Ahead of the first round of the 2016 VLN, Racing.GT chatted with one of Germany’s brightest stars, whose name many ring a bell with fans of early 90s DTM…
The names Heyer, Ludwig and Asch carry a lot of gravitas in German motorsport circles. Hans Heyer famously started the 1977 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim – despite failing to qualify – and won the Spa 24 Hours three times in succession between 1982 and 1984; Klaus Ludwig was a three-time Le Mans winner (his 1984 victory with Henri Pescarolo alongside was the last time the 24 Hours was won by a crew of two drivers) and later added three DTM titles, while Roland Asch remains the most successful driver in the history of the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany, taking four titles alongside a lengthy career in the DTM and STW with Mercedes.
No-one is more keenly aware of the importance of a name than the second generation and two-time ADAC GT Masters champion Sebastian Asch has a particularly acute understanding of what it means to carry on the mantle. 2016 looks set to be a particularly busy year for the 29-year-old, who will again team up with Luca Ludwig and Zakspeed to defend their GT Masters title, with Kenneth Heyer joining the line-up in the new Mercedes-AMG GT3 for the opening rounds of the VLN and Nürburgring 24 Hours.
“It’s a good combination this year, a traditional combination you might say!” laughs Asch, who away from the circuit helps run his father’s Mustang tuning business. “I was very often at a race track with my father in the old DTM cars in the 90s, Luca was also there and he said it was his big target to see us again on the podium like our fathers. From last year I think we’ve shown that Luca and I work very well and Kenneth I’ve known for a long time, he drove against me in the SEAT Cup in 2005! The names are very famous in Germany and the old DTM, so for us it’s an honour to do well.”
Asch can be rightly proud that he is the only man to have won the GT Masters twice – both times with the outgoing Mercedes SLS – although the manner in which they were delivered couldn’t have been more different. His first, with MS Racing in 2012, came down to a final round showdown at Hockenheim with Callaway Competition’s Diego Alessi and Daniel Keilwitz and the Schütz Motorsport Porsche of Christian Engelhart. With a nine point deficit to overturn, Asch and Maxi Götz were the rank outsiders, but chose the perfect moment to score their only win of the year and whisk the title from under the noses of their rivals. Two barren years without a podium followed, but once back in the SLS with Zakspeed, Asch and Ludwig sprung quickly out of the traps in 2015, with six podiums and two wins in the first half of the year allowing plenty of time to get the victory T-shirts made.
“It’s a very hard GT3 championship, one of the hardest actually, so to say I’m the only one with two championships in this series is great,” reflects Asch, who was rewarded with a Mercedes DTM test last year. “It’s not always the same winners and you can see how competitive the series is. I had two years where it was not so easy with the Farnbacher Porsche and with the Audi, but you have to have that in your career, because if you don’t have the downs, then you don’t appreciate the ups.
“Last year I came back to Zakspeed and from the second race we were in first position in the championship. When Luca and I came back from qualifying and we were not on the first four or five positions we had a lot of headaches, but I always knew that in the last two years I was not even in the top ten positions, which was very motivating. When you’re down in a hole, you can come back stronger.”
With his FIA driver ranking upgraded to Gold, a return to the European Le Mans Series with Proton Competition has had to be put on hold, however Asch will have further opportunities to test his mettle in the Blancpain Sprint Cup with a-Workx, who ran him to a first GT Masters win at Oschersleben in 2010. For gentleman team-mate Didi Gonzales, this will be a first foray into professional motorsport, so expectations will be accordingly lowered, but for Asch it presents an opportunity to further his horizons and revisit some old haunts.
“I’m very happy because I know the potential of the team, they prepare a very good car and I won some races together with [Niclas] Kentenich and [Michael] Ammermüller, so I’m very happy to be back with them,” he said. “The Blancpain series is a new championship for me; the format is very similar to GT Masters, where we have two races of one hour, but Blancpain is one qually race and one main race and driver changes as fast as you can go. I’m looking forward to some new European race tracks – I really like Brands Hatch, I was there with Trackspeed in GT Open, its a very fun track.
“In the Pro-Am category our target has to be the first five or six positions, we cannot say we are expecting to win. We will set our targets low in the beginning and see how we can improve from there.”
And what of the future? Roland Asch never competed at Le Mans, so there’s an element of family honour at stake, but ‘Basti’ is primarily out to enjoy racing as many cars as much as possible.
“My big target is to race sometime at Le Mans, it’s a dream for me. I was one time in Daytona and I raced in the 24 Hour of Spa, but I’ve never raced at Le Mans and my father didn’t go there either, so I think I have to do this for our family. Maybe I have the chance in the future, but like my father always says, if you’re a racing driver, the car has four wheels and you have a steering wheel, it doesn’t matter. You just have to drive it!”