The DTM’s Raikkonen turning heads with Mercedes
He’s invariably billed as the DTM’s quiet man, who has a Kimi Raikkonen-esque aversion to the cameras. But Luca Stolz has been earning plaudits that are becoming impossible to ignore, and that will only increase the level of interest in his performances
It’s not been the easiest of starts to the 2022 DTM season for Mercedes. Only once in the six races so far has an AMG driver claimed a race victory. Just two have more than a single podium to their credit.
Its sole winner thus far and highest-ranking driver in the standings heading to the Norisring this weekend is Lucas Auer (Winward), with Maro Engel (Gruppe M) reaping the rewards of scoring in every race so far close behind. Luca Stolz can’t match that statistic, having scored in only two races to date, but the Haupt Racing Team driver has been one of the marque’s brightest (three-pointed) stars to date with two runner-up finishes at Portimao and the Lausitzring.
Not that the DTM rookie is one for shouting about it, mind.
“I think if Luca could just race and wouldn’t have to talk a word about it after that, it would suit him perfectly well!” his long-time team-mate and fellow AMG factory driver Engel tells Autosport. “He’s definitely someone who prefers to do his talking on track than in front of a microphone, which is always quite funny because we like to wind him up with it, to try and send interviews his way.”
But that isn’t to say Stolz isn’t an engaging personality.
“He’s not unable to speak,” reckons long-time team principal Sean Paul Breslin, who has worked with the German since 2017 at the Black Falcon and HRT teams. “He’s very charming and sociable and able to put his point across towards his team and his engineers. He’s able to get his mechanics behind him and that kind of thing.”
By his own admission, 26-year-old Stolz is “not a huge fan” of doing TV interviews.
“I mean face-to-face interviews and interacting with fans is always nice,” clarifies the native of Kirchen, from where six-time DTM race-winner Uwe Alzen also heralds, as he sits down with Autosport in the HRT truck at the Lausitzring.
The quiet and understated Stolz admits to not being a fan of doing TV interviews
Photo by: Alexander Trienitz
“I know a lot of stuff about the car because I’m also really into details, so I’m really happy to share all my expertise. But on camera, I’m not enjoying so much. I prefer racing instead of too much talking.
“I still like to keep a quiet environment around me without too many people chatting before you and before a race, so I think in this quiet atmosphere I work the best as a driver and the team is really giving me this opportunity.”
Kimi Raikkonen famously took this dislike to new levels during his Formula 1 career, which bizarrely only made him more popular with fans. Stolz says the 2007 world champion was “a bit of an extreme” in this regard, but professes to admiring the Finn’s cool personality.
“He’s really calm and he might not seem so focused from the outside, but I really think he is and I guess I’m a bit the same,” Stolz explains when asked about Raikkonen. “I’m not a huge social media fan, I don’t share everything on social media, so it’s like I focus on racing.”
"He hasn’t tried to be like anybody else or followed the crowd or anything like that. Luca is quite a quiet person, not a show-off. He’s focused on his areas of strengths and doesn’t get tied into caring what other people think" Sean-Paul Breslin
His limited background in single-seaters, having switched to GT cars after one year of German Formula 3 in 2012, means Stolz is little known beyond the tight-knit world of GT3 racing. And his knack of being partnered by long-established drivers has had the effect of his contributions being overshadowed, with Stolz typecast as a foil.
“I think he’s aware of it,” says Breslin. “It’s just not in his sort-of ego to argue with it, he’s perfectly willing to be the team player.”
But Stolz’s growing body of work in GT3 racing is increasingly impossible to ignore and in the single-driver DTM he is now getting the opportunity to demonstrate that he’s an equal to his stablemates.
He won the 2018 Blancpain Endurance title with Engel and Yelmer Buurman at Black Falcon, and only narrowly lost the 2019 Sprint title with Engel, which the latter puts down to “a horrible weekend at the Nurburgring” where an unsafe release penalty, then a slow pitstop conspired to cost them dear in the eventual tiebreaker with FFF Lamborghini drivers Marco Mapelli and Andrea Caldarelli.
Stolz was part of the winning line-up in the Bathurst 12 Hours earlier this year in the Triple Eight-run SunEnergy car
Photo by: Edge Photographics
He and Engel finished second in last year’s GT World Challenge Sprint Cup with Toksport WRT, Stolz impressed in a DTM cameo with the same squad at the Nurburgring with two top-six efforts in qualifying (finishing second on the road in race one before a 30-second penalty for a pit misdemeanour), and he then added Bathurst 12 Hour glory to his CV earlier this year with the SunEnergy1 team. To each outfit he’s tasked with driving for, Stolz applies the same attitude.
“Because I’m employed with AMG as a factory driver, you go to many teams and you have many co-drivers, there is no way that you can be bitching around,” he says. “It’s the best to just be a nice guy and try to be helpful.”
That’s a point that Breslin appreciates.
“He doesn’t have to be given the best qualifying slot, doesn’t have to be cuddled and told he’s the best,” he says. “He just quietly goes about his business and produces the results and that’s what I’ve seen over the years more and more.”
Engel concurs: “There’s no ego issues there”.
That calm exterior also transfers to his driving. Stolz reckons the front-engine Mercedes suits his style better than the Lamborghini Huracan, with which he and Michele Beretta won the 2016 Blancpain Sprint Cup Silver title for Grasser Racing. “A decent year” though it was, in the Mercedes he now has a car “I’m a bit in love with”.
“I’m quite soft on the steering and the Lambo or in the Audi you need to be quite aggressive,” he says. “In the AMG you need to be really calm to put in a good lap and I think the AMG just suited my driving style better. I did a first test with Black Falcon and in this car I felt straight away really comfortable.”
It would not be accurate to describe the current HRT squad as Black Falcon under a different name – Hubert Haupt’s outfit is its own distinct team, which started from scratch in 2020 - but does have the same key personnel that were part of Black Falcon’s biggest GT3 successes. That has lent a consistency to Stolz’s career which has enabled him to feel comfortable in his own skin.
DTM rival Engel has been team-mates with Stolz in numerous championships in recent years, and respects his AMG factory team-mate immensely
Photo by: Alexander Trienitz
“He hasn’t tried to be like anybody else or followed the crowd or anything like that,” explains Breslin. “Luca is quite a quiet person, not a show-off. He’s focused on his areas of strengths and doesn’t get tied into caring what other people think. He puts his head down and goes forward, and he’s developed more and more in that way.”
When Stolz first joined Black Falcon aged 21, after being was recommended by team regular Jeroen Bleekemolen, Breslin admits he “didn’t 100% know what we were getting into”.
“Jeroen had phoned me up and said that I should give Luca a try and he was really going to be great,” recalls Breslin. “So going on that basis, we did that and he joined as kind of like the junior of the team. But he quickly established over the years, each time, as one of the stronger drivers.”“
"Definitely he’s one of the best drivers out there and he’s become one of my closest friends in racing. I’m honestly happy for him when he does well" Maro Engel
“You could see that the raw speed was there, I guess he just needed to be polished,” says Engel, a decade Stolz’s senior, of his first recollections. “Year-to-year he just continued to get better and became a more complete driver; racing wheel-to-wheel, making the right strategic decisions, learning more about how you want to set up the car and what you really want from the car to be fast. There are so many areas where he’s grown into one of the top GT drivers in the world.”
When 2021 champion Maxi Gotz joined the rival Winward team for his title defence, it was telling of its faith in Stolz that HRT chose to slot him into the vacant seat.
“He has kind of earned it,” says Breslin. “We thought it would be definitely his chance to now do something like DTM where it’s all about you and you don’t have to share with anybody. All the engineering is about you and qualifying is all about you. So I think that was a nice chance for him.
“We have huge amounts of data after every race and there are lots of comparisons that go on. Luca’s often comes out quicker than almost everybody at the end of each race weekend. He’s always up there as one of the top two, you just have to look a little bit deeper because he’s not the one doing the qualifying all the time. When he’s doing qualifying on his own, then he is always quick.
Stolz's exploits in endurance racing with Black Falcon and HRT convinced Breslin to give him a chance in DTM
Photo by: Alexander Trienitz
“Last year when we did 24 Hours Nurburgring, he did the start of the race, it rained and the camera focused on [Kevin] Estre. We thought, ‘Where’s Luca? He’s not there!’ But it was because he was two or three hundred metres ahead, and you couldn’t see him anymore.”
For Stolz, his selection as Gotz’s replacement “was a huge confidence boost”, but it wasn’t without its own pressures.
“The team delivered last year, now it’s on me to deliver race-by-race,” he says. “But I think I can take this.”
Second to Auer in the Portimao opener, before a puncture ended his second race prematurely, he also claimed second at the Lausitzring behind dominant winner Sheldon van der Linde, but was unable to recover in race two with 15kg additional weight after being shuffled into the midpack at the start.
Scoring points at Imola was a much harder task with Mercedes drivers uniformly unimpressed by their Balance of Performance, but Stolz was in the hunt for a lower top-10 placing in race two when he was muscled out in a three-wide move on the straight. It was moment that summed up the uncompromising elbows-out driving that is required to succeed in DTM.
Asked if the DTM’s single-driver approach plays to his strengths, Stolz responds that he welcomes the opportunity to build his team around him.
“I really like the sprint format and actually it’s the first time I’m not sharing a car since six or seven years so it’s quite interesting,” he says.
Stolz says he's enjoying the no-compromise, single driver sprint format employed by DTM
Photo by: DTM
Drawing a blank in Imola means he’s 43 points down on ultra-consistent points leader van der Linde with 10 races to go. With each race so far having a different polesitter and BoP ebbs and flows par for the course, Stolz knows making that back by scoring points in all remaining races will be “really difficult”.
“It’s really tight, and three tenths is probably 15 positions so you have to really nail it,” he says of qualifying. “Even if you have not a perfect lap, you still need to be around the top 10. I think this is the key.”
But nobody in his inner-circle is writing him off and should the elusive first win arrive on the Norisring’s punishing streets, it would be no surprise to Breslin.
“He’s so physically fit that he’s never tired, he doesn’t get out of the car sweating,” he says. “He’s always ready for the next stint and really works hard on all those things.”
"The team delivered last year, now it’s on me to deliver race-by-race. But I think I can take this" Luca Stolz
Engel’s respect is evident too.
“Definitely he’s one of the best drivers out there and he’s become one of my closest friends in racing,” he reckons. “I’m honestly happy for him when he does well.
“He’s a competitor to me as any other on a DTM race weekend, just with the difference I guess if it ends up him being ahead then I’m a little bit happier for him than I am for the other competitors.”
He may not be the first name on the lips of DTM fans, but Luca Stolz is widely respected by his peers. And while Engel is happy to see him gaining the recognition he deserves, make no mistake that Stolz is one of the first people that he wants to beat…
Stolz has finished runner-up twice already this season
Photo by: Alexander Trienitz
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