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Why Rast left Audi to become listed on BMW, and where his career could go next

Rene Rast was destined to invest the entirety of his professional racing career with Audi. In the end, the partnership had yielded so much success across a number of championships that it could have only been natural for Rast to keep with the German manufacturer until he made a decision to hang up the phone his helmet. Moreover, he’d have likely been offered an ambassadorial role by Audi afterwards, ensuring he’d have earned a lucrative salary even with retirement.

Yet a number of events have forced Rast to abruptly leave Audi following this season, with per year quit on his contract, and join direct rival BMW as a factory driver from 2023.

The reason why behind his exit from Audi are numerous but chiefly Rast couldn’t visit a long-term future at the Ingolstadt brand, especially in the wake of its decision to prevent its highly-anticipated LMDh project in the beginning of the year. Alongside DTM rival Nico Muller, Rast was because of lead the development of the automobile that would took Audi back again to Le Mans for the very first time since 2016, and the said LMDh programme was the foundation of a two-year contract he signed in October of 2021.

With the project abandoned, Rast would lose out on an opportunity to represent himself at a global stage and build on his performances in a set of outings in Audi’s LMP1 car back 2015. For a driver as hungry for success as him, not being given a chance to fight for outright wins at Le Sarthe was a dealbreaker.

Nonetheless it wasn’t just the lack of a global Endurance Championship programme centred around Le Mans that prompted Rast to jump ship. Audi was out of alternatives to get Rast a compelling option in other championships, certainly in the long-term or even soon.

The marque’s factory team in Formula 1 doesn’t seriously stream until 2026, where time Rast will be nearing 40 years. Plus, too little experience in petrol-powered single-seaters means Audi could have no reason to take into account him for a race drive, particularly when it might find drivers more fitted to this role elsewhere.

And that is not absolutely all. The next-generation Audi R8 for the street will ditch its internal combustion engine towards energy, casting doubt on the future of the marque’s customer sport activities in GT racing. Another Evo update of the Audi R8 LMS GT3 premiered only this season, but it’s unclear exactly what will happen once the current model completes its homologation run. Doubts concerning the future of Audi Sport could have certainly diminished the selling point of a long-term GT programme for Rast.

Conflicting doubts about Audi's long-term future in racing pushed Rast into BMW's arms

Conflicting doubts about Audi’s long-term future in racing pushed Rast into BMW’s arms

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Thankfully for the German, though, Audi understood the problem he found himself in and decided to release him from his contract by the end of the 2022 season. A particular farewell ceremony was also held at Neuburg an der Donau in Germany, where two of his title-winning DTM Class One cars were also showcased.

Actually, Rast’s departure from Audi has been so amicable he even received permission to check BMW’s own LMDh car at Aragon earlier this month, while he remains technically contracted to Audi until 31 December 2022.

Audi’s former head of factory racing Andreas Roos has been central to luring Rast from the Ingolstadt-brand, having joined BMW this season because the head of most its motorsport operations. Rast and Roos first held discussions in regards to a possible proceed to BMW through the IMSA race weekend at Sebring in March, where Rast was competing for G-Drive within an LMP2 car. The talks between your two escalated from there and Rast was formally named a BMW factory driver on 22 August, weekly after his exit from Audi was confirmed.

Having his former boss Roos at BMW means he’ll have a confidant to utilize in a fresh environment, especially in the wake of the criticism levied at outgoing Audi Sport boss Julius Seebach, who’ll be replaced by Rolf Michl from 1 September.

Both Lucas di Grassi and Mike Rockenfeller indicated they didn’t have the same support under Seebach as his predecessors Dieter Gass and Wolfgang Ulrich, soon after their contracts with Audi weren’t renewed by the end of the 2021 season. Moreover, it had been under Seebach’s reign that long-time GT affiliate WRT made a decision to leave Audi from 2023, ironically to become listed on forces with BMW like Rast.

After leaving Audi, WRT will run BMW’s factory programme in WEC from 2024, and Rast is likely to lead the marque’s first assault at a standard Le Mans win since 1999. The German driver has spent this season racing for WRT in the LMP2 class of WEC, and therefore is already up to date with prototype machinery in racing conditions.

Not to mention, there is the recent LMDh test as Aragon, further boosting his preparations for 2023. It really is on the trunk of the recent prototype experience that Roos suggested that Rast will make race appearances in the BMW M Hybrid V8 in IMSA next year, before his expected graduation to a full-time seat in WEC in 2024. Chances are that he could possibly be slotted into BMW’s line-up at among the four Michelin Endurance Cup events in IMSA next year, where extra drivers are needed along with the standard two-driver crew.

Rast looks set to be one of the names driving for BMW's incoming LMDh programme

Rast looks set to be among the names driving for BMW’s incoming LMDh programme

Photo by: BMW AG

The precise information on Rast’s 2023 campaign can’t be exercised until next year’s calendar is released, however the German driver can be expected to be a part of several GT races – and a go back to the DTM in the BMW M4 was not eliminated.

Rast’s 2023 programme with BMW will need to participate in his Formula E schedule, having signed a cope with newcomer McLaren which has bought out the running of the Mercedes team.

Rast earned a lot of plaudits for his quick adaptation to the quirks of FE in 2020, when he replaced the ousted Daniel Abt in Audi’s line-up alongside di Grassi. This earned him a full-season campaign the next year and, although a victory remained elusive as Audi only finished fourth in the teams’ standings, he impressed then-Mercedes FE chief Ian James enough to sign him up for the 2023 season.

Rast will, however, need to wait some time before having the ability to jump in to the Gen3 car and commence preparations for his go back to Formula E. Because of the Brackley team switching from the factory operation to a Nissan powertrain customer after being bought out by McLaren, nor Rast or his unannounced teammate have already been in a position to complete any running at this time. A team of senior McLaren personnel will attend a joint manufacturer test in September to closely follow the progress of powertrain supplier Nissan, before making a decision how exactly to use its allocation of test days.

For Rast this implies he is able to prioritise his duties in the DTM, where he could be currently locked in a good championship struggle with famous brands Lamborghini driver Mirko Bortolotti, future BMW squadmate Sheldon van der Linde and fellow Audi driver Muller. A fourth title in the series would definitely be considered a fitting solution to pull the curtains on his stint being an Audi driver, and perhaps his amount of time in the DTM itself.

But regardless of who lifts the championship trophy at Hockenheim at the start of October, Rast will decrease in history among the finest drivers to ever race for the revered German brand.

Only if Audi had made a decision to continue in Formula E or proceed through using its LMDh project, it could have already been writing a fresh chapter in its successful partnership with Rast…

Rast received a fond farewell from Audi

Rast received a fond farewell from Audi

Photo by: Audi Communications Motorsport

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