ADAC GT Masters·5.6.2024

Three questions for the youngest driver in the history of the ADAC GT Masters: Tom Kalender

Tom Kalender (GER) wrote a small piece of German motorsport history at the ADAC GT Masters season opener as part of the DTM at Oschersleben from 26th to 28th April. Driving the Mercedes-AMG GT3 from LANDGRAF Motorsport alongside reigning champion Elias Seppänen (FIN), he made his debut on Saturday. At the age of 16 years and 31 days, he became the youngest driver in the history of the ADAC GT Masters. The following day, his victory in the second race also made him the youngest winner in the 18-year history of the prestigious championship. The racing series is therefore older than Kalender himself. Ahead of the second event of the season at Circuit Zandvoort next weekend, the newcomer and championship leader spoke about his perfect debut in the interview.

Tom Kalender shares the Mercedes-AMG GT3 with his Finnish team-mate Elias Seppänen © Photo: ADAC

You achieved something incredible at Oschersleben - you started as the youngest driver in the ADAC GT Masters, finished your first race in second place and won your second right away. How did you experience it all, how did you prepare and how does it feel after a while?

Tom Kalender: “When we arrived at Oschersleben, I was initially completely overwhelmed by the team’s presence - four trucks, a large hospitality area, a catering vehicle and over 20 people who had made the journey just for Elias and me. It was all new to me and I really hadn't expected anything like this. On the one hand, I felt very honoured by all the circumstances. But there were also thoughts like ‘What if I don't fulfil the expectations, have a technical issue or commit a driving error? In the run-up to Oschersleben, I only had a few days of testing in the Mercedes-AMG GT3. When the test started on Thursday morning, I only focused on my car and my team. I realised that the entire team was professional and focused in every respect, which gave me a good feeling. The atmosphere was great throughout the weekend. The right environment is very important for me because I know that the engineers, mechanics and team principals are just as involved as a strong driver. We were all immensely motivated. I prepared for the races in advance with simulator practice, endurance and fitness training as well as strength and reaction training. On site, our engineer discussed the circuit layout, special features and pit stop strategy with us in detail. Looking back, I'm very proud of the good result. It was my first race in a GT3 car. I managed to come out on top against much more experienced drivers, some of whom had been racing in higher series for several years.“

When did you realise that this could be a successful weekend for you, Elias and the whole team?

Tom Kalender: “I immediately realised on Thursday that Elias and I were very fast. We were able to set good lap times and gained confidence. The first qualifying session on Saturday was to be contested by Elias as he is the more experienced of the two of us. When he finished qualifying in third place, I knew that we were competitive. We then finished the race in second place after a very good pit stop. I was completely overwhelmed and overjoyed by this good result. That motivated me for Sunday though. I knew that a top three finish was possible. I finished qualifying in second place, just 0.031 seconds behind David Schumacher. That's when I realised that, even as the youngest driver in history, I could hold my own against the competition. Thanks to a perfect race, we were then able to clinch victory in the second race. Elias helped me a lot throughout the weekend. We have become good friends over the past few weeks. He often comes to visit me and we prepare for the races together on the simulator. I appreciate his serenity and composure. He won the ADAC GT Masters last year and gives me lots of good advice. We both share the attitude of putting our egos in the background, because we know that we can only be successful as a team. In Elias, I have found the best driver for me. However, it wasn't just Elias and I who were involved in the victory, but the entire team with mechanics who prepared the car absolutely perfectly and the engineers who found the optimum setup for the car and developed a perfect pit stop strategy.“

Tom Kalender beaming on the podium after his first win of the season © Photo: ADAC

How were the reactions to your success and how much does that motivate you?

Tom Kalender: “The whole team was over the moon. Nobody would have expected this. At home, there was a flood of congratulations from friends, acquaintances and relatives. There was also a lot of coverage in local newspapers and motorsport media. That makes me very proud and happy. I've been involved in motorsport since I was four years old and my big goal has always been to become a professional racing driver. Moments like the one in Oschersleben encourage and motivate me to keep going and work even harder on my racing career. All the reactions made me realise once again that we are now the hunted. That's why we couldn't rest on our success, but had to prepare for the next race in Zandvoort next weekend straight afterwards.“