Dino Steiner (54/Wehingen, Aust Motorsport) started the Prototype Cup Germany season as one of a total of five Trophy drivers. Neither he nor his fellow driver Constantin Schöll (24/AUT, Aust Motosport) could boast much in the way of LMP experience and his Aust Motorsport team could not support the project with any prototype experience. This meant that the Swabian driver, Austria’s Schöll and the Aust team were learning on the job as they tried to find the right approach.
“I think that our initial shortcoming was that we had no experience with prototypes. That was noticeable in everything we did,” analyses Steiner. “We were really quick on our first test drives in Hockenheim and kicked off the season in quite euphoric fashion. However, we were brought back down to Earth with a bump, which was no bad thing in retrospect. That allowed us to learn and continue developing.”
Steiner had long dreamed of competing in prototype racing, but intended to do so only after completing extensive testing. “However, the opportunity to switch to LMP suddenly arose last winter, which is why we always viewed 2023 as something of a transitional year. We are pretty much testing under competitive conditions, which is not always a bad thing.” Working on the premise that this would be a transition period, Aust Motorsport decided to stick with the GT team from the previous year. “It was certainly the right decision at the time, as that team line-up had enjoyed success in 2022. I would do exactly the same if I were in that position again,” says Steiner. “However, after a few races we noticed that this crucial bit of LMP experience was missing.”
After the first races in the Prototype Cup Germany, there was a new development at Aust. “Our engineers and mechanics are actually GT specialists and were headhunted by GT teams, as their season started a bit later than ours. I am not upset with the guys, as GT race is their core competency,” admits a sympathetic Steiner. Together with team principal Frank Aust, new team members with LMP3 experience were recruited.
The new-look Aust Motorsport then competed for the first time at the Norisring, and the input of the new team members was visible right away: Steiner finished ninth in qualifying, his best result of the season. “We realised that we had been too soft with the setup before the Norisring, which was partially down to me. As a Bronze driver, I wanted to keep the car as soft and driveable as possible. But in Nuremberg we chose a much more radical setup method. I just jumped in at the deep end, as we simply had to try it out. And lo and behold, it was a good decision.” Was it not a bit risky to go with this new approach on a circuit like the Norisring, where the walls are particularly close to the track? “I will admit that I didn’t risk it all wherever the walls were extremely close. That’s why I lost some time, especially coming out of the chicane. Overall, however, it was a significant step forward.”
From Assen onwards, Nigel Moore (31/GBR) will be sharing the Aust Ligier with Steiner. The British driver won the LMP3 class in the Asian Le Mans Series in 2016/17 and has also celebrated LMP3 race wins in the European Le Mans Series. “I think that the LMP experience that we now have in the team puts us in a good place for the two final race weekends in Assen and at the Nürburgring. We want to get into a strong position for the next few years and I think that we have now laid the foundations for this. That is not meant in any way as a criticism of the guys who started the LMP project with us, as they cannot be held responsible for what we were missing. The decision was made by me and the management of the team to stick with the group from last year. They actually did a good job, as we never had to retire due to a technical defect. However, I am now looking forward to working with Nigel, such a successful LMP3 driver, and I hope I will be able to learn from him.”
The Prototype Cup Germany continues in September with a trip to Assen in the Netherlands.