DTM faces fight for its future

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With Mercedes quitting and Audi making threats, a third brand must be found

The DTM stands on the cusp of a great new era in which multiple manufacturers from around the world slug it out on the tracks of Europe and perhaps beyond. Or it could be headed for extinction in little more than a season’s time.

The German-based touring car series is finally within touching distance of a common rulebook with the GT500 class of the Super GT Series in Japan. That opens up the prospect of Nissan, Honda and Toyota with its Lexus brand competing in the DTM.

On the other hand, the championship has been rocked to its boots by the forthcoming withdrawal of Mercedes at the end of this season. The move, announced back in July 2017, leaves a two-manufacturer series, and one of them is saying that such a scenario is unsustainable. Audi has declared its intent to pull out of the DTM ahead of the 2020 season, should there be no newcomer ready to join itself and BMW.

HOLY GRAIL

What was termed an ‘internationalisation’ of the DTM, or at least its rulebook, was a condition of BMW’s re-entry to the series in 2012. It didn’t want to develop a car that could only be raced in one arena. That explained why the ITR, which runs the championship, set out on a mission to export its product.

A dialogue began with Super GT as early as 2010 with the goal of common regulations. There was even talk of a link-up with the NASCAR-owning France family and what was then the Grand-Am series about taking the DTM concept across the Atlantic. That was a non-starter when it became apparent that no North American manufacturer was ready to join the party.

But the idea of the DTM and Super GT running to the same regulations took hold. The two series have been edging towards commonality through the middle years of this decade and the DTM’s move to two-litre direct-injection turbo engines in place of four-litre normally aspirated V8s — a move initially planned for 2016 — will as good as bring them together for next season. It has even revived the ‘Class One’ monicker used back in the 1990s when the DTM’s global aspirations resulted in the creation of the short-lived International Touring Car series.

There will be minor differences aerodynamically in 2019 as the DTM continues its move towards cars with less downforce in a bid to create a greater spectacle. But the idea is that the DTM and Super GT will finally be singing for the same regulatory song sheet in 2020.

AUDI’S THREAT

The DTM survived with just two manufacturers in Mercedes and Audi from Opel’s withdrawal at the end of 2005 until BMW’s arrival. But Audi Sport boss Dieter Gass reckons that these are different times.

“Somehow the organisation between Audi and Mercedes worked quite well,” he said. “The times have changed. In particular marketing people are saying that if we only have two brands, we are not able to push the product in the way we need.”

Gass insists that there is “major potential” for the DTM and says that he is confident that series boss Gerhard Berger will deliver the magical third manufacturer by 2020.

Ex-Formula 1 driver Berger, who took the reigns of the DTM ahead of the 2017 season, has argued that getting the platform right has been his first priority. That is the key, he says, to attracting new manufacturers.

“The first thing is to see where we are coming from and where we want to go,” he said. “There were a lot of areas where we have been good and others where we were not where the DNA of the DTM should be.”

That explains his desire to cut downforce and the ban on tyre warmers: he wants the onus to be on driver skill.

“Step by step we are trying to come closer to spectacular motor sport with wheel on wheel fighting where the driver makes the difference,” says Berger. “It shouldn’t be that money and technical resources decide who wins.”

Berger is insistent that he is looking beyond the Japanese manufacturers to fill the void left by Mercedes. The idea of a car maker being able to race in both the DTM and Super GT with the same machinery applies to a newcomer as well as the existing participants.

That duality will be showcased next year with two invitational events running to the DTM format, one in Europe and one in Japan, where the cars from the two series will go head to head. Those events will continue beyond next season.

“Maybe in 2020 we will have four races together and then one day maybe a small championship,” Berger says. The DTM will remain, however, as a separate series along with Super GT.

ASTON MARTIN IN 2020?

Aston Martin could be the magical third manufacturer the DTM needs. And Gass is insistent that a niche sportscar marque would meet Audi’s requirement for a third brand, even if it is unlikely to run as many cars as the established German participants.

“If BMW and Audi go up to eight cars next year, we already have 16 cars in the field,” he says. “Then it is not that important any more to have six or even four cars from the third manufacturers. We have another baseline for a new manufacturer wanting to come.”

Aston has been linked to a programme involving Red Bull, the HWA organisation that has long masterminded Mercedes’ DTM programmes and a new Swiss entrant called R-Motorsport. It is running a pair of Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 cars in the Endurance Cup rounds of the Blancpain Endurance GT Series in a team jointly run by the British Arden and Jota Sport squads. R-Motorsport’s parent company was also instrumental in Aston’s Valkyrie hypercar project on which Red Bull Racing technical director Adrian Newey is a co-designer.

R-Motorsport has made it clear that it has big aspirations on the international racing scene and has stated that the DTM is of interest. It has already announced a tie-up with HWA in what is described nebulously as “a strategic innovation partnership for development projects in auto racing and in the automotive sector in general”.

The decision on whether to move forward could depend on Aston Martin. It is understood to be yet to decide whether the DTM fits with its image.

THE 2019 SEASON

Audi and BMW will have to increase the number of cars they have on the grid next year from the present six each. For Audi, at least, that will mean customer cars for the first time since 2009.

“I would say the minimum for next season is eight cars for each manufacturer,” says Gass. “Gerhard has asked that we put more importance on teams rather than the manufacturers, so we are looking at customers. And if you come in as a customer you will be getting exactly the same equipment as the factory teams because next year there are no old cars.”

Next year’s DTM will be a holding season ahead of either a glorious future, or perhaps its swansong.