As the FIA World Touring Car Championship grows in popularity, some of this has to be credited to Stefano D’Aste – the flashy, flamboyant Italian racer who wears his heart proudly on the sleeve of his tuxedo-styled racing suits.
Born in Genoa on this day in 1976, D’Aste started out racing motorcycles before switching to rallying and later pursuing a brief open-wheel racing career.
After deciding that the path to Formula 1 was not for him, he went back to touring car and GT racing, and since 2005, he’s been a mainstay of the World Touring Car Championship landscape and a faithful servant to BMW.
A driver who lets the back end all hang out, D’Aste achieved little against the manufacturer-backed drivers but was a regular winner in the second-tier Independent Trophy Championship, winning the crown in 2007.
After missing out on the action in the first half of 2011, he returned mid-season and immediately found the new turbo-powered BMW to his liking, putting the car on the reverse-grid pole position and running in contention for victory first time out at Porto.
In 2012, he went even better, storming through to secure a brilliant and popular maiden win at the Salzburgring, and backing this up with a lights-to-flag display at Suzuka. Only horrible luck at the season-ending round at Macau denied him a second Independent Trophy crown, but with a great season behind, Stefano is aiming to go better in 2013.
We thank Stefano for kindly giving us his time with this exclusive interview…
|Full Name:||Stefano D’Aste|
|Born:||26 February 1976, Genoa (ITA)|
|FIA WORLD TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP CAREER|
|2004||FIA ETCC, Proteam Motorsport BMW 320i, 14 races, 1 point, 20th overall|
|2005||FIA WTCC, Proteam Motorsport BMW 320i, 19 races, 1 podium, 8 points, 18th overall|
|WTCC Independents Trophy, 3 wins, 96 points, 3rd overall|
|2006||FIA WTCC, Proteam Motorsport BMW 320i, 20 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
|WTCC Independents Trophy, 3 wins, 93 points, 3rd overall|
|2007||FIA WTCC, Wiechers-Sport BMW 320si, 22 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
|WTCC Independents Trophy, 3 wins, 152 points, 1st overall|
|2008||FIA WTCC, Proteam Motorsport BMW 320si, 22 races, 2 points, 18th overall|
|WTCC Independents Trophy, 6 wins, 137 points, 3rd overall|
|2009||FIA WTCC, Wiechers-Sport BMW 320si, 21 races, 3 points, 18th overall|
|WTCC Independents Trophy, 6 wins, 137 points, 4th overall|
|2010||FIA WTCC, Proteam Motorsport BMW 320si, 19 races, 3 points, 19th overall|
|WTCC Independents Trophy, 1 win, 88 points, 6th overall|
|2011||FIA WTCC, Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC, 6 races, 12 points, 17th overall|
|WTCC Independents Trophy, 1 win, 37 points, 10th overall|
|2012||FIA WTCC, Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC, 24 races, 2 wins, 4 podiums, 144 points, 7th overall|
|WTCC Independents Trophy, 7 wins, 122 points, 3rd overall|
When did you first become interested in motorsport? When you were young, did you imagine that you would ultimately become a racing driver?
I started when I was a child. no one else in my family had prior experience in motorsport, so it was that came from within me. My father like cars and sports in general, one time he took me to see the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Monza and I was entranced by the noise of the machines. From an early age when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d always say ‘a racing driver’.
Who were your first motorsport heroes? What was significant about their achievements or character that you admired?
Gilles Villeneuve and Ayrton Senna were the first racing drivers that I liked. I loved Villeneuve for his duel with Arnoux at Dijon in 1979, and Senna for his drive in the wet at Monaco in 1984.
You began racing on motorcycles and in the Monza Rally, and you have been part of the World Touring Car Championship since 2005. What is so special about the WTCC?
I started out gently; the bike gave me a great feeling and taught me to recognize the skills of racing on asphalt.
The beauty of the WTCC is the high level of professionalism of the pilots and team, as well as the fans who are there at each event.
This current stint with Wiechers-Sport has been very successful. What are the qualities of the team that have made this such a successful environment?
Wiechers-Sport is a great team. In the past, their problem was always on the engineering side.
The key to our success in 2012 was the change of engineer, he gave the team what it lacked: that really scientific approach to going racing. The organization of the team has always been clear, the problem was from the technical point of view, they could not take advantage of the resources at their disposal. This year it was finally possible. I have imposed myself on the team every season, but this was the first year that I demanded so much of them. Their old engineer had worked with them for 20 years and for them it was not easy to change, but they gave me confidence and I too have changed.
By no means was it an easy season. I too have suffered and I had pressure at the beginning of the season, but I knew that with our new engineer, I decided we were going strong.
D’Aste’s WTCC return in 2011 was immediately impressive. Despite having never driven the BMW 320TC, he made it into the final phase of qualifying at Porto and claimed a reverse-grid pole. He led Race 2 until overhauled by the faster Chevrolets…
Of all the BMW drivers, you seem to have adapted best to the current turbo regulations. Your driving style is very exciting to watch and you have delivered very competitive performances ever since you returned to the championship in 2011. What has contributed to your strong performances from 2011 onwards?
More horsepower typically makes things more difficult, and the number of drivers who can drive to the limit shrinks. I’ve always had a quite spectacular driving style: I am always looking for the limit and I always try to take advantage of the last millimetre of the track, so I think that’s what makes my driving style fun to watch.
I do not do it on purpose! It’s just how I have always seemed to drive, so it’s normal to me. I always try to adapt my driving style, but sometimes I cannot do what I want, so then I have to start playing with the set-up with my engineer.
I immediately had a great feeling in the BMW 320TC from the my first race in it at Porto in 2011. I had not done any testing beforehand, so my first outing was between the barriers around this challenging street circuit! It was a big chance compared with the normally-aspirated BMW I was used to, but after a couple of laps I began to appreciate the machine.
I didn’t feel like I was going quickly, but when I came into the pits and they told me that I was the best BMW and sixth overall, I couldn’t believe it!
Congratulations on your most successful season to-date in the FIA World Touring Car Championship. You’ve finished seventh in the overall championship rankings and claimed two race wins; you must be extremely happy?
Thanks so much! I’m so happy with the season that’s just ended. I won the most races after the Chevrolet drivers, and I won more of the Independent class wins than anyone else. To then finish the season with the ‘Golden Helmet’ award is a great satisfaction.
I’m really happy with the work we have done and that my need for technical change has been recognized by the whole team and the owner of the team.
Your maiden WTCC win at the Salzburgring was one of the most exciting WTCC races in recent memory. Can you tell us about that last lap and how the victory unfolded for you?
It was not straightforward by any means. I had damage to my car after contact with Darryl O’Young in the opening race, and the team did a great job to carry out the repairs between the races. When I left the pits to join the grid, the car was perfect.
The Chevrolets carved their way into the lead, but they were running at too high a pace. There was no way they could hold out until the end, and I knew that if I could just stay in touch, then we were in with a chance.
I tucked in behind Tom for those final laps to keep our tyres fresh, and then it all happened on the last lap. First Muller and then Huff blew their front-left tyres in the final corners under the enormous cornering load. Huff was really struggling and I elected to hang back to get a better exit. Tom tried to go for the inside and was blocked, and I just swept around the outside – I didn’t think twice about the risk of being off the racing line, it was purely on instinct. And I won!
You managed to repeat the success with victory at Suzuka. The win came from the Race 2 pole position and you led from start to finish. How did the two wins compare with each other?
The Suzuka win came about because of the hard work from the entire team, unlike the Salzburg win, which was a win that came about from the mistakes of others.
We didn’t put a foot wrong that race. I started from the reverse-grid pole position, and I had to stay out in front for 16 laps and keep the quicker cars behind me. The usual run of play is for the manufacturer cars to overwhelm those of us in the Independent Championship, but rarely are the roles reversed. This was one of those days.
You gained plenty of fame with your inventive racing overalls designs, including the tuxedo and the special stars-and-stripes look for the race at Sonoma. Will we see more special designs in 2012?
The idea behind the racesuits was something I’ve had for ages, but no suit manufacturer wanted to do it. This year, I really worked hard on negotiating with OMP, who finally agreed to do it.
If I stay in the WTCC for 2013, I’ll have to invent new designs! The response I’ve had from fans has been incredible, I’ve enjoyed their fascination in the designs and it’s something I definitely want to do again.
What is your most favourite circuit at which you have raced and why?
My favourite circuit is Spa-Francorchamps. its mix of fast and slow corners, the rises and falls, so it’s complete and it’s just beautiful. Out of the street circuits, it’s a dead heat between Monaco and Macau.
Are there other racing tracks or championship series that you would like to compete in?
I’d still like to try IndyCars, NASCAR, the Japanese SuperGT or the V8 Supercars in Australia – all of these are proper championships with proper racing cars.
I am not big fan of Formula 1. It’s too reliant on technology and the drivers are too detached from the fans – I like the contact with the public, I like to share my success with my fans. When I get out of the car and raise my hands before the crowd, it’s always something incredible. I love these emotions.
The 2013 WTCC season will see no factory-support Chevrolets, along with the full-time returns of LADA and Honda. What do you expect the level of competition will be in the WTCC next year, and who do you believe will be in contention for the championship?
We saw in the few races Honda had in 2012 that it is a car that will surely be a frontrunner – just thinking about the investment they’ve made, one has to imagine that it should be a competitive force, otherwise the engineer who designed it is better to change jobs!
In my opinion, LADA can be more competitive than we expect. and It if does well, then I will be happy because the engineer who developed it is the same engineer I worked with this year. I’ve also worked with him on a separate project for Lotus Rally that we are developing in my company and my own Lotus dealership.