Last weekend saw PROSport Porsche pair Peter Terting and Jörg Viebahn confirmed as the 2016 GT4 European Series champions in the season finale at Zandvoort. More significantly, it also marked the first time that participants in the Reiter Young Stars programme won a race outright, with Maciej Dreszer and Mads Siljehaug’s RYS Team Hohenberg KTM X-BOW powering past the Ekris BMW of Bernhard van Oranje with one lap to go. But what does the series-within-a-series offer its participants and has its first year been a success? RYS racer Anna Rathe offers her insight.
I had a break from racing in 2015, because I simply ran out of time and money to do it, but when 2016 came, the withdrawal symptoms were too much to ignore. I was looking into different options and my interest fell on the European GT4 Series. No team really ticked the box, until I by coincidence read an old press release from Reiter Engineering about their new Reiter Young Stars programme. Being the last week of March, I feared the program would already be full and frankly also that I would be too old, but I sent them an email anyway to try my luck. I got accepted and by April 3rd (my birthday) we had signed the contract.
Reiter Young Stars being a brand new concept I guess makes you throw in a few extra questions. They aimed to run eight cars, which is a lot for one team, with students and relatively new drivers on board, and in the end they were giving away two seats in the Blancpain Sprint Cup. In some ways it seemed too good to be true! But I did my research and found that Reiter Engineering is a well-recognised team that has a lot of experience and most importantly goes racing for the right reasons. I talked to them about my worries and everything they said was very reassuring.
— Racing GT (@RacingGT) October 13, 2016
To me, the most appealing part of the whole program was the idea of having the eight identical cars within the same team, all with the same conditions. It’s almost like a one-make series within another series, which meant I would be able to compare my driving directly with other talented drivers to see where I stand and hopefully evolve over the season. I really liked that idea.
If I am to be completely honest, at the first test we did in the KTM, I hated driving it. Not that there was anything wrong with the car – it was just very, very different to what I’ve done before nationally in Norwegian GT and internationally in the GT3s. But once I got used to it, I found it is a really easy-handling car, fun to drive, nice and forgiving and super-quick in the corners. We don’t have the power that our competitors do, mainly because of the BOP, so they kill us a bit on the straights, but we can mostly out-brake them and pass them in the corners.
The car really came in useful at Pau – that was an amazing track to drive, really tight, twisty and narrow. I had never done a street race before, it was my first night race and it was raining cats and dogs. We were jumping up and down and around through the houses, and it felt kind of naughty driving like that in the streets. That was a really cool experience, I loved it!
For the Reiter Young Stars competition, we don’t actually get points for the result in the race – sometimes our best RYS drivers from a race are not the drivers that get the best overall result. I think this can be quite confusing for people trying to follow it! The reason they do it like this is because we are two drivers sharing a car, and one driver could be very fast and the other very slow and so on. Plus, if one of the drivers has an accident, then maybe the other driver will not drive at all.
The points system tries to take this into consideration, so it is based on different things like laptimes, pitstops, driver changes, overall how we do in the race, and we also had two theoretical exams during the season. I think it’s possible to evaluate this and make it a bit better, but Reiter Engineering have done a pretty good job of making a scoring system that is fair.
Each Reiter Young Stars team, eight in total, are made up by one car (owned by the team sponsor), two drivers, two student engineers and one student media team manager. Before the season, there was an event where we all basically drew names out of a hat to pair us up. The team itself is also scored as a group to make the winning team.
— Anna Rathe (@AnnaRathe) August 24, 2016
The students work together very closely with the Reiter engineers and mechanics as well as the drivers and our driver manager Tomas Enge. They are responsible for things like the setup of the car, the tactics of pit stops and literally being on the radio during the race, the fuel calculations, tyre management and all kind of things that any other race engineer does. Personally I think it worked really well. All the people that involved tried to do the best possible job. Yes, among the teams and students and drivers we were competitors, but we also became friends.
Reiter Engineering and everyone involved in Reiter Young Stars has been like a family throughout the season, and it has formed a very positive learning environment. The boss, Hans Reiter, has been strict on the rules, so whenever someone did something they shouldn’t have done, they were told about it! From the beginning there was no excuses for doing stupid things, it was immediately reacted to. Some of us got shouted at – which was probably deserved – but it was always fair, and it came from a genuine desire to make us better racing drivers. The positive environment became extra evident to me in the penultimate round at Hungaroring in September. I had quite a big crash, leaving everyone unsure whether I would get out of the car for a minute. I couldn’t have asked for better support afterwards and that meant a lot to me.
When mentioning Hans Reiter, there is one episode I can’t let pass in silence. We were racing at Monza, the first round of the season, and I was really struggling with pace. I hadn’t become familiar with the car yet, and it took some hard work pushing through it. Hans Reiter is the kind of person you immediately get respect for – he’s got vast experience in racing and if you take your time listening you will learn a lot from him. And being the boss, sometimes shouting, you know very clearly where you stand with him.
So, as said, I was struggling in the field, but Hans kept working on the data and never showed anything but support. By race two on Sunday I was starting to get the feel of the car and I was racing instead of driving around the track. I got out of the car half way and handed it over to my team-mate, and I was really happy after that stint because I knew I had done a good job and I had so much fun in the car. Hans came over from the pit wall to congratulate me and I was still shaking from the excitement and definitely not very clear in my thoughts, so in joy and in celebration, I raised my hand and held it to him for a high five. You know that feeling when you realise you have done something you maybe shouldn’t have? But Hans raised his hand and high-fived me back. I guess it felt even more surreal and dumb and funny in the moment, but it is one I will look back at with a smile forever.
The Reiter Young Stars program will continue in 2017, and personally I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for opportunities in GT racing. When I was comparing opportunities for this year, this was very good value for money and also the prize for the winners is a Blancpain Sprint seat, which obviously is a damn good incentive! And I have had a fantastic season of racing, coming out of it as a better driver than I was at the start – it doesn’t get any better than that!
I would like to thank Hans Reiter, Tomas Enge and the whole Reiter Engineering team for giving me this amazing opportunity. A special thanks also to our car sponsor True.Racing and KTM Sporstcars for making it possible. My team-mate Cédric Freiburghaus and the students Joonas Eamets, Raiko Annask and Indrek Petjärv have all done a solid job every single day of the season and we’ve had so much fun together – I can’t believe it’s already over. And in the end, since we didn’t win it this time, I’d like to wish the first winners of Reiter Young Stars, Caitlin Wood and Marko Helistekangas, all the best of luck in freekin’ Blancpain next year. I would have loved that!