“I would have said that he is crazy…”
René Rast has made history in the DTM. At the Nürburgring, the champion claimed a pair of pole positions and won both races. Thus, the Audi driver secured the maximum number of points. So far, no other driver has scored 56 points since points are being attributed for qualifying as well. In the interview, the German, who is now already third in the drivers’ standings with 149 points behind the two Mercedes-AMG drivers Gary Paffett (206) and Paul Di Resta (204), speaks about his unforgettable days in the Eifel and his situation for the final stage of the season.
How do you feel after this incredibly successful weekend?
It is just mega. We have made history. Two pole positions, two race wins, something that never happened before in the DTM. However, it wasn’t an easy weekend, we had tough races. Driving at the front looks easy, but mentally, it is challenging. When your opponent is closing up more and more and your tyres are degraded, you really have to concentrate on not making any mistakes.
Can you describe this challenge a little bit more in detail?
It is really difficult when you are leading and you don’t see your opponent. You are looking into the mirror and you try to get a reference. Am I driving too slow or too fast. Of course, you don’t know it at the moment. Accordingly, I got my tyres to a level at which I thought, okay, I can drive like that. Today, I always looked at the video walls along the track and tried to get some information, but I only saw Pascal Wehrlein or Nico Müller all the time. I never really discovered Paul Di Resta or Marco Wittmann. With ten minutes to go, you think that it is actually all quite relaxed. And all of a sudden, nothing works anymore and somebody is there. And that is where the mental game starts. You listen to all the noises in the car and you just try to get the final laps over and done with.
Your fellow Audi drivers finished tenth, eleventh, 13th and 15th today. In the drivers’ standings, Mike Rockenfeller is the second-best Audi driver in 13th. What is it that you are doing differently than all the other drivers of your brand?
I can only repeat myself over and over again. I like the car, I am feeling well in it. When the symbiosis between the car and the driver is perfect, you can do a good job. We have found a good set-up that suits me. I can play with the car and get it to work the way I want it to. Perhaps, the other drivers don’t have the set-up yet with which they are feeling one hundred percent comfortable. One or two tenths already make a difference of ten positions. When you have the car, you have to get it together. In that, I succeeded pretty well in the past few months.
To what extent did the compulsory minimum tyre pressure (1.3 bar) here at the Nürburgring have a positive effect for you?
I wouldn’t say that we benefited from it. In qualifying, everything is as ever. We put the car on pole by our own means. When you look back upon the past races, we were already the strongest in the races. So from that perspective, it is relative. At Zandvoort and at Brands Hatch, we have won because of our pace. We have always moved up to the front and not backwards.
In your career, you have already raced everything with four wheels. Is that an advantage for you in the DTM?
It most certainly is. I can always adapt the different driving styles of the various cars, also in the race. When the car starts sliding on the front axle, I know how to still be fast with it. But I can do the same with the rear axle when it changes during the race. I can always adapt my driving style quickly to the car I have at the moment. I don’t need a perfect car in order to being fast. I have already driven many cars that have little aerodynamics and were sliding around a lot. That is what we now have in the DTM again. With the new rules, the car is difficult to drive. Apparently, I have adapted quickly to it.
In the first nine races, you have scored 23 points, but you have scored no less than 126 points in the last seven races. How did you manage to make the turnaround?
At the start of the season, we took the philosophy of the set-up we used last year. Of course, not entirely because of the changed aerodynamics. We found out at an early stage that this didn’t work. Then, we intervened and said, we have to take a different approach. At Zandvoort, we have then found a way that suits me and the car. Once you have found it, you do a little bit here and a little bit there, but you only make little adaptations. You are already pretty well sorted when you go to a track and then you only make small adjustments if possible.
Will Audi now fully support you in the battle for the title?
We haven’t got to the point where that was necessary this year yet. We have tried to maximise the race for every driver. Now, we are in a good position. For the rest, we will see. Theoretically, everything is still possible.
Are you feeling comfortable in the role of the hunter?
It is more relaxed. You can win more than you can lose. Had anyone told me six or seven weeks ago that I would be third in the championship and battle for the title after the Nürburgring weekend, I would have said that he is crazy. Just like with anyone saying that I would become champion last year.
How much money would you now bet on you defending your title?
I wouldn’t bet too much on it. Perhaps a bit more when the odds were good. Paul and Gary are also fighting for positions and for the championship, it is not like they are driving side by side, waving to each other. On track, they are direct rivals. It is not unlikely that they are getting in the way of each other. When I then can be the one to have the last laugh, I would be more than happy!