Audi Sport has already secured a title before the new 2017 DTM season begins at the Hockenheimring on May 5: The “Rookie of the year” will without doubt be an Audi driver this year. Loïc Duval and René Rast are the only two newcomers in the 18-strong DTM starting grid – and both will be driving an Audi RS 5 DTM.

Duval and Rast are perhaps the most unusual newcomers in DTM history, because both, in their early 30’s, are not classic youngsters anymore. Duval made a career in Japan before joining Audi, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and becoming the WEC world champion. During the same period, Rast climbed the career ladder step-by-step within the Volkswagen Group – from the Polo Cup to Le Mans. René Rast has mostly made a name for himself in recent times in the Audi R8 LMS GT3 sports car.

So now DTM. One year ago, neither of them had expected to sit in one of the six Audi RS 5 DTM cars in 2017, though both were always DTM fans. “Even when I drove in the Formula 3 Euro Series, I followed the DTM races very closely,” says Duval. “At the beginning of my career, I used to travel around with the DTM in the supporting programme VW, Seat and Porsche one-make cups. The DTM was, of course, a goal for me.”

But for both it was different. Duval moved to Japan, where among other things he won the title in Super GT, while Rast competed in endurance racing.

Both took different paths that have now led them to the DTM. Last year, on a Saturday evening, the phone rang at Rast’s house. The question: whether he felt like driving in the DTM. The catch was that the race was the very next day. Rast nevertheless said yes, got in the car immediately and, without any preparation, made such a good impression at his first DTM race in Zandvoort that he was allowed to jump in as a substitute for Mattias Ekström at the finale at Hockenheim – on this occasion with more preparation time. The result was a sixth place, his first points and a clear recommendation for a full DTM season.

For Duval, Audi’s sudden withdrawal from the WEC came completely unexpectedly and he was totally unprepared. That he would get a seat in the Audi DTM team, when the cars had been reduced from eight to six, was not self-evident. “So in this situation, I feel it is an even greater privilege to be allowed to race in another fantastic racing series for Audi,” says the Frenchman.

Both know how hard the DTM is and that they face a difficult season. “Despite my experience in motorsport, I am kind of a rookie again,” says René Rast. “My aim is to become the best rookie, even if there is only two with Loïc and me. I want to learn, collect points and always get through a race well. To integrate and settle into the DTM, to get the most out of it. The DTM fluctuates very much. No one can say where they will finish at the end of the year. 18 good drivers compete in the DTM.

Duval knows most DTM tracks from Formula 3 and other racing series. “New to me are Moscow, Budapest and the Red Bull Ring. But nowadays, it’s relatively easy to get to know them in the simulator.” Rast is doing virtual training almost every day for his next career step: In is apartment in Bregenz is a simulator from the company Fanatec, in which the “Project Cars” simulation runs. Rast advises the e-racing project as a “handling consultant” and now benefits from his side job in the DTM: “The DTM car requires a driving style that I know of in no other car. When I drive the simulator every day, this saves itself in my head. I won’t have to start from scratch when I sit in the real RS 5 DTM.”

Rast and Duval will line up in the DTM with car numbers 33 and 77. “I think the look of 33 is really cool,” says Rast. And Duval says, “I’ve had the number 7 in my career often, but it was not free in the DTM. So I thought to myself, maybe the double-7 brings twice the luck …”

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