The retirement of Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen has had a ripple effect within Audi Sport, with Oliver Jarvis stepping into a full-time role after three years in the German manufacturer’s third LMP1 car, and Rene Rast taking over Jarvis’ seat in the partial season entry.
For Rast, considered one of the most successful GT drivers of this decade, the chance to move up the Audi ladder comes as a dream opportunity and something the 28-year-old German isn’t taking for granted on the heels of his debut weekend in the Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps earlier this month.
“When you’re at home and have so many thoughts on your mind on what can happen and how it will be, I was not really nervous but really excited,” Rast told Sportscar365.
“Now when I was [Spa], I was quite relaxed. I did so many test days. When I jumped into the car, it was already like normal. I was like a kid at Christmas to actually go on track.”
Rast’s big break into LMP1 racing comes after an impressive career in the GT ranks.
The three-time Porsche Supercup champion joined Audi in 2009 and has been an instrumental part of the manufacturer’s success with the R8 LMS car, with Rast having collected two 24 Hours of Spa victories, overall honors in the Nurburgring 24 as well as being the reigning ADAC GT Masters champion.
He’s also gained previous prototype knowledge, having made his Le Mans debut at the wheel of Sebastien Loeb Racing’s Oreca 03R Nissan last year, an experience that helped prepare him for the step up to the factory LMP1 effort.
“I don’t think you’d get one of these seats in LMP1 without experience at Le Mans, Rast said. “It helped me for the initial experience of getting used to the aerodynamics.
“If you step into such a car and don’t have [high-downforce] experience, it’s quite difficult to go into the fast corners and feel where the level of the car is.
“I went through every category. From GT to LMP2 and now to LMP1. This helped me understand what the others are thinking because I know how a GT driver feels and how a LMP2 driver feels. I can sneak around them a little bit better because I know what they’re going to do next.”
One of the things that Rast couldn’t prepare for has been adapting to the cutting-edge hybrid technology in LMP1 racing, which has resulted in a different approach in driving the cars to achieve the best possible result.
“It’s actually quite a big step,” he said. “There’s so much technology in the car and you have to do quite a lot in the car with buttons and stuff.
“You have to reset your own racing as you have to drive in an efficient way. You have to sneak around traffic in an efficient way. You have to be fast and understand the technology. You have to work with the engineers. Everything’s so much faster.
“You have to forget everything you learned in the past and learn everything new. It takes quite a while but once you did some kilometers, it’s normal.”
While having racked up more than 1,500 miles in the 2015-spec R18 e-tron quattro in testing, Rast said he’s also gotten a helping hand from his Audi teammates, which has sped up the learning curve of the new technology.
And coming off a productive fourth place finish at Spa earlier this month alongside co-drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Marco Bonanomi, Rast is looking ahead to the Le Mans Test Day at the end of the month, which will mark his first laps of the 8.5-mile circuit in a LMP1 car.
“Its very important, to get used to the speeds,” he said. “We’re going to reach quite high speeds at Le Mans. This is nothing normal so you have to get used to it. That’s why it’s important for us to get to grips of it.”
With a busy year on tap for the German, which includes development and race duty of Audi’s new R8 LMS car, Rast is enjoying every minute of it, but realizes the importance of making a solid impression at Le Mans next month.
Considering the progression of Audi drivers from its third entry into full-season race seats, the latest GT racing convert could eventually be following in the footsteps of Jarvis, Loic Duval and Lucas Di Grassi.
“It’s always a main target to be in a full-season championship,” Rast said. “Now I’m doing Spa and Le Mans, which is a big thing for me. But of course at some point, I’d like to do the whole season. That’s the ultimate goal.”