Christian Klien will return to racing action this weekend behind the wheel of a Swiss Team Maserati Quattroporte at the Hungaroring in the Superstars Series. The Austrian is the latest in a string of ex-F1 drivers to occupy the seat, after Mika Salo, Christian Fittipaldi and Johnny Herbert took their turns earlier in the season.
Klien is using the event to get some mileage under his belt before competing alongside Russell Ingall at Walkinshaw Racing in the V8 Supercars, a series which Klien aspires to join full-time in 2013. Speaking exclusively to The Checkered Flag, Klien gave an insight into his preparations.
“Every race participation is more useful than just testing,” Klien said. “The Superstars sportscars have similar weight but bit less power [to the V8 Supercars.] But still, every touring car outing helps me to get used to this kind of door to door racing with low downforce levels.
Klien has high expectations for his V8 Supercars foray, his second appearance in the championship after joining up with Paul Dumbrell at the Bottle-O Racing Team for the Gold Coast 600 last year. After finishing 15th in the first race, Klien was eliminated at the start of race 2 by Jan Magnussen (ironically paired with Ingall for the race) robbing him of a good result.
“As Supercheap Auto is the title sponsor of the 1000km Bathurst race, as well as the title sponsor of our racecar, our expectations are high,” Klien said. “Also, Russell won Bathurst twice. He is experienced around this track and also in general in V8 Supercars, I’m sure he will help me out if I have questions. To work with him will definitely help me to get adjusted quicker to this particular race car.
“For Sandown, this will be our first race together and we have to make sure driver changes, set up work and communication works well. I’m sure we both will get along with each other well.”
Despite Klien's first experience of V8 racing being behind the wheel of a Ford, Klien believes the switch to Holden will not pose him any problems.
“It's hard to say. They are still bit different to drive, but that's the same from team to team,” Klien said. “In the end, it's the same regulation and you need the same driving style. It comes clearly to the point that you need to find the right set up which works for your driving style and to deal as best as possible with the tyres. For this you need some running time in the car, especially under race conditions.”
Although Klien first broke onto the F1 scene with Jaguar as long ago as 2004, he is still only 29 years old. In that time, he has gained a huge amount of experience: giving David Coulthard a run for his money at Red Bull Racing, testing for the Honda and BMW F1 teams and racing for the factory Peugeot and Aston Martin operations at the Le Mans 24 Hours, before returning to F1 with Hispania Racing, where he comfortably outpaced Bruno Senna despite limited running. Having competed in long distance racing before and combined with his wealth of technical knowledge, Klien is ably equipped to make an impact.
“It helps yes, although in these days you race more or less flat out even in endurance races, its still a bit different,” Klien said of his past experience. “You have to minimise the risk what you take on track, look after the car bit better. Those things are not naturally in you when you come from single-seater F1 racing. So to balance aggressive racing and passion is the key to get successful in the enduros.”
“If you come from F1 and Le Mans experiences with top manufacturers teams, you are open minded in terms of set up and driving style. It's easier to adapt,” he continued. “The feedback and direction of setup work is generally quite good if you have been in F1, just because you spend so much time in the car and all through the year the car is changing due to development work.”
As for his future, Klien is certain of what he wants. Like Frenchman Alexandre Premat, who surprised many by moving down under after forging a successful career in European racing, Klien hopes that Australiacan give his career a new lease of life.
“After my participation in last years Gold Coast 600, I got really interested in V8 Supercars. So before Alex [Premat] appeared I had already decided to prepare myself for the Supercars. Therefore I did the 12 hours of Bathurst in February,” Klien said.
“I’m clearly interested to race full time next year, otherwise I wouldn’t fly back and forewords to Australia all the time. It's a strong championship and you need to be well prepared if you get into this category. I love the competitive racing in V8 Supercars and I love Australia. I can't hardly wait for the Sandown race weekend!”