DTM Backstage: Stefan Kalke.
Every millimetre counts.
In the DTM, every millimetre counts, even the smallest divergence from the norm can make the difference in the fight for thousandths of a second. Stefan Kalke (45, Chief Mechanic) has worked as a mechanic for the past 27 years. He knows the DTM cars inside out and is very much aware just how important it is to do impeccable work in his job. Stefan, every tiny detail has to be perfect in the DTM. Just how finicky and meticulous do you have to be in your line of work?
Stefan Kalke: Very, really. It even carries over into your private life. When you’ve been doing this job for more than 25 years, then it’s sometimes impossible to separate the two. You don’t come home and simply throw your things in a heap in the corner. Being clean and tidy is a common thread that runs through your life. When the lads see that every day at the factory or at the track, then it gets imprinted in their brains.
For example, when building a car, every step is precisely documented by means of a stamp card. We have detailed construction documentation to follow regarding which adhesive or thread sealant should be used and how much torque is needed. Each step in the process is stamped with a personnel number, so that we can prove precisely who tightened which nut and bolt on each car and at every meeting.
Reserves for emergency.
What’s the drill at a race weekend from your perspective?
Stefan Kalke: The guys setting up for the weekend arrive on the Wednesday, unload the trucks and begin with the task of installing tools, equipment and cabling. Everything has its place. On Friday morning, the rest of the team comes and helps finish off. We then check the setup of the cars once again to ensure that no mistakes have been made and that nobody has been careless. I’m also responsible for the team of mechanics at the track. If, for example, one of them feels unwell, then we have to step in and replace him. We always have reserves on hand who can help out in an emergency.
A whole sequence of steps.
What happens with the cars after a race weekend?
Stefan Kalke: Cars are repaired and repainted if necessary. They only get fresh stickers if there’s been a change of design, otherwise, we just replace the bits that have perhaps been scuffed off in a scrap. Individual components such as the engine, suspension or gearbox are checked over in the respective workshops and prepared for the next race weekend. So you see, there’s a whole sequence of steps involved.
Which part of your job do you like best?
Stefan Kalke: Well, obviously, the challenge of being as near perfect as possible and constantly quickly adapting to new situations. You never know what might happen at a race weekend. If things don’t quite go according to plan, then of course, experience helps. Maybe something similar has happened during the previous 25 years, you can then quickly narrow it down to one or two things, generally speaking.
Restless and hungry for success.
You were with Audi for three years and have been in the Mercedes-AMG DTM squad for the past 25 years now. How did you get started in motor racing?
Stefan Kalke: Getting into motor racing was never really my goal at the start of my career, but I get a buzz out of it. It now means a lot to me personally. I trained as a car mechanic, and when I was 19, I fired off an application to Audi, who were looking for staff at the time. I’m the sort of person who can never rest and is always hungry for success. This attitude of mine fits the sport of motor racing perfectly. I’m down when we don’t win. I always try to learn from mistakes and aim to do things better subsequently. It’s what drives me.
Lawnmowing as antidote.
How do you switch off from the stress of race weekends, and what impression do you have of the camaraderie in the team and in the paddock?
Stefan Kalke: We like to eat out with friends on race-free weekends. I also often go to my parents’s house to mow the lawns or cut the hedges. It’s the perfect antidote to my work at HWA. Apart from that, there’s not a great deal of free time left with the many race weekends and test drives.
Still, it’s great to travel with the guys. We always stick together. I even still keep in touch with former colleagues at Audi. We’ve known each other for 28 years after all, so you see, to give you a concrete example, it really hit me hard when my work-mate, with whom I’d shared a room for 15 years, died. I’d spent more time with him than with my wife and family. We were together all day long, so it was certainly hard when fate struck, but as in racing, the same applies in life, the show must go on.