Juggling both his commitments in Formula E and DTM, Rene Rast has recently opened up about the challenges he faced when he filled in for Audi in the final six rounds of last year’s ABB FIA Formula E campaign.
The Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler outfit fired Abt in May, after a professional gamer raced under his name in the Race at Home Challenge Series which caused controversy at the time. However, it also meant Audi had a seat available for the last part of the season which had been postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Having raced with Audi in the DTM since 2017, winning two drivers’ titles with the German manufacturer, Rast was hired for the completion of season six.
The 34-year old would go on to secure 29-points in the final six-races of the season, which included a maiden podium in round 10 thanks to a last-lap overtake on Andre Lotterer.
Taking place over nine-days throughout August, Rast had to concentrate on both the final six rounds of Formula E and also his commitments with Audi in DTM, all whilst not having been physically sat in a race car for four or five months.
“It was very similar for most of the drivers, at the time,” said Rast. “We hadn’t been in the car for a very long time, from March or April time and for a racing driver that’s very unusual – we never have such a long time off.
“I was in the simulator for many days and obviously, for me, there was also the DTM (German touring cars) running alongside this. Everything just started at once and I was on the road for I don’t know how many weeks in a row without being home for more than one or two days at a time, so it was quite a challenge.
“It was zero-100 very quickly. Add to that, Formula E being all-new once again and I had to learn a lot of the systems and how the Gen2 car works. Then in August, we had DTM races and a back-and-forth between those and the Berlin season finale. It was crazy!”
Rast made his ABB FIA Formula E debut at the Berlin E-Prix in 2016 for the Super Aguri outfit. The German would eventually retire from the race after he was forced to swap cars early on as a result of contact on the first lap.
In learning of the new Gen2 car, Rast admitted that the biggest challenge was learning how the power was delivered along with the new Halo device.
“The biggest difference between what I’m used to and Gen2 was the power and how it’s delivered, and the vision with Halo on the Formula E car and the covers over the wheels,” he continued. “It changes the way you look through corners as the apex is blocked – it’s not easy.”
But the most important thing he had to adapt too was the tire and how to ‘treat it for one lap in qualifying.’
“The last two or three races in Berlin, I’d started to get a grasp on it (the tire) and before that it was a bit of a guessing game to see what worked best for me,” Rast explained.
In the first three races, Rast had an average qualifying position of 20th, but after qualifying eighth for round nine of the year, his qualifying performances improved dramatically. In the final two qualifying sessions of the campaign, he qualified fourth and third respectively.
Energy management was something Rast hadn’t experienced before in his career, and it was another challenge he faced when learning to adapt to the Gen2 Formula E car. He also admitted to not knowing what to do when he jumped back into his DTM car, just a matter of hours after jumping out of the Formula E car.
“You need to change your driving style to be more efficient, between qualifying and the race,” explained Rast. “Taking different lines and different approaches to your style itself was all tough but I had time to learn at Tempelhof.
“It was a bit of a process and in the first race I didn’t know what to expect. The first two or three races were like being thrown in at the deep end!
“I made mistakes and I learned a lot from them across all kinds of races, having to start from the pit-lane, midfield and fighting at the front as well as some races where I just managed without a real battle. It was extremely valuable to me coming in cold.
“I’d adapted a lot to the Formula E energy saving techniques because when I came back from Berlin and jumped in the DTM car, it felt like I’d never driven one before!
“It was a complete shock. I was in practice and I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing for a moment. The problem was that I’d never done the switch between the two cars in such a short space of time.
“Within a few hours I’d gone from Berlin to DTM practice and I had to adapt my whole body and mind to the new situation. After that initial period, it was okay and I think that experience, and knowing how to adapt quickly, will help me going forward.”
With six races now under his belt, both with the team, the car and his teammate Lucas Di Grassi, Rast is looking to use this to his advantage as he prepares for his first full Formula E campaign with a manufacturer who has been there since the very beginning.
“The team has been in Formula E since the very first day,” said Rast. “They have a lot of experience, some really good guys and engineers and that was a big help. They imparted all that knowledge on me which guided me as to what to do and when.
“In the same way, whenever I had a question, Lucas was not shy of giving me an answer which was very helpful. Having such an extremely experienced team-mate like Lucas is invaluable – he’s the most successful in the series’ history, so what a teammate to have.”
Brazilian driver Di Grassi had a challenging year in season six, finishing sixth in the drivers’ championship having secured his best finish of the campaign in the second round of the series. Audi would also go on to finish sixth in the teams’ standings.