When Rene Rast and Kelvin van der Linde teamed up to win the 2014 ADAC GT Masters title, Ricardo Feller was still in go-karts. Fast forward eight years, and Swiss 21-year-old Feller is part of Abt’s DTM roster alongside returning treble champion Rast and 2021 title challenger van der Linde, having won Germany’s ‘other’ GT3 title last year.
Like van der Linde before him, Feller was bestowed with Audi factory driver status for his GT Masters success together with Christopher Mies, their Land Motorsport R8 clinching the title with three wins. Feller’s standout 2021 season also included a full GT World Challenge Europe programme with the Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini squad, winning a Sprint Cup round at Zandvoort with sometime Formula E racer Alex Fontana and claiming the Endurance Cup Silver title together with Feller and rapid gentleman driver Rolf Iniechen.
So don’t presume that Feller will automatically occupy the role of junior partner at Abt this year. With sixth and ninth place finishes from the first two races of 2022 in Portimao, Feller is level on points with reigning DTM champion Maxi Gotz and 10 clear of Rast, who drew a blank in Portugal. No surprise then that Feller is “super happy” with how things are going, with the addition of his previous Emil Frey engineer Fabio Waser easing his adaption to Abt.
“This is basically our third year working together,” he says. “It was important for me to have him because he knows exactly what I need to drive fast, and on the opposite I know what he needs from my side as a feedback that he can give me the car how I like it. So we started the season on a different level already because we know each other quite well.”
Feller has already made a winning start to his GT Masters title defence, taking the flag with new co-driver Jusuf Owega at Oschersleben last month to carry forward the momentum from 2021. But while compromise is an inherent part of the game in GT Masters and GTWCE - particularly in pro-am competition - that isn’t a factor in the DTM where finding the last ounce of performance is much more important. In this regard, Feller thinks he “did quite a big step last year” and is excited to keep improving.
“The main difference for DTM is you are the only driver on the car and everyone can go with the set-up as aggressive as he wants, so everything is quite maximised,” says Feller. “I enjoy it quite a lot, because I wanted to also know for myself what happens when I can go with the set-up completely on what I want and what is matching my driving style. I wanted to know if I can do maybe another step in my personal performance, and I think this happened.”
"I was looking at the races when Rene Rast won, and I was like ‘Wow, he’s a real legend’. And now I’m racing against him in the same team and I can profit from him" Ricardo Feller
Feller’s move into the GT3 arena for the 2017 GT Masters, at the tender age of 16 as part of the Audi Sport racing academy, came as something of a surprise. After an unsuccessful 2016 in German F4, Feller recognised that he had “no future in formula racing” and had set his sights on touring cars in Audi’s TT Cup. But TT Cup coach Sepp Haider was so impressed by Feller in his first test that he put him into a GT3 car, setting the ball rolling on his path to the DTM and rubbing shoulders with Rast and van der Linde - two of the top names in Audi’s factory GT pool.
“For me, it’s crazy that I’m even racing with them,” admits Feller, who finished seventh in last weekend’s Bathurst 12 Hour for which van de Linde qualified second. “I was looking at the races when Rene Rast won, and I was like ‘Wow, he’s a real legend’. And now I’m racing against him in the same team and I can profit from him and also from Kelvin who knows the Audi R8 perfectly, so this is very good for me.
“I learn a lot with data and videos to see corner-by-corner what they do and I can try to make it better, so I can see where I can improve myself or where I am maybe already on point. This is definitely a good step.
“But there are probably some differences also in the set-up and it’s not always 100% perfect to copy then the driving style. For everyone we are going in our direction.”
Ominously, Feller expects he’ll only get better as he understands more about fine-tuning the set-up to his whim - unshackled from the need for compromise - and without the need to constantly adapt between the Audi and Lamborghini.
“We are working on it to get the car exactly where I like it and I think then it should be possible to go another step in the front, even though the first race weekend was not so bad,” he says. “In the end with a P6, and a P9, I’m super-happy because it’s a good start and we can definitely build on that.
“We are still not exactly there where I would like to be with the car, but we are learning session by session. There are no compromises anymore and even though they were not really big compromises last year, the level is so high now in DTM with 29 cars, you want to maximise everything. Definitely I think it will be better the more we race this year.”
It may not be long before followers of the DTM see Feller adorning a podium. Particularly given that the next round is at Lausitzring, the scene of a GT Masters win from pole in 2021…