With the DTM season opener at the Hockenheimring kicking off this weekend, get the lowdown on the cars and the drivers gearing up for success...
2012 is a fresh start for DTM in several different ways. After halting development of the previous generation at the 2009 specification, the series has a new model for 2012, with an emphasis on making the series cheaper, the cars stronger and giving less assistance to the drivers.
There’s an increasing number of spec-parts being shared by all the entries in an effort to reduce costs, including the basic chassis, gearbox and brakes, while for the drivers there’s a switch to paddle-shifters and a new specification of slightly wider Hankook tyres to set against a heavier chassis. The four-litre V8s aren’t changing, however, so DTM will be a little slower in a straight line, a lot quicker in the corners and potentially more compelling than ever.
After a few high-profile T-bones, DTM has gone for a massive increase in side-impact protection with the test load requirement rising from 80kN at a specific point to 360kN across the whole length of the sidewall. There are more stringent front and rear impact tests as well, and a fuel tank now integrated into the carbon-fibre monocoque.
Both Mercedes and Audi have introduced coupé models for the new season, with Merc racing the long-winded DTM Mercedes AMG C Coupé against the Audi A5 DTM. However, the big news is undoubtedly the new entry from BMW. Lured by the new formula, BMW has moved its tin top programme from WTCC to DTM and produced a racing M3 for DTM to sit alongside its GT version. While it’s a tall order to expect a new manufacturer to be immediately competitive, BMW has bought many of its top teams from other series and engineering talent from the aborted BMW-Sauber F1 team. It’s retained the cream of its WTCC driving talent, but also poached front runners from both of its rivals. Everyone is looking forward to a mighty three-way fight.
DTM is good at leaving people wanting more. It means that when the series is at home in Germany it attracts race day crowds similar – and sometimes bigger – than the German Grand Prix. But, for a driver, having a season just ten races long really puts the pressure on. DTM leaves absolutely no margin for error. Mattias Ekström’s 2011 season exemplifies that perfectly: he ruined his championship chances with a couple of poor results at the start of the year – and despite the fact he won as many races and took as many second places as champion Martin Tomczyk, he was never really in the running for the ultimate prize.
The 2012 season begins this weekend at Hockenheim and, as has been the fashion, will return to the Baden-Württenberg circuit for the season finale on September 21. Unusually, this first race of the season is a back-to-back, with the teams making the trek east to the Lausitzring for round two next week. Next up is a trip across to Britain and Brands Hatch. DTM has been a fixture at Brands since 2006, racing in the spectator-friendly bowl of the shorter Indy circuit. Usually, Brands is later in the season but this year it has been switched with Zandvoort – if that’s an effort to avoid the usual torrential downpour then it’s possibly the organisers have never experienced May in England.
After Brands, it’s on to Austria and the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg and then back to Germany for the flat-out ‘Norisring’ street race in Nüremberg. (It’s not called the Nurembergring simply because it sounds too much like Nürburgring).
Following the street race DTM has… a diversion. The non-championship round held within Munich’s Olympic Stadium on July 17 is a Race of Champions-style series of head-to-head heats on a tight, narrow, purpose-built track. Unlike the cars which take part in the RoC, the DTM machinery is completely unsuited to the twisty confines of the kart-track built on top of the football pitch, but that doesn’t spoil the spectacle.
The serious business of racing has to wait a while after that with a five week gap between Munich and the visit to Holland for the Zandvoort round on August 26. That’s followed by a trek up to Saxony-Anhalt for Oschersleben on September 16 and then two weeks later some late-season sunshine in Valencia, racing on the Circuit Ricardo Tormo (rather than the temporary Valencia Street Circuit which hosts F1 earlier in the year). Following the trip to Spain, there’s a three-week gap before what will hopefully be a season showdown back at Hockenheim.
Few drivers possess Jamie Green’s ability to extract raw speed from a DTM car. The Englishman has been in DTM since 2005, flip-flopping between Persson and HWA. Regardless of team, Green has been a winner in each of the past five seasons but has never built a championship challenge. Now firmly established again with the premier HWA squad he’ll expect more from the new car, and comes into the race having won the 2011 season finale at Hockenheim.
With F1 and DTM avoiding calendar clashes in 2012, Gary Paffett is going to rack-up some serious air miles fulfilling his duel roles as McLaren’s reserve driver in F1 and as the spearhead of HWA’s – and arguably Mercedes’ – assault on the DTM championship. The 2005 champion has also been second in the championship three times. Of those competing, his 17 victories tie him with Ekström at the top of the table. 2011, however, was a barren year for Paffett: the Englishman started the season with a big crash and spent the entire year competing for minor points, never once finishing on the podium. He’ll expect better this year.
Dark Horse: Robert Wickens
On strength of talent, many people expected to see Canada’s Robert Wickens driving in Formula One this year. The Canadian pipped Jean-Eric Vergne to the 2011 World Series by Renault Championship, and given his strong ties to Marussia was widely tipped to take the second seat in their F1 team. Presumably having failed to find the necessary budget, Wickens instead finds himself driving for Mercedes. It isn’t necessarily a bad career move, as Paul di Resta can testify. As a member of Mercedes’ revived Junior Team (along with Roberto Merhi and Christian Vietoris) Wickens will have Michael Schumacher on hand as a mentor – but driving for Mücke, he might pick up more from observing his team-mate David Coulthard.
Second place in 2011 was a massively disappointing result for Mattias Ekström, the Swede having gone into the season with high hopes of clinching his third DTM title. After second place in the opener at Hockenheim he had a dire run of mishap and misfortune that went 8th, DNF, 11th, 7th. Mid-season, he turned things around and had three wins and a second place in the last five races. He also managed to win the 24 Hours of Spa in his spare time, but this year has vowed to ditch all outside racing to concentrate solely on DTM. It’s impossible to pick a winner, without having seen the new cars racing – but Ekström is certainly many people’s favourite.
Ekström’s team-mate Timo Scheider is another two-time DTM Champion. After a very unsatisfactory 2011, Scheider has high hopes that the A5 DTM will be more to his liking. Scheider came to Audi in 2006 and won back-to-back titles in 2008-9. He didn’t particularly get to grips with the change to Hankook tyres but the suggestion is that it was more a question of the characteristics they imparted on the car than a lack of feel for the rubber. If the new car suits him then he’s more than capable to returning to the top step.
Dark Horse: Mike Rockenfeller
To the outside world, Mike Rockenfeller is probably famous for milling an Audi R18 in last year’s 24 Heures Du Mans, but there’s much more to his CV than an enormous crash. He won Le Mans the previous year in what was the latest in a very long line of endurance titles, that also includes an FIA GT2 Championship with Porsche and victory at both the Nürburgring 24 Hours and Daytona 24 Hours. Rocky began a DTM career in 2007, working himself around the various Audi teams until joining the elite Abt outfit last season. He had his breakthrough win at Zandvoort and another podium at the Nürburgring on his way to a best-ever sixth in the championship. Audi have high hopes that Rockenfeller will only get better.
Defending champion Martin Tomczyk was Mr Consistency in 2011. The German entered the season in a old-spec A4 DTM. Taking advantage of the older car’s weight advantage and affinity with the new Hankook tyres, Tomczyk never finished outside the top five all season, and only finished off the podium twice. The highlights of his year were victories at the Red Bull Ring, Lausitz and in a downpour at Brands Hatch. After 11 seasons with Audi – and possibly smarting from his relegation out of the prestigious Abt squad to drive instead for Phoenix – he decided to try his luck with BMW instead. He’s driving for the all-new RMG team, which, despite sounding inexperienced on paper seems to be packed with people who used to spend quite a lot of time commuting between Munich and Hinwil.
BMW were very even-handed when poaching their top talent for DTM, taking Tomczyk from Audi and Spengler from Mercedes. The Canadian doesn’t have a DTM title to his name, which is a surprise to many people as he’s always been in the reckoning and, earlier in his career, linked with various F1 drives that, for one reason or another, never materialised. Spengler took two wins for HWA in 2011 on his way to third in the championship. He also finished third in 2010 and has twice been second. Spengler will be driving for Schnizer, who have the unique distinction of having won touring car championships in Germany, Italy, Britain and Japan – so no shortage of experience there.
Dark Horse: Andy Priaulx
There can’t have been many rookies more experienced in touring cars than Andy Priaulx. As a BMW stalwart, Guernsey’s fastest man won the European Touring Car Championship in 2004, and then took the World Touring Car Championship title in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The silverware hasn’t been so readily supplied since but Priaulx has continued to pick up victories in WTCC and, when BMW pulled out of the series after 2010, won at Sebring in the GTs Class with a rather different M3. This year, he’s again racing with the RBM outfit, with whom his earlier successes have all come. He’s a dark horse because both he and BMW are new to DTM and the standard over the past few years has suggested itself to be rather higher than WTCC but nobody would discount Priaulx from doing in DTM what he’s done everywhere else and winning races. Mattias Ekström says Priaulx might be the most intelligent racer on the grid this year – which is a horrible thing to say about any driver.
What they say...
Martin Tomczyk, Reigning DTM Champion
BMW Team RMG
"Driving for BMW this year is a great feeling and an honour for me. I know it will be hard work for us to get a car and build a team that will be competitive right from the first race onwards, but from testing we know the car works fine. I can input 11 years of DTM knowledge into the process too, and really I don’t think we’re going to have any problems being on the pace in Hockenheim. Obviously, it’s 20 years since BMW were in DTM but we can get back to where BMW should be – which is at the top.
"I don’t think I’m under more pressure this year, rather it is different pressure. BMW’s return and having the Number One on the car are both new things and we have to work to get the best out of it – and I think we will get the best out of it. The M3 is a great car to drive whether it’s a road car or a race car. Anyone who’s driven one knows what I’m taking about. I hope we can get some victories for it quite soon in DTM."
Mattias Ekström. 2011 runner up, champion in 2004, 2007
Audi Team Abt Sportsline
"It’s going to be a little bit different this year with BMW coming into DTM. It’s nice when you stand in the pitlane and see the Audi, Mercedes and BMW brands on display. I think the championship has got a big boost from BMW coming in: it’s going to be a big competition and it’s nice to be part of it.
"My feeling is that it will be drivers rather than the car that makes the difference. You always need the best combination of both because you aren’t going to win the championship without having the best car but equally you aren’t going to win without the best driver. This year I get the feeling the new cars will be pretty evenly matched and so the guy behind the wheel will make the difference and the champion will be the one who is most consistent."
David Coulthard, gentleman driver
Mercedes Team Mücke Motorsport
"With the new cars this year, there are a lot of unknowns going into Hockenheim and it’s going to be fascinating seeing how the season develops with these new cars. We have a paddle-shift gearbox now and a car that’s 100kg heavier than it was last year, plus there’s no refuelling in 2012 so at the start of the race it’s even heavier, and even more mass to accelerate and slow down. But to balance that out we have bigger tyres so these cars will definitely be quicker in the corners than they were last year and seeing where the trade off is will be interesting.
"Having three manufacturers will make it more interesting: BMW against Audi against Mercedes in what is largely a one-make formula with differentiation via engines and aero-packages – I think that’s going to be a very big deal!"
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