After a one-year absence from the ADAC GT Masters, Phoenix Racing returned to the series in 2018. The Meuspath-based outfit fielded two Audi R8 LMSs. On the very first weekend of the campaign at Oschersleben, Phoenix pulled off a surprise win in the Saturday race.
You went into the 2018 ADAC GT Masters with young and relatively inexperienced drivers. Do you feel that the decision paid off?
Ernst Moser: "Most definitely. Back in 2017 when we took the decision to get more involved in GT3 racing again, I was determined that we would be contesting the ADAC GT Masters with a young squad. In December 2017 in Portimão, we invited some youngsters along for a test to see which if any of them had the potential to compete at GT3 or GT4 level. We soon picked out two or three drivers who were already ripe for the ADAC GT Masters in terms of development and natural talent. So we said, yes, let's go for it. Two of our drivers this year have done so well that they were talent-spotted by other teams, so unfortunately, they won't be driving for us in 2019."
You certainly wouldn't have been expecting that the season would start with that victory at Oschersleben?
"Nobody foresaw Max Hofer and Philip Ellis winning in their first ever GT3 race. But we had done our homework and had tested at Oschersleben ahead of the season opener. We were already pretty fast during those tests. Max used that speed very well in qualifying and took pole position. In the race, he and Philip then defended the lead in style - which you certainly wouldn't have expected considering the amount of pressure from behind in their first GT3 race. That was a really first-class achievement."
How satisfied are you with the way the rest of the season unfolded?
"Even though we were unable to build on that victory, I'm satisfied with the rest of the season. The standard of competition in the ADAC GT Masters was extremely high. I hadn't necessarily been expecting that, so our results need to be seen in that context. At Most, we were again among the front-runners, but we had relatively bad luck with collisions and a puncture. Otherwise, we might easily have finished somewhere near the front again. The Red Bull Ring is certainly not an Audi track, so we were more into damage control mode there. Unfortunately, we seem to have lost our way in the second half of the season. An in depth analysis of the weekends shows that we didn't always do what was necessary in the qualifying sessions to achieve good results in the races themselves. Against such a strong field of opponents, it is then difficult to make your way forward. Considering it was our first year with this extremely inexperienced driver line-up, especially the pairing of Max and Philip, we were actually quite good. So I'm very satisfied with the way it went."
How did the drivers measure up in the course of the season? They were not only rookies in the ADAC GT Masters but also complete newcomers to the GT scene.
"Philip, who came from the Audi Sport TT Cup, and Max, who graduated from the ADAC TCR Germany and Audi Sport TT Cup, are both natural talents. They will certainly be showing just how good they are over the next two or three years. Óscar Tunjo had a bit more experience and delivered exactly the performance I expected. He even moved to Adenau to be closer to the team - which is certainly a big step for a South American. He often joined us at Meuspath and prepared for the races in the simulator. Oscar is quite fiery in temperament and you have to slow him down a bit sometimes, but he is also hugely talented and is capable of achieving great things. Ivan Lukashevich also arrived with previous TCR experience. He was our weakest performer at the beginning of the season. It has to be borne in mind, however, that he also had the shortest preparation and was not present for the test at Oschersleben. But he made such progress that, by the time the Sachsenring and Hockenheim weekends came around, there was no difference between the four drivers. He definitely made the biggest advance of all during the season."
Is there actually an exchange arrangement between your DTM team and the GT team? Are there synergies, or are the projects so different that there are few points of contact?
"We have two completely separate crews of mechanics, because both projects are very complex and there is quite enough to keep them all busy. It's only for big events such as the 24-hour race that we involve the whole team. However, there is a degree of mobility for our engineers. Time permitting, we also occasionally send our DTM engineers to the GT races. For example, there are certain DTM efficiency procedures that our GT team have now adopted."
What can you tell us about your plans for 2019?
"We intend to continue in the ADAC GT Masters, but the new ADAC GT4 Germany series is also of interest to us. We have already competed in GT4 series organised by the SRO in 2018 and plan to extend our involvement to the ADAC GT4 Germany. We would like to establish a career ladder for young drivers in GT similar to the one that exists in single-seater racing. This will enable them to graduate from GT4 to GT3 and then maybe become works or pool drivers. Our aim is to bring on talented juniors. We have just been back to Portimão and tested some youngsters with the intention of rebuilding our squad for 2019. I think there will be some new faces again."