Austrian racer Christian Klien has shown his class by soaring to pole position on debut for Erebus Motorsport on the streets of Adelaide.
The former grand prix pilot Klien was also having his first drive on the 3.22km Adelaide street circuit where he managed to to out-qualify his accomplished Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 team-mate Craig Baird.
With no clear plans for the remainder of the year, Klien is keep to maximise his opportunity by transferring his one-lap pace into race results this weekend.
Speedcafe’s Gordon Lomas sat down with Klien to determine where his future lies and what is in store for the former Red Bull grand prix pin-up boy’s year.
SPEEDCAFE: You’ve had very little time car before arriving in Adelaide?
Christian Klien: I had just the one test at Phillip Island and it was only one hour. We were after lap times and I pushed of course. But it was a shared session and we only had 20-minutes before other cars came out. So they were in 20-minute blocks.
SPEEDCAFE: So you became comfortable with the car pretty quickly.
Klien: It’s a nice car to drive and is a proper race car. And I’m used to this type of car from Europe. It’s much easier to get used to plus the steering wheel is on the left-side which is the right-side for me.
SPEEDCAFE: Obviously you had to come to terms with the Adelaide layout . Although you haven’t race here previously you were not unfamiliar with the circuit watching it on TV over the years.
Klien: I went with Maro Engel (Erebus Motorsport) to a race simulator place in Surfers Paradise just to learn the Adelaide circuit. In practice I started very slow with no pressure and just getting used to the track. Then I just built it up from there and in the second session I was happy with everything. Then I was able to push in qualifying and get the pole position.
SPEEDCAFE: Did the Erebus Motorsport GT squad have to make many adjustments through the sessions.
Klien: It was just minor. We had new Pirelli tyres on which was the first time the team has run Pirelli tyres so we had to adjust the balance a bit. It was a bit too understeery initially because they were set up for Michelins.
SPEEDCAFE: So you seem to like you have fitted into the Erebus family nicely.
Klien: The GT is a very nice car to drive and I just want to keep doing some racing here in Australia. I stayed in Australia for three or four months then went back home to Austria for Christmas.
SPEEDCAFE: What about on the V8 SuperTourer front in New Zealand are you looking at doing any more co-driver races this year. You did the Taupo race with Geoff Emery last year?
Klien: Not at this point. I did that one race which Supercheap Auto made happen just to get used to these type of cars in preparation for Sandown and Bathurst. I enjoyed it a lot. I like the Championship over there. I may look into it again. The New Zealand car is more similar to the V8 Supercar this year. I really like the SuperTourer much better than last year’s V8 Supercar.
SPEEDCAFE: So what is the plan for the Australian GT Championship. Are you doing more races?
Klien: That is not yet clear. After this race we have to see what the team’s intention is. So for the moment it is just this race.
SPEEDCAFE: Have you got eyes on anything else overseas?
Klien: I’m really pretty keen doing some racing here in Australia. I’m obviously trying to do the enduro races this year. My intention is clearly to race in V8 Supercars in the future. I tried for a full-time seat this year but it did not work out this year in the off season.
SPEEDCAFE: So have you ruled out any sports car/prototype drives?
Klien: Not at the moment. You have to be in a factory team otherwise it’s pretty hard. Motorsport in Europe is not very good at the moment. They have even less money than here and unless you are in factory team it’s too hard. You basically have to bring money.
SPEEDCAFE: But Porsche is coming back to LMP1 racing next year.
Klien: Yes and that makes it more interesting. So they will have an LMP1 car. The guy in charge there used to be in the BMW-Sauber F1 team and is Austrian. We know him quite well and we are in contact with him. But they only started testing at the end of this season in preparation for next year. It gets interesting because then you have Audi, Toyota, Porsche, Nissan. Sports car racing is good. I did it for two or three years but I don’t like sharing the cars all the time. I want to be in the Championship with my own car.
SPEEDCAFE: So after this weekend you have nothing set in concrete?
Klien: We have to see what happens. I’d like to do more with Erebus Motorsport and see what’s their plan and intention is. They are a new operation but they are doing really well. They did a very smart move going together with SBR with a team that has all the experience. Now they are bringing some new influence in and are stepping everything from their hospitality to the garage to a new level. You people who are petrolheads like Betty (Klimenko, Erebus owner) who step it up and do in in the proper way. She has her eye on everything and that is the only way to get to the top.
SPEEDCAFE: What are your thoughts on Mark Webber in F1 this year. Is this the last throw of the dice?
Klien: People keep saying that over the last few years but he is still very fast. And there is nobody yet who is better that could replace him. I think he is still a better chance. The team definitely made the right decision to keep him.
SPEEDCAFE: How do you think Sergio Perez will go at McLaren. This is a big opportunity and a big test for him?
Klien: It’s a big step up. Because the Sauber was a really small team and there was not so much pressure. Now he’s in a big team and he has a strong team-mate. He has to prove himself. He’s very fast but now has to prove that he also has the consistency.
He had a lot of up and downs last year.