Hockenheim will this weekend host the season opening round of the 2010 DTM, the eleventh season since the series was resurrected in 2000, where Mercedes will be hoping to end the dominance enjoyed by Audi, who have won the title in each of the last three years. Due to the cost reducing development freeze which restricts the teams from updating their 2009-spec contenders, the cars will remain unchanged, although there are new drivers, circuits and a rules package designed to give older 2008-spec cars a more level playing field on which to challenge the newer models. This change to the regulations allows 2008 cars to run 25 kilos lighter than 2009 cars, a tweak which has led to three of the four official pre season test days being headed by drivers of the older cars.
Leading the charge for honours this season will be Audi's Timo Scheider, the German has won the last two titles and will be favourite to add an unprecedented third in a row, but it is difficult to decide who will be the biggest challenge to his attempt at rewriting the DTM history books. His main competition may well come from his own Abt Sportsline Audi team, who will run four other 2009-spec A4's for 2007 champion Mattias Ekstrom, Briton Oliver Jarvis who moves up to a newer car after impressing last year, young Spaniard Miguel Molina and a new slim line Martin Tomczyk, fresh from shedding five kilos in a pre season attempt to bridge the gap to his compatriot. Team Rosberg will run a final 2009 Audi for Katherine Legge, as the 29 year old attempts to be the first female points scorer in the series.
Three 2008-spec A4's will be piloted by Audi prototype regulars, Mike Rockenfeller, Alex Premat and Markus Winkelhock, who will all be hoping to displace Mercedes' Jamie Green as the top driver of an older car, after a remarkable season in 09 which saw the Briton triumph at the Norisring round. Mercedes will also field 08 C-Klasse's for Susie Stoddart, Maro Engel, China's Franky Cheng and David Coulthard, Britain's all time record F1 points scorer and BBC pundit, who returns to competitive racing after a sabbatical in 2009, much to the delight of Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug: “David is a great race driver, a likeable person and very competent. He perfectly fits to us.” The latest Mercedes cars have a formidable driver line up, bursting with F1 experience including 2005 DTM champion and long time McLaren test driver, Gary Paffett, Force India test and reserve driver Paul di Resta, Canadian nearly man Bruno Spengler, and six time GP winner Ralf Schumacher, whose rapid pre season showings have belied the underwhelming form of his tin top career to date.
The racing format remains unchanged with a four part qualifying session preceding a single race of around 170 kilometres, and the series will feature six rounds in Germany including the traditional Hockenheim curtain raiser, although the series will not finish at the circuit this year as a finale around the streets of Shanghai has been shoe horned in after the second Hockenheim event. Brands Hatch retains the British round, but Dijon loses out to accommodate the trip to China and Valencia's Ricardo Tormo Circuit replaces Barcelona as host to Spain's round. The series continues to draw bumper crowds, with 110,000 fans attending the launch event at Wiesbaden at the weekend, and over 90,000 again expected to descend on the Rhine Valley on Sunday.
German title holder Scheider is focussed on the task in hand, and explained what it takes to win the coveted title at the recent test session in France, “The first few races of the season are particularly important. There you have to do well and score points. After that, the right spirit, a good car and a top team are decisive. And I have all of these”. Round 1 this weekend should be a good barometer for the prospects of the two manufacturers for the season, after all the manufacturer who has won the season opener has gone on to clinch the driver's title in each of the last five seasons, but it is by no means the be all and end all, expect a fight to the wire before we will get to find out who will become 2010 champion in the Europe's premier touring car series.