DTM set for America
Could fresh initiative attract Japanese firms? By Gary Watkins
Plans to export DTM to North America are on course to happen within the next three years after a new partnership deal was agreed in March.
US sports car promotor Grand-Am, owned by NASCAR’s France family, has signed a licensing and co-operation agreement with the ITR, which runs DTM. It is intended that this will result in the long-rumoured DTM America becoming a reality in either 2015 or 2016.
The three German DTM manufacturers, Audi, Mercedes and BMW, were all represented at the announcement of the joint venture and each pledged support to the series. But Grand-Am, which next year is effectively taking over the American Le Mans Series under the United SportsCar Racing banner, stopped short of saying that DTM America would definitely happen.
It appears that this is linked to attempts to try to attract the manufacturers from the Super GT Series in Japan, which has also signed a rules accord with the ITR. Grand-Am wants Toyota, Honda and Nissan, which are all major players in the US automotive market, to take part.
Super GT’s top class, GT500, will adopt chassis rules based on those of DTM for next year, but rather than 4-litre V8s, its cars will be powered by 2-litre, direct-injection turbos based on the Global Race Engine concept.
Audi research and development boss Wolfgang Durheimer, whose remit covers motor sport, suggested that a move to the smaller-capacity powerplants was likely for DTM America.
“It’s most likely that we will not have the same engines,” he said. “There is still a big discussion going on about whether we use V8s or 2-litre turbos.”
It remains unclear if this would persuade the Japanese manufacturers to join the series. Nissan has a “wait and see approach”, according to the manufacturer’s global motor sport director Darren Cox. He suggested that its focus would be on endurance sports car racing when it launches its first major US motor sport programme since the end of its stint in IndyCars with the Infiniti brand.
Toyota, meanwhile, participates in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup to make itself appear “more American”, according to leading motor sport sponsor broker Zak Brown. “Racing in the DTM would run counter to that,” he said, “because it is a European import.”
Grand-Am also let it be known that it has had contact with the domestic US motor manufacturers about DTM America. An entry into the series by one of Ford, General Motors or Chrysler also appears unlikely in the short-term.
The reason for that is simple, according to a senior figure in a manufacturer’s motor sport department in the US: “The US already has a successful silhouette touring car formula — and it is called NASCAR.”
Tinkering with the show
The German DTM touring car series is following the lead of Formula 1 by introducing DRS and option tyres for the coming season.
The DTM has announced the new rules in an attempt to spice up the racing. The DRS (drag reduction system) will involve the rear wing lying down by 15 degrees to boost straight-line speed, while the option tyre supplied by Hankook will offer a one-second a lap advantage over a short period.
Former DTM champion Gary Paffett welcomed the moves. “Changes were needed to make the show a bit more interesting,” he said. “The racing was always very close, to the extent that some of the races were a bit processional.”
The DTM DRS system will be allowed to be operated when a car is within two seconds of the car in front. Unlike Formula 1 there will be no designated DRS zones, but a driver will only be allowed to activate the system once per lap.
The option tyre will offer an advantage over the standard Hankook for approximately three to four laps before its performance drops away.
Electric proving ground
The new FIA Formula E Championship for electric vehicles will be an open formula design to allow manufacturers to showcase their technology in the series, the new promoter has revealed.
GP2 team owner Alejandro Agag, who became promoter of Formula E last year, stressed that the one-make single-seater it has commissioned for the first year of the series in 2014 is planned only as a stop-gap before the arrival of the manufacturers in a series that will bring electric racing to city-centre circuits around the world.
“We want to encourage different manufacturers to participate with different technologies,” Agag said. “We want an open championship; the spirit of the championship is to be open to innovation and technologies of the future.
“We might work with hydrogen fuel cells and super-capacitors, as well as with batteries.”
To get Formula E off the ground in the short term, Agag has commissioned a new chassis developed by Spark Racing Technology with a McLaren electrical powertrain.
These cars are an evolution of the Spark design that has been testing for the past year, and 42 have so far have been ordered by the promoter.
Agag has revealed that it is likely that Formula E will run as a winter championship, which would give it “a unique appeal”.
He also explained that he hoped the first races would take place in September next year.
Alpine’s firm commitment
Alpine has long-term future in motor sport, according to the boss of the historic French car maker.
Bernard Olivier, CEO of Alpine, stated that the marque’s return to motor sport, with a branding and sponsorship deal with the French Signatech team at the Le Mans 24 Hours and in the European Le Mans Series, was a glimpse of things to come. He described the deal that has resulted in Signatech’s ORECANissan 03 running in French racing blue as “only the beginning”.
“We are just restarting in motor sport and we will not stop,” he said. “Alpine is a sporting brand and motor sport is in our blood.”
Olivier wouldn’t be drawn on Alpine’s future plans and whether it intended to race the new-for-2016 sports car that was announced last November, following Caterham’s acquisition of a 50 per cent stake in the company.