The real deal
Behind the wheel of Rene Rast’s Championship-winning Audi RS 5 DTM.
Veteran German motoring journalist, Roland Löwisch, is no stranger to driving race cars, but the new generation Audi RS 5 DTM is not one for the faint hearted.
31 October, 2019
On the eve of my test, the friendly people from Audi Sport handed me a 14-page document describing how you can destroy the car by doing something wrong
A race car with 455kW of turbo power, the Hockenheimring and rainy weather – what could possibly go wrong? For veteran German motoring journalist, Roland Löwisch, nothing was going to stop him getting behind the wheel of René Rast’s championship-winning Audi RS 5 DTM, but the conditions certainly gave pause for thought. Deep thought.
In a career covering motorsport since 1990, he has worked for ‘Auto Bild’, ‘Auto Forum’ and ‘STERN’ magazines to build an internationally recognised career and along the way he has also driven all of Audi’s major racing cars.
But as Löwisch explains – every new race car is a unique and challenging experience.
On the eve of my test, the friendly people from Audi Sport handed me a 14-page document describing how you can destroy the car by doing something wrong. In a nutshell – avoid vibrations of any kind because a four-cylinder turbo engine does not run nearly as smoothly as the V8 from previous years, so it’s best to never drive it below 6000rpm. Never drive with a disengaged or slipping clutch between 3700 and 4200rpm. And should you have to do so anyhow, use the pit limiter.
Next warning – never drive off at half-throttle – either lift completely or go full-throttle. In the pit lane, depress the clutch pedal only at less than 3300rpm. And when you stop, apply the clutch, push the neutral button on the steering wheel and then pull the left-hand downshift paddle. Other than that, pay attention to radio messages, especially concerning the pit limiter and ALS – that’s the function that bridges the turbo lag by electronically keeping the engine in high-revving mode. Improperly used, it can overheat the exhaust system and – naturally – cause a lot of damage.
The first thing in the morning is paperwork again, several new sheets with items to remember. “Sign here, please!” If I read all that I probably wouldn’t have any time left for driving, so I just sign the liability release form and head for the seat fitting.
The seat actually fits pretty well. I acknowledge the advice of braking with my left foot because the brake and accelerator pedals are very close together, but don’t take it seriously – If I began doing that now I’d probably end up in the gravel right in the first turn. So I put myself and others at ease by saying, “I’m sure I’ll manage” or words to that effect. Then I put on fireproof underwear and the racing suit. The H.A.N.S. head and neck protection, the helmet with earphones and the gloves come last. Davide Maino is my race engineer. I’ve got him in my ear all the time. The Italian provides instructions: “You got it?” I say “yes” and mean “well, sort of” …
When DTM Champion René Rast gets into his race car the process looks elegant, fluid, completely routine. I, on the other hand, would rather everyone look the other way during my efforts of climbing into the car. The safety cell and the very high rocker rail minimise the space you have for worming your way in. But René is a perfect gentleman and clicks off the steering wheel for me. That makes it a little easier – but still not elegant.
Once in the bucket racing seat, the visible horizon is located at the highest point of the bonnet. Of course this is due to the fact that the car’s centre of gravity should be as low as possible, and although I’m not a fan of SUVs, I’d rather be crouching a little higher. Rast hands the steering wheel into the car, and while it’s being attached, there’s an audible ‘click’ and a ‘clack’ as the mechanics are closing the door on the left.
When René Rast gets into his race car he looks elegant – I, on the other hand, would rather everyone look the other way
Caressing the accelerator pedal unleashes a storm. A massive 455kW in a car that only weighs 986 kilos
I’m not totally on my own, though, because I can communicate with Davide. “Tyres to the car,” he instructs his colleagues. The mechanics from Audi Sport Team Rosberg unpack the rain tyres that have been preheated to about 60 degrees and fit them in a matter of seconds. There’s some rattling and shaking, and then the air is discharged from the lines to the retractable jacks. Now the Audi RS 5 DTM has ground contact with each of its four wheels. Things are getting serious.
Push the starter button, slowly engage the clutch, don’t depress the accelerator, stop once more – a mechanic checks if the coolant has the right temperature. Thumbs up – now everything is in my hands. “Pit Limiter on,” radios Davide. Then, at the end of the pit lane, “Pit limiter off.” And now, “Have fun!”
Fortunately, I heed Davide’s advice and refrain from immediately going full-throttle after switching off the pit limiter – because that would at least have meant an embarrassing spin, just half a second after the all-clear. So I’m taking it easy – when, right afterwards, Davide instructs me via the earphones in the helmet: “ALS on!” I activate the anti-lag system. Now I’m ready to drive off for good.
Caressing the accelerator pedal unleashes a storm. A massive 455kW in a car that only weighs 986 kilos. The 100km/h mark is passed in 2.8 seconds.
Even first gear can be pulled up to about 100 km/h. However, at that point, it unfortunately feels like the straight has already ended. Pros may occasionally make it all the way into sixth gear on certain track sections of the Hockenheimring. I don’t.
I’ve hardly managed to halfway approach the acceptable braking points and my personal racing line when Davide is back in my ear: “Box, Box!” I find the radio button with near-professional aplomb and casually answer, “Copy”, like René would in a race. Yet in doing so, I almost forget how fast I’m going and that the next turn couldn’t care less about my distraction. But the brakes are reliable and my awe of the professional racing drivers keeps growing by the second. Not only are they in perfect control of these high-tech cars, but they even find the spots with grip on a wet track, while simultaneously fighting with umpteen others for victory, talking – if necessary – to their race engineers anywhere on the track.
Unlike me, the only thing that pros don’t always do is to return the car to the pits unharmed. On the one hand, it’s to be used again next season and on the other, René told me that the mechanics are very attached to this new automotive champion.
With the session successfully completed, the car’s well, I’m well and everyone’s happy. René Rast takes back his steering wheel after my test excursion. How was it? Awesome, what else! Almost electrifying – and I suddenly recall, my left leg kept ‘wandering’. The reason was lack of space, because I wasn’t able to rest it next to the clutch pedal, I placed it on the car’s floor. The floor, though, was shaking so much under the high frequencies that I felt as if my leg was wandering all on its own.
“That’s right,” Rast says, “the vibrations can clearly be felt. Maybe that’s why I sometimes park my left foot on top of my throttle foot in the race …” Which he was never aware of in the cockpit but only realised watching TV footage.
Unlike me, the only thing that pros don’t always do is to return the car to the pits unharmed
Want to ensure you always receive the latest news and features from Audi? Subscribe now to the Audi Magazine newsletter.