DTM, the Audi R8 LMS and the Bentley Continental GT3 followed. The best results were two second places at the 2003 and 2009 editions. ABT last competed on the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 2017.
Kelvin van der Linde has been part of the ABT family for a long time. The 26-year-old South African competed for ABT in the DTM in 2021 and 2022, and was a title contender right up to the finale in his debut season. Thanks not least to his two titles in the ADAC GT Masters and two overall victories in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, the youngster is regarded as a proven GT3 specialist. He also got a taste of Formula E this year: He replaced regular driver Robin Frijns in four races this season and is also helping the ABT CUPRA team prepare in the simulator. “The first impressions with the car on the Nordschleife were very positive. I think we have a lot of potential,” says van der Linde. “My teammates are great, I already know some of the mechanics from the DTM and that’s another reason why I already feel perfectly at home. I think with this strong squad in the cockpit and in the pits we can achieve a lot.”
Marco Mapelli has been a Lamborghini factory driver since 2017 and is considered as one of the most experienced GT3 drivers in the world. The 35-year-old is racing around the globe for the Italian brand – whether in North America, Asia, Europe or Australia. The biggest success to date for the ABT newcomer from Italy is winning the Pro classification of the 2019 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup. “It’s great to be part of this project and to see how professionally everyone approaches the challenge,” says Mapelli. “We all know what can happen in a 24-hour race, so the best possible preparation is crucial.”
Alongside van der Linde, Nicki Thiim is the second former winner of the 24-hour race in the ABT Sportsline squad: in 2013, the Dane stood on the top step of the podium, and has also taken several class victories. The 33-year-old also celebrated great successes in the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC, where he won the GTE-Pro classification in 2016 and 2019/20 and took a class victory at Le Mans. “After the first meeting with my teammates and the whole team, I am very excited and confident – this is going to be a great project,” says Thiim. “Representing the Lamborghini and ABT brands makes me very proud.”
Jordan Pepper is an old friend of the ABT Sportsline family: in 2014, the former flatmate of Kelvin van der Linde won the Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup, which was supported by ABT, before competing with the Kempten-based company in the ADAC GT Masters in 2016 and in the 24-hour races at the Nürburgring and Spa the following year. In 2020, Pepper won the Bathurst 12 Hour. Since this year, the 26-year-old South African has been part of the Lamborghini Squadra Corse factory driver line-up. “ABT shaped my career at the beginning and gave me my first contract when I came to Europe back then. So, to be part of this project now is very special for me,” says Pepper. “I know the people at ABT and at Lamborghini very well and I’m sure both brands will form a strong partnership on the track.”
A sensational qualifying, a promising start phase, two early setbacks and then a 21-hour race to catch up and finish in the top ten: The 24-hour race had everything to offer for the ABT Sportsline team on its comeback. At the finish, Kelvin van der Linde, Marco Mapelli, Jordan Pepper and Nicki Thiim fought their way to ninth place in the 136-car grid. It was ABT’s tenth appearance on the notorious Nordschleife - the first with the Lamborghini brand.
“A huge thank you to our whole team who did a zero-mistake job here at the Nürburgring for a week,” said Hans-Jürgen Abt, CEO of the ABT Group, who watched the race in the pits. “The finish in the top ten is a respectable success at our comeback, which everyone in the team and at our partner Lamborghini can be proud of – a promising start to our collaboration. Nevertheless, with this car, the strong team and a bit more race luck, much more would have been possible and also deserved.”
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The race marked the start of a new motorsport partnership with the Italian sports car brand, which is designed for the long term. ABT’s tuning portfolio will also be expanded to include the Lamborghini brand in 2023 with offerings for the spectacular Urus.