source: Roland Löwisch for Audi Sport
610 turbo horsepower, the Hockenheimring and rainy weather: challenging preconditions for motoring journalist Roland Löwisch doing his test laps in René Rast’s championship-winning Audi RS 5 DTM. Löwisch has been reporting about the motoring sector since 1990. The ‘Auto Bild’, ‘Auto Forum’ and ‘STERN’ magazines have been the most important stints in his professional career during which the internationally renowned media man has also driven all of Audi’s major racing cars – from the sports prototype world champions through to the DTM title winners. Here’s a chronological account of his most recent outing.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
I must admit that, putting it mildly, the night is for the birds. On the eve of my test, the friendly people from Audi Sport handed me a 14-page pamphlet 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 6,000 rpm. Never drive with a disengaged or slipping clutch between 3,700 and 4,200 rpm. 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 3,300 rpm. 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. As I said: I slept poorly.
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 and be in even greater awe of this technical high-performance car named Audi RS 5 DTM. 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 enters his racing machine the process looks elegant, fluid, completely routine. I, on the other hand, would rather like everyone to 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 – even though I initially get caught with H.A.N.S. on the roof edge.
At some point in time, I wind up sitting in the bucket racing seat – which is rather low in spite of the bolster. Subjectively, 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 me the steering wheel into the car. While it’s being attached, there’s an audible ‘click’ and a ‘clack’ as the mechanics are closing the door on the left.
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. The 2019 DTM championship-winning car is ready to go. Things are getting serious.
THE TEST DRIVE
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.
Driving off? That’s pure understatement. Caressing the accelerator pedal unleashes a storm: 610 horsepower means some 100 horsepower more than in the previous V8 version of the Audi RS 5 DTM, and even so, the current car only weighs 986 kilos. The ‘sprint in 2.8 seconds’ is no more than a piece of technical information. The sprint in the car is a near-unearthly experience. This touring car prototype accelerates so incredibly fast. The fear this power volcano can inspire in an amateur has long vanished behind the turn I just swept through before it affects me, and thus wonderfully comes to nothing.
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. Fifth is the maximum, and I’m fully exhausting its potential either, though that’s not strictly owing to my amateur status, but also to some damp spots on the track that I’m in great awe of – especially since the bitter autumn cold stubbornly refuses to let the profiled tread of the rain tyres warm up properly.
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 am 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 (something you can’t learn in a simulator!), whilst simultaneously fighting with umpteen others for victory, talking – if necessary – to their race engineers anywhere on the track, adjusting their brake balance as needed, and so on and so forth.
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 attached to this new automotive champion with all their heart: “They don’t allow a single grain of dust inside and immediately polish off any scratch on the outside …”
Done! The car’s well, I’m well and everyone’s happy. René Rast takes back his steering wheel after my test excursion. How it was? Awesome, what else! Almost electrifying – and vibrant because, as I suddenly recall, my left leg kept ‘wandering’. The reason is that, for lack of space, I wasn’t able to rest it next to the clutch pedal (and you’re obviously not allowed to deposit your foot on 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 agrees with me, “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, by the way, he was never aware of in the cockpit and only realised whilst watching TV footage.
THE NIGHT AFTER
To make a long story short: I haven’t slept so well in a long time…