Until the third weekend of the season at the Imola, Thomas Preining was a pure extra in the 2022 DTM season, but after that, with the exception of Rene Rast, no driver scored as many points as the Austrian Porsche discovery. The 24-year-old is now putting his statements before the title final into perspective, saying he has “nothing to lose” and feels “no pressure”.
“I never stopped believing that we could still win it,” said Preining in an interview with ‘Motorsport-Total.com’. “Even in Imola, when we had zero points after the first race of the season. I always think positively and always have numbers in my head because I have a hard time remembering words and names.”
What was Preining’s title timetable after the two zeros in Portimao and at the Lausitzring? “I knew: We’re 60, 65 points behind. If we make up five points per race on average by the end of the season, we’ll be champions,” says the man from Linz. “How do we do that? Let’s start in Imola.”
“Actually a very simple arithmetic problem”
And indeed, after grid position three and fourth, the race to catch up began before the knot finally burst with the first Porsche victory at the Norisring. “Then things went steadily uphill – and we were only 13 points behind,” Preining recalls after the second win of the season in Spielberg, about the starting position before the Hockenheim final.
“Then I thought to myself: Just keep going as before, because up until then we’d made up 15 points per weekend. If I make up 15 points again, I’ll be champion. Actually a very simple arithmetic task. And the curve was very linear.”
But then came the big crash at Saturday’s race in Hockenheim, in which Preining suffered bruises, which is why he was unable to start on Sunday. “I was very frustrated,” admits the fifth-placed driver in the championship. Because while Preining was only perceived by the public as a title candidate in the final phase of the season, he never gave up hope.
Did Preining consciously play the role of the “underdog”?
“I never saw it as suddenly being in the title fight,” he says. “I’ve been driving the whole season with the long-term goal of becoming champion. Even though I may have said in the press: ‘I’ve had a great season, we’re under no pressure, nobody expected that. Even if we did It’s nice to become a champion.’ But it was clear to me: I’ll come and want to be champion, otherwise I’ll go home disappointed.”
Did the fact that he was lucky in the crash change anything? “On the one hand I was glad that nothing worse happened to me, but one day after the accident you no longer think about how lucky you are. You think: ‘I’m not a champion. Bad! How do I do it next year better?’ With a bit more consistency from the start and better preparation for the season, more would have been possible.”
But how did Preining and the Bernhard team actually manage to reverse the trend from Imola? According to Preining, the decisive factor was 50 percent a new set-up philosophy that was tried out during a test, while the other 50 percent came from the driver.
Better drivability as the key to catching up
“Basically, it was about drivability,” says Preining. “When the car is more drivable, there’s a greater chance that you can do a full lap without making a mistake. Imola was the first step – and we’ve been tweaking that a bit over the rest of the season and it’s always been uphill.”
Specifically, the Bernhard team adjusted the set-up so that the Porsche had more stability on the rear axle entering the corner and was therefore more forgiving. “Then you can play more with the car, you can force the car more into certain situations,” explains Preining, who also benefited from this in the duel. “Overtaking was our great strength, especially in the second half. Of course you need a driver who brakes late. But it’s easier to brake late with a good car,” he clarified.
Apart from the set-up, according to his own statements, he also developed as a driver over the course of the season. “In the DTM, it’s also about calm – that you’re mentally there and that you give 100 percent in qualifying,” he says.
“Perhaps the car isn’t fast enough every time, or the lap isn’t a dream every time. But if you consistently perform, you’re always in the first three or four rows. And then anything is possible in the race. That was it most important.”