Rene Rast is one of several drivers affected by Audi and Porsche’s cutback in LMP1 efforts for 2016, and so this year the Audi factory driver will tackle the 24 Hours of Le Mans with G-Drive Racing in LMP2.
Rast joins LMP2 regulars Jota Sport in its two-car attack under the G-Drive banner, and will share the No. 26 Oreca 05 Nissan with Roman Rusinov and late addition Will Stevens.
Stevens, who was set to compete with Manor but has been replaced by Roberto Mehri, has previously paired with Rast in the Blancpain GT Series.
“Will showed that he’s fast in prototypes, not just formula cars,” Rast told Sportscar365. “Immediately [on test day] he was very, very quick and he’s also a nice guy. I’ve worked with him in GTs already, and he’s a good fit for us.
“Obviously he’s new to Le Mans and still needs to learn it but as we saw last year with Nico Hülkenberg, as a rookie you can win Le Mans on your first time. We believe in him and it’s a good fit for us.”
Ahead of the test day earlier this month, Stevens was announced as the replacement for Nathanael Berthon, who has parted ways with G-Drive, prompting a string of driver changes amongst the LMP2 teams.
“Even for me, this was a surprise,” admitted Rast. “I cannot tell you any details [about the switch] because I do not know any!”
“The test day [was] good. We weren’t the fastest but I think we did a solid race preparation run. The car felt good, and we just worked on our normal routine with pitstops, driver changes, and just so everyone is prepared for the race.
“We didn’t look at the lap times too much because we knew that [during] the past two races, we were on pace, so we didn’t actually work a lot on pure pace, but the whole package to be ready for the race.”
Nevertheless, the Oreca Nissan finished the test third quickest out of 23 runners, and it was Rast who set the car’s pace, with a lap time of 3:37.503.
“All of the Orecas look pretty strong, to be honest,” he said of his competition. “The Ligier somehow was a bit off the pace.
“I think the No. 36 [Signatech Alpine] with Nicolas Lapierre looked very strong. There were some other Orecas with good lineups.
“You never know though. It could be a Ligier that’s competitive but right now it seems like the Oreca has a bit of an advantage.”
In last year’s race, Rast was racing the third Audi R18 e-tron quattro for Audi Sport Team Joest in the LMP1 category.
While he, Marco Bonanomi and Filipe Albuquerque finished 7th last year, the fact that the third Porsche 919 Hybrid took the honors proved that a car entered only for Le Mans can ultimately win the race.
“Obviously when I got the call that Audi wouldn’t be taking three cars, everyone was disappointed,” Rast said.
“But after we signed the deal [with G-Drive], everyone was very happy. I’m still the reserve test driver for Audi anyway, so I’m still involved in the program even though I’m not racing.
“The goal for me is to be back in LMP1 one day. But it’s not me who will decide, because it’s [down to] other people. I’m very happy to still be with Audi in the reserve and test driver role and you never know.
“Sooner or later, maybe someone will retire and that would be a chance for me.”
While he might not be fighting for the overall victory in this year’s race, he is still with one of the top LMP2 teams and in fact arguably one of the strongest outfits in the category.
“The team has done a very good job so far,” he said. “The team obviously has a lot of experience from previous years, and they were always up front, wherever they raced, so I’m very happy to be with Jota Sport and G-Drive Racing.”