Rast: the big interview
For Audi driver René Rast, finishing third in the race at the Nürburgring on Sunday was enough to secure the 2019 DTM drivers’ title – his second championship crown, after winning in 2017.
It’s an achievement that elevates the 32-year-old German to the same level as the series’ other two-time champions Mattias Ekström, Gary Paffett, Timo Scheider and Marco Wittmann.
The freshly crowned champion took time from his busy schedule for an extensive interview with DTM.com. In this first part, he speaks about his most recent title, how it felt different from his 2017 triumph, his extraordinary strengths in the races, where he still sees room for improvement, his mental and physical preparation, how being turned down several times by Audi made him stronger, and his relationship with Audi’s head of motorsport Dieter Gass and his fellow Audi drivers.
Has that second title sunk in yet?
Yes, I think so. I haven’t had that much time to think about it, really. I only spent half a day at home, on Monday afternoon. I have to say it is a bit different from 2017. But I haven’t fully realised it yet.
How does winning the 2019 title feel different from 2017?
In 2017, I didn’t expect to win the title. I went to Hockenheim and I was, I believe, 20 points down on Mattias (Ekström). Then, we knew that we only would have a chance if everything went wrong for him; but we never really expected that.
This year, it was on the cards: we were in the lead by a few points and I had always been talked about as the favourite. Somehow, people thought that winning the title was a done deal for me; mentally, too, it was a different situation. I was able to prepare for it much more, and it wasn’t a 100 per cent surprise. Of course, I already had the experience from 2017 about how it felt to be the champion. From that perspective, it wasn’t that big a surprise.
What has happened since Sunday, has there been a lot of attention?
Of course, there was a lot on WhatsApp, also on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter... I got an incredible amount of congratulations. It’s always nice, but I can’t answer everything. At least, I try to do so on WhatsApp, but especially on Instagram and the like – I can’t answer everybody. Some of these stories only remain active for 24 hours and you can only watch a fraction of it. It was quite a lot, but a really nice sign of appreciation!
What do you feel are your main strengths during a race?
Difficult to say. This year, I didn’t really have too many battles, although I’m usually quite strong in a duel. We had the race at Hockenheim where I made it all the way up from the back to the front. Generally, I would say that I make few mistakes; that I always drive at the limit, but never make any big errors during a race.
This year, tyre management wasn’t my strongest point, Nico [Mueller] was very good at that. And in the second half of the season, my starts got better. Starting was still one of my weaknesses at the beginning of the year – but from Assen onwards, we had strong starts almost every weekend. At the Nürburgring last weekend, both starts were particularly strong. That’s something I would mention as a strength – also compared to Nico.
At the Lausitzring, he had a clutch problem, and at the Nürburgring, he partly threw away his championship chances because of the start. The start is a part of the season, it has to be right. When I saw that I had a deficit in that area, I tried to improve myself accordingly. During the last two weekends at the Lausitzring and the Nürburgring, my starts worked out particularly well.
Despite winning the title, Rast is still critical about his performance, and constantly looks to improve
Sometimes you had technical problems in the races and lost points as a result. Was it easy to overcome that frustration?
A technical failure is highly annoying, especially when running at the front. Those are valuable points to miss out on, but you simply can’t change it. When a sensor fails, I can put as much effort in as I like, but I can’t control it. It fails when it wants to, so from that point of view, getting upset about it leads to nothing, it won’t bring back the points. So I can erase that from my mind fairly quickly.
It would be a different story in case of a driver error. Then, without doubt, I would be sad for a long time afterwards and think about it a lot. But technical problems just happen. You have to look ahead: there’s nothing you can do about them.
Driver errors are a rare thing for you.
Thankfully, yes. Of course, I have the odd hiccup here and there that perhaps can’t be seen from the outside. I’m not a driver to get every lap perfect, but bigger mistakes – such as a spin or a flat spot when locking up – are really quite rare for me.
Are there areas in which you can still improve?
Tyre management. That’s something I will definitely be putting more effort into. It’s an aspect that we’ll always have to deal with – tyre management is always relevant. I definitely still have the potential to improve. I’ve noticed that Nico Mueller and Jamie Green have done a better job in that respect. And I also need to adjust my driving style to become stronger there. I wasn’t bad at it, but, yeah, it’s not one of my strengths.
How do you prepare, mentally and physically?
Physically, I’ve tried to reduce the routine to a minimum during the season. During the winter, obviously, I have more time, and can focus more on physical preparation. I do more sport during the winter. Once the season starts, I hardly do anything between the races. Driving is enough exercise in itself. And I don’t need it between races.
Driving itself is such good exercise that you don’t need any other sporting activity beside it. Then I use the time I gain as a result to spend time with my family [he lives with his partner, and their young son, in Bregenz, Austria), which is very important to me to get my head clear and focus on something else.
All the remaining time is used for preparation. First of all, post-race analyses to find out what we can do better. A lot of time is invested in that. And then preparation takes an extreme amount of time as well. I can’t put it into days or hours, but I’m always happy when the weekend finally arrives and I can go out for first practice. When you haven’t done anything apart from preparing for two solid weeks, it really feels like a long time until you’re allowed to get out and drive at last. It really is time consuming.
Rast has his own sim rig at home in order to practice and perfect new ideas
What do you like doing for fitness training?
This year, I’ve discovered mountain biking – but with an e-mountain bike! I think it’s really cool, because it makes exercising fun. Normally, when you start from scratch on a mountain bike, you probably wouldn’t get up the mountains that I rode on. Plus, you can drive much longer distances, and if you’re facing a steep climb, you just push up the power a bit more and you get up fairly easily. It’s still quite demanding, but it’s mega fun.
During the winter, I tend to do more running as it’s too cold to ride the bike. I also go into the fitness studio to prevent my muscles from getting rusty. I also have cross-country skis, but my technique isn’t really good enough for me to say that I’m happy with it. I know how to ski, but that is more for fun rather than exercise.
Do you do any kind of mental exercise?
No, nothing whatsoever. I have never had anything to do with that and never really needed it either. I have never felt a mental breakdown during a race or something, so from that point of view, I say: as long as I can do without it, I will.
How important is simulator work for you?
Very important! Obviously, we have the simulator at Audi Sport [in Neuburg] where we spend a day prior to every race. Then, there’s also a simulator at Team Rosberg, where we spend another day before each race. And I also have a sim at home for myself. Whenever I have a new idea, I can run through different procedures or try out different driving styles. That means you can accumulate quite a high number of laps.
For example, at the Nürburgring, in first free practice, my first timed lap was a 1m20.5s, and, on Sunday, my qualifying lap was a 1m20.0s. So that means that my very first lap of the weekend was only half a second slower than my fastest lap on Sunday! That shows how good preparation has become. In the past, you started practice and you were three, four seconds slower than you would be in qualifying. Nowadays, it really is a matter of getting into the car and being on the pace straight away.
Being quick straight out of the blocks has become a Rast hallmark
How do you get along with your fellow Audi drivers and with Dieter Gass, Audi’s head of motorsport?
At Audi Sport, I think there’s a very good relationship between the drivers. When I sometimes see what is going on at other brands, drivers get along less well with each other than we do.
Of course, I’m not saying everything is fine all the time. We also have our discussions after the race every now and the – for instance at the Norisring [after his first-lap clash with Nico Mueller] or in other situations.
Sometimes we discuss things between the drivers, but I think we deal with each other in a more friendly way than is the case at some other manufacturers.
I think that Dieter controls his drivers very well in that respect, and we also have a friendly relationship with each other. There is nobody who begrudges the other’s success. When somebody is doing a good job, all the others acknowledge as much.
Of course, it isn’t nice for the other drivers when there’s always someone who stands out, but I reckon that everybody can deal with that. We’ve developed ourselves very well as a team over the past two or three years. Since 2017, we’ve largely had the same drivers, so that allows for team spirit to develop. Dieter does a very good job there.
What makes Dieter Gass stand out as a person in charge?
That he knows what he wants. He isn’t somebody who’s afraid to speak out clearly, or who doesn’t give clear instructions. He’ll say: ‘This or that has to be like this’, or ‘I would like to have this so and so’.
He’s also someone who quickly implements things. I reckon that’s what makes him very successful as a team leader, because he points out the right direction very clearly. There is no alternative, there is just this one route that he shows us.
You always know where you are with him. He’s also a very amicable guy; you can always talk with him, no matter the issue. He’s never angry when you vent your criticism. In fact, he’s somebody who likes to accept criticism and then tries to do better. He’s a perfect boss!
Rast admires Dieter Gass’ ability to manage drivers and get things done
It’s also thanks to him that you got the chance to race in the DTM.
Well, he was there in 2012 when I was simply too slow during the selection process. But yes, he was the one who had confidence in me, who have me the chance and got me on board for the DTM and the LMP1 programme.
After your many achievements in one-make series, it took very long for your dream of racing in the DTM to finally come true. How difficult was that for you?
That was a really hard time. In motorsport, you’re always looking for continuity: you always want to develop. It was never my goal, for instance, to stay in the Carrera Cup or the Supercup – I always felt I was ready for something higher; I always wanted to step up into the DTM or LMP1.
Then, when you get told that you aren’t selected, and for several years in a row, that’s really tough. But perhaps it also made me stronger as a person, helped me to better deal with setbacks. It wasn’t solely negative, it was also character-building. It made me the person I am today. But there’s no doubt that it wasn’t a pleasant time.
Did you have any role models or heroes in racing?
Of course, back when I was a kid, I was always rooting for Michael Schumacher. I went to the odd F1 race to watch him – I remember going to Hockenheim together with my father. Also, when I was in karting, I used to watch Formula 1. I’ve always been a big fan of Michael’s. Of course, I also knew about DTM, we were went to watch it at the Diepholz airfield circuit – but as a kid, you’d rather watch Formula 1!
As with many German drivers, Michael Schumacher was a big inspiration
Preview part 2
In the second and final part of the big interview at DTM.com, Rast speaks about his early title win, what was decisive for him this year, what his team means to him, what he would still like to achieve in motor racing, his position in Audi’s motorsport heritage, the new-for-2019 turbo engines and he reveals who he has on his list as favourites for 2020.