DTM’s 2020 campaign gets underway this weekend, having faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic like so many other series. When the green flag drops for the opening practice session on Saturday, it will have been exactly 300 days since Nico Müller took the chequered flag in the final round of the 2019 campaign at Hockenheim.
For DTM, the return to racing marks a new and uncertain chapter in the championship’s history. The series is down to just two manufacturers in Audi and BMW, marking the first time since 2011 that the grid features two marques. But since the COVID-19 lockdown, far more dark clouds hang over the DTM.
Audi’s departure announcement in April dropped a bombshell on the series. The Ingolstadt manufacturer has been one of the cornerstones of the DTM for much of its existence, and its withdrawal has left the championship in serious jeopardy. For some drivers, like Audi veteran Jamie Green, it leaves them in the last chance saloon in terms of championship hopes.
“I think it does change your perspective a bit,” said Green, who holds 17 wins from 193 starts and finished runner-up in 2015. “On the other hand, it still comes down to the same things, that you just need to get it together and be focused. So from many aspects I’ll just be doing the same thing that I would always do, try and get it together on a regular basis to mount a championship challenge and take it one session at a time.
“But you know in your heart that it is probably the last chance to win a DTM championship, certainly with Audi. So I think in my heart, I obviously feel a bit heavy in my heart, knowing that.
But at the end of the day, that’s what life is like, isn’t it? Sometimes, things change and you have to roll with it and move on and look forward and embrace the change, embrace whatever the next chapter will be.”
DTM’s future has been the subject of much debate ever since the April announcement. Many, including DTM boss Gerhard Berger himself, have indicated that GT3 machinery might be the key to DTM’s survival, which at the moment appears to the most viable option.
“I absolutely don’t know what the future of DTM will be,” Green said. “I think the important thing from DTM’s perspective is to keep the championship alive, and if GT cars is the best or most liable option for the teams to continue and for the manufacturers to be involved, obviously as many manufacturers as possible would be the aim, then I could see how GT cars could make sense and do that quite quickly.”
Obviously GT cars are not as quick as DTM cars, so are cheaper to build and to run, so maybe that’s the answer, I don’t know. I’ve done some GT racing and they are still very cool cars and create a very good atmosphere and the cars look good and sound good, they’re just not as quick in the corners as a DTM car is.
Obviously, a DTM car sort of a half-half prototype/touring car, it’s just a completely different philosophy. But I think the main thing is to have a good show and keep the series alive. So I can see how potentially GT cars could do that.”
The GT3 approach is favored by other drivers as well, including BMW’s Philipp Eng. Both Green and Eng have raced GT3 machinery in the past, most notably in the Spa 24 Hours, the exact same venue that hosts this weekend’s season opener.
“I think Jamie described it perfectly,” Eng said. “For me, the thought of not having DTM on this planet anymore is something that I can not imagine happening, because when I was a young kid I was following the championship, and when I was involved in the support series, I was always looking up to the DTM drivers and to the championship because the racing is amazing, the cars are amazing.
And to lose this platform, it’s something that I can not imagine, and I think we can only wish to everyone that it continues in whatever form that is, maybe with GT cars or something else. I think the most important thing is to keep that alive and to keep it running.”
While the two veteran drivers see some merit in the GT3 approach, Green also points out that the future landscape of motorsport could feature some tricky questions to answer.
“And then in terms of where is DTM in five years time, I really don’t know. I think there’s a lot of question marks at the moment about motorsport and mobility in general. The future of the car on the road is questionable as well.
I think younger kids now are not as fascinated by automobiles as they were twenty years ago, so I don’t know what effect that is going to have on motorsport, but at the moment it looks really challenging for motorsport. So it makes the future very hard to predict.”
It is, however, not all doom and gloom for DTM, especially not in 2019, with the arrival of some high-profile driving talent. BMW has welcomed standout 2019 rookie Jonathan Aberdein into its factory ranks, and ex-Mercedes race winner Lucas Auer returns to the championship after a year in Japan.
The series also welcomes a trio of new drivers. The most notable DTM rookie is ex-Williams Formula One driver Robert Kubica, driving a privateer BMW M4 DTM as part of the ART Grand Prix operation.
Also new is Auer’s 2019 Super Formula team-mate Harrison Newey. Auer and Newey shared a garage at B-MAX Racing with Motopark in Japan, but will now be on opposite sides of the grid. Auer has joined BMW’s factory team, while Newey was a surprise signing at Team WRT in the seat that was originally meant for IndyCar refugee Ed Jones.
“I’m very happy to be here, can’t wait to get started,” said Newey. “It’s been a much longer break than anyone thought for obvious reasons and it’s fantastic to be back at the race track and at the start of a race week. It’s a nice exciting feeling, it was such a long time ago it almost feels strange.
“For me to be in the DTM, it means a lot to me. It’s such a famous championship, it’s held in such high regard and I think some of the best drivers in the world are in the championship and one of the strongest grids in the world in terms of driver quality. So for sure, it’s going to be difficult but a great challenge and one I’m really excited for.
I did two years of FIA F3 when it ran with DTM, so I know the weekends well and I know how it is to be around the DTM. And when you race in F3, you’re always looking up to the DTM because it’s the main championship of the weekend and it always looks amazing and so much fun, and such a big following, it’s so impressive. So to be there is really cool.”
Newey filled Jones’ seat after only a single day of testing at the Nürburgring, which he revealed came about thanks in no small part to a phone call between series boss Berger and father Adrian.
The 22-year-old believes his relative lack of experience driving a Class One DTM machine should not be a drawback.
“It depends on what kind of character you are. You can look at it with as glass half empty and a negative attitude. Or you can look at it as I do, with a positive attitude,” Newey explained. “DTM is one of the best championships around, one of the best platforms to show yourself as a racing driver, against people like Jamie [Green], some of the top drivers in the world with a huge amount of experience.
“If we can come along and mix it with them like we saw Sheldon van der Linde and Jonathan Aberdein do last year, then I think I come out of my season looking like a real prospect and a strong racing driver.
“Audi is not doing DTM next year, who knows what the future of DTM is, but going to other teams, whether that’s GT teams or prototype teams or any race team with that on your resume… you’ve come along and mixed it with the big boys… I think gives a very strong platform and a strong CV.
One day of testing, it doesn’t matter now. We’ll get there, we’ll give it our best shot and we’ll get on. It is what it is. In that one day, we maximized what we had. We had a very productive day, I learned a lot. Hopefully we can come to Spa and be strong straight away.”
Are Audi the favorites?
Audi had a dominant campaign in 2019, taking the majority of wins en route to a championship clean sweep. With little change in the regulations and complete stability in the driver line-up, which has remained identical to last year, signs would point to Audi still being the favorites for the upcoming season.
When asked, however, Jamie Green was quick to downplay Audi’s prospects, stating that it would take at least multiple rounds for the championship picture to take shape.
Well, I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I think we need to wait and see beyond Spa until we get to the more normal tracks,” Green said. “I think Spa is a bit different to the average DTM circuit.
“And I think in terms of judging performance at tests, it’s always very difficult, especially in DTM, with potentially different fuel loads, to really know who is quick and who isn’t. So we don’t tend to make those judgements at the general test days.
We’ll know more after, I think, at least two race weekends. We certainly never underestimate the opposition. I really don’t know to be honest. On paper, there’s been very little movement in the regulations.
I don’t want to say it, really, but on paper there shouldn’t be more difference to last year, but like I said, you can never underestimate the opposition and therefore I’m not taking anything for granted.
But obviously, I hope we have a strong car that gives me a chance to win race and have a good season.”