When Team Aguri found itself in need of a last-minute replacement for Antonio Felix da Costa after a planned deal with Adam Carroll fell through, few would have expected Rene Rast to be the name at the top of the list.
And yet, on Saturday, Rast will make his first race start in a single-seater since 2004, when at the age of 18 he raced in the German Formula BMW series against Sebastian Vettel (who subsequently went on to become four-times F1 champion) before turning his attention to sportscar racing.
Rast’s arrival in Formula E has been facilitated by Audi, with whom he enjoys strong ties and for whom he raced at Le Mans last year in the LMP1 category. This year, the marque’s decision to cut its entries from three cars to two left Rast without a WEC seat, forcing him to turn his attention to the sport’s LMP2 level, where he is racing for the full season with G-Drive Racing. However, the German is delighted to be making his Formula E bow this weekend.
“I was in contact with the team already at the beginning of the year because we knew there was a conflict with DTM for Felix da Costa in Berlin,” Rast explained. “Last week the team called me and said, ‘There might be trouble with Adam, could you jump in?’ I said, ‘Of course! I would love to!’ and then we made it happen. Of course it was not easy because the e-licence requires quite a lot of experience in formula cars. I just did two years in formula cars and this was 12 years ago. It was not easy to get the licence but we managed it and now I’m here and looking forward to it.”
“We thought we had it all sorted out with Adam but the last parts of the negotiations didn’t go as we all hoped, including probably for Adam as well,” Team Aguri boss Mark Preston told Current E today. “But Rene was available and Leo [Thomas, team technical director] had worked with him before, so he was quickly seconded into the position. He’s been on the simulator for the last week, so knowing some of the engineers here is a big help. He knows quite a few of the drivers here as well from his other driving duties, probably helps as well. I’m sure he’s heard quite a lot about what you have to do in Formula E. He’s certainly going to be a local hero, so that’s quite good for the fans as well.”
There were some concerns about getting the deal signed off, given that Formula E teams are limited to four drivers per season and Rast marks Team Aguri’s fifth (after dropping Nathanael Berthon for Salvador Duran, and then replacing Duran with Ma Qing Hua, all alongside Felix da Costa).
“This is a little bit different,” Preston said. “When we first signed Antonio, it looked like the DTM championship wasn’t going to clash. We put all the dates in where we though they were going to be and where our dates were and it looked OK. Then of course DTM announced their dates and that had two clashes. From the very, very beginning of the championship, we knew we’d have to switch. Because he’ll be back, it’s almost like a reserve driver role in a way. It’s not supposed to be to change of driver, it’s just to replace because of a clash with another series. That should be fine.”
Although Rast also had to get approval from Audi, he was never in doubt of the move going ahead: “I’m still contracted to Audi and Audi gave me the green light to do it, but I was not worried about that because Lucas [di Grass] and Loic are also here and they’re also Audi contracted. From this point, I was not worried.”
Rast said that he would consider entering Formula E in the long-term depending on how he fares with the car on Saturday. “Of course it would be nice to get a full season,” he said. “But yeah, for now, I just focus on this one to see how it will be, if the car suits me or not, and then we’ll see what’s going on after that.”
“I’m sure he’s got something to prove this weekend,” Preston added. “I think he has been looking at trying to do this series because so many of his counterparts in WEC are doing it. I think the two series seem to match, the energy management in these cars, the level of technical ability is similar in that respect. It seems to match in terms of a calendar at the moment. Everyone keeps their fingers crossed to make sure there are no clashes between those two series.”
While Rast may be starting to think about plans for the new season, the ownership saga surrounding Aguri continues, with Preston seeming quietly confident that the deal will be pushed through and finalised.
“That’s moving along quietly in the background,” he said. “It’s going through the throes of what’s required. There should be no issues in the background. It’s taking the time it takes, but it should be alright getting everything ready for season three.” However, he was unable to give a time scale of when any further details may emerge.