Switzerland’s Rahel Frey has been involved with Audi for many years. She competed for the four rings in the DTM between 2011 and 2012 and has been running an Audi GT3 in both the ADAC GT Masters and Audi R8 LMS Cup Asia ever since. Although she runs the same car in both series, on the whole, the championships have little in common. The LMS Cup is a one-make series in which each driver has their own Audi R8, whereas GT Masters is a multi-brand championship in which two drivers share a car and swap places during a mandatory pitstop. Last weekend at the Nürburgring, Racing.GT sat down with Frey to find out what it’s like to commute between such different racing worlds.
“All this came about after my second year in DTM,” recalls Frey. “I was still contracted to Audi and together we searched for a series to race in during the next season. I got in contact with different series in different countries and in the end I got in contact with Audi China about doing the Audi R8 LMS Cup. The possibility to do the GT Masters as well came about later.”
Her opposition in the rapidly-growing LMS Cup may not be household names in Europe, but command enormous respect in Asia. They include former ADAC Formel Masters champion Alessio Picariello, 2015 Formula Masters China champion Martin Rump, Audi TT Cup champion Jan Kisiel and former F1 driver Alex Yoong, who is vying for a third successive title.
“Competing in both series is a great combination,” Frey continues. “On the one hand, I can keep on racing in Europe. The level of competition here is really high and you have to continue racing here if you want to stay a factory driver, but it’s nice when you can combine racing in Europe with the LMS Cup in China. It gives you a lot of racing experience, as well as life experience, and you can bring the experience you’ve gained back with you.”
Whilst you might expect the biggest difference between the two series to be the absence of rival brands in the LMS Cup (GT Masters also has representation from Bentley, BMW, Corvette, Lamborghini, Mercedes, Nissan and Porsche), Frey disagrees. Instead, she picks a rather more philosophical element.
“For me the two series have a different spirit,” she said. “In the GT Masters, you drive together with your colleague; not against him. Of course it’s always your first target to be quicker than your teammate, but you can’t decide what setup you want to choose on your own. You always have to talk it over first and then you have to make the decision together. Your goal is to be as fast as possible, as a team, together.
“But in the Cup, you have to make the call on your own, so you can do whatever you like. It really comes down to your performance. Everybody has the same car, everybody has the same horsepower and the same amount of tyres, so it’s up to you to perform as well as you can.”
As enjoyable as the freedom to make your own decisions is, however, it does come at a price. When you make a wrong call, the consequences are all your own to accept. For this reason, Frey doesn’t look back on the second round of the LMS Cup at the Chang International Circuit with much fondness. The opening round of the season in Shanghai went perfectly for her – she claimed both a podium and a win, and left China in the lead of the championship – but hopes of a repeat in Thailand came to naught.
“I really messed up in qualifying,” Frey explained, a hint of annoyance in her voice. “I went out for a second flying lap, but I made a mistake. I then decided to stop and come in to save tyres, because I was certain that my first lap would be enough to make the top eight shootout. The others stayed out and did two more laps and then they just… passed me.”
Frey missed out on the shootout by a mere tenth, which pushed her down to ninth place on the grid and ultimately left her unable to score points. “I made a decision and it was wrong,” she concludes resolutely.
It was a tough learning moment, but one that Frey has taken to heart. Indeed, the Swiss quickly goes on to praise the positive effect the LMS Cup’s freedom to make individual choices has had on her development as a driver. “In Asia I can really test some things that I have in mind and that I wouldn’t be able to experiment with here in Europe,” she adds.
When it comes to her professional future, Frey hopes she’ll be able to continue combining her European program with a non-European series. In the remainder of the 2016 season, she has her heart set on getting the maximum out of her GT Masters campaign with Yaco Racing alongside Philip Geipel and re-joining the LMS Cup title battle, however for next season and beyond, Frey is keen to expand her non-European CV with some races in America.
“I would love to do the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 24 Hours of Daytona or the IMSA championship,” she said. “I hope I’ll get the chance to do it with Audi. They allowed me to do the Roar before the Daytona 24 this year, but unfortunately our car got cancelled after that. So that’s definitely still one point on my list!”