For many kids, becoming a racing driver is an absolute childhood dream. But only very few make it to the professional level. One of them is our home hero, so to speak. Like Elferspot itself, Porsche works driver Thomas Preining comes from Linz in Upper Austria. He took the time for an interview before the season opener of the German Touring Car Masters. Today in Elferspot Magazine: Why Porsche’s first DTM winner only became a works driver by chance and why the Porsche Cup is the supreme discipline in terms of driving.
My big goal was clearly Formula 1. I had blinders on and was totally focused on it. But I also knew that for most young drivers, the road to Formula racing is over again after just one season. I almost felt the same way when my sponsor didn’t pay in 2015 and the Formula 4 season was over for me after just one race weekend.
I only realized much later what kind of career is possible with Porsche. It wasn’t until I took part in the Porsche Junior sighting in 2016 that I realized it. Today, I consider it by far the best path you can take as a budding race driver.
With Porsche, you can make it all the way to the World Endurance Championship and even the German Touring Car Masters (DTM). The DTM’s standing throughout Europe is already right behind Formula 1, so you can’t do much more than that. And you save yourself many years in Formula 3 and later Formula 2, where you have to bring in a hell of a lot of money.
I was a big Porsche fan since I was a little boy. My favorite Matchbox car was a Porsche. My favorite car, ever since I can remember, has always been the Porsche Carrera GT. In that respect, I can say that Porsche has always had a special place in my heart.
At that age, it was probably more cockiness (laughs). But self-confidence is always the be-all and end-all in motorsport. It’s often also about flow, as they say. When you’re riding a wave of success, everything goes easier. The challenge is much more about believing in yourself when things don’t go so well.
It was particularly difficult for me in my early 20s, when I wasn’t yet where I really wanted to be. If you think you’re good enough, you still have to keep reminding yourself how many other talents from karting don’t make it. At least I don’t know many who also make money from racing.
I think all drivers have a hard time making the switch from open-wheelers. The Cup Porsche is probably the most difficult race car to drive. I don’t know of any that demands more from you. The dimensions and the low downforce alone were a culture shock for me. Between Formula 4 and Porsche Cup is a difference about as big as that between ski slalom and downhill. So it’s a completely different discipline.
You learn first and foremost to help yourself. The regulations are very tight. That’s why you’re very limited in terms of setup. So you can never set up the Cup Porsche 100 percent the way you’d like. Instead, you have to influence the balance by making small adjustments to your driving style. That helps you in every situation. Being able to get around a problem is worth its weight in gold in motorsport. And you don’t learn this as well in any other racing class as you do in the Porsche Cup.
There are many facets besides the time spent in the car. As a Porsche Junior, you have a coach by your side who accompanies you. In my case, that was Sascha Maassen, to whom I am incredibly grateful. As a 17-year-old rookie in the Porsche factory driver program, you have no idea how to talk to sponsors, engineers, or even board members.
As a 17-year-old rookie in the Porsche factory driver program, you have no idea how to talk to sponsors, engineers, or even board members.Thomas Preining on his first experiences as a Porsche Junior factory driver
The steps in personal development that you take at that time must be three times greater than those of your peers. You’re on the road all year long, and you’re dealing exclusively with experienced people on the team who are much older than you. So at first you just try to stay calm and not do anything stupid.
Between Europe and Asia there were huge differences as well. You have to learn extremely quickly to find your way around the team without any time to get used to it. If you can’t integrate right away, you’ve already lost. Getting to a good level with the team quickly is crucial for performance. If you don’t get along with the engineers or the engineers can’t work properly with your feedback, you don’t stand a chance.
Of course, as a driver you have a certain amount of experience. You can already assess what effects certain setup changes will have on the car. So when you talk to the engineers, you also suggest things and try to give them as detailed feedback as possible.
In the debrief, you go through turn by turn and discuss how the car behaves at the entry, apex and exit, what it does in which load conditions, and so on. But again, you have to learn quickly to adjust to the engineer. Because every engineer is also different and interprets the driver’s statements differently. In the DTM in particular, you have a lot of influence as a driver. After all, there are no driver changes and you need a car that suits you. But the engineer has the final say, not the driver.
My everyday life consists to a very large extent of travel. I’m on a plane at least once a week. I’m only at home about ten percent of the year. In the first quarter, I’ve already driven three races and spent 20 days in the race car. In addition, I was on a plane every third day.
There are numerous appointments with sponsors as well. And the job for ORF as a TV expert in Formula 1 also involves a lot of traveling. In between, you also have to somehow fit in your training to stay fit. Such a workload is already very demanding. That’s why I usually prefer to spend the evening in the hotel instead of doing “team building” with the mechanics into the night. I simply need some time for myself to switch off.
Of course, you also go there with a teary eye. We were very successful, won several races and even fought for the championship. Timo Bernhard is a great guy anyway and had so much success. On the other hand, it’s a great honor to compete for a team like Manthey Racing. And since I was in Manthey’s lineup for the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring anyway, this new constellation makes things a lot easier.
As soon as I felt the contact (with David Schumacher), I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I immediately took a protective stance and took my hands off the steering wheel. The impact was very heavy. All my ribs on the right side were bruised, but I didn’t have any serious injuries. That’s why it wasn’t a big deal for me mentally and was quickly ticked off.
The crash is certainly proof of the extremely high level of safety in motorsport. However, this also means that drivers today take more risks than in the past. Today’s cars are easier to drive and the run-off zones are larger. Nevertheless, it was certainly a bit of luck that things turned out so smoothly. You have to be that realistic.
You are welcome and thank you!
You can follow Thomas Preining on Instagram: @thomaspreining
1. What would you have become if not a racing driver?
Probably self-employed in the construction sector. I like to see progress and am interested in architecture and construction in general.
2. Which is your favorite Porsche?
All Porsche 911 GT3 and the Carrera GT.
3. What’s your company car?
A Porsche Cayenne. The car is great for long distances.
4. Who is your idol?
Valentino Rossi and Cristiano Ronaldo
5. What are your goals in motorsport?
Definitely the DTM title. I’d also like to win all the major 24-hour races, i.e. Le Mans, Daytona and Nürburgring. No one has managed that yet.
6. Who has been your strongest opponent so far?
René Rast is already extremely strong in qualifying. In the rain probably my teammate Dennis Olsen.
7. What’s your favorite race track?
Probably the Red Bull Ring in Austria. I generally like tight tracks with lots of overtaking opportunities.
8. Your best race so far?
The DTM race at the Red Bull Ring in 2022.
9. Your biggest setback as a race driver?
Besides retiring at Hockenheim 2022, probably the end of my 2015 racing season due to a lack of sponsor payments.
10: Maultaschen or Kaiserschmarrn?