After six years of the DTM being exclusively fought out between Audi and Mercedes, 2012 sees the return of BMW to set up a thrilling battle between Germany's three premium car manufacturers.
The season opener at Hockenheim this weekend also sees a new era of technical regulations. These have been introduced with three priorities; to reduce costs, improve safety, and improve the quality of racing.
The arrival of a third manufacturer also sees an improvement in the quality on offer on the driving front, with Audi and Mercedes reducing their rosters from nine to eight as BMW bring six new cars. The grid arguably offers some of the best driving talent outside of Formula 1.
For Bavarian Martin Tomczyk, the lure of a BMW drive was impossible to turn down after winning his maiden title last year with the second-string Phoenix Audi team. He lines up with the all-new RMG squad, and wears the classic BMW warpaint on his car.
“Even though I have been racing in the DTM for many years, I still get butterflies in my stomach ahead of the start of a season,” said Tomczyk. “The tension is definitely rising. I am ready for Hockenheim. The winter was intense and obviously involved a lot of development work. However, we can be happy with the result. It goes without saying that I am very excited about discovering the balance of power at the Hockenheimring, and hope we can get as close as possible to our more experienced rivals.”
His teammate at RMG is American Joey Hand, who has enjoyed success with BMW in America, winning the GT class of the American Le Mans Series with the brand last year.
“Recently I have often been asked whether I will be nervous before the first round of the DTM,” he said. “To be honest, I am totally relaxed. It is quite simply time to go racing. Many things will be new to me in Hockenheim: the standing start, lightning-quick pit stops, shorter races than I am used to. I am not worried, however, as we are very well prepared. I will go out there and do the best job possible. I am very proud that BMW has given me the opportunity to be the first American to drive in the DTM.”
Long-time BMW campaigners Schnitzer are BMW's second team. In addition to signing Tomczyk from Audi, BMW have also pinched Mercedes' top driver from last year Bruno Spengler. Twice a DTM runner-up in 2006 and 2007, and twice a 'bronze medallist' for the past two years, the Canadian is still chasing his first DTM title.
“The start of this season will be a special one for me,” said Spengler. “It is my first year with BMW – and I am really hungry to finally get down to business in the first race. BMW’s return after an absence of 20 years heralds a new era for the DTM. It is great for me to be a part of this and to experience this special moment. We worked very hard to gain as much experience as possible over the winter. Our rivals have an advantage over us in this regard, but we want to catch up as soon as possible. To me, this feels like I am starting my career from scratch again.”
Spengler's teammate is Dirk Werner, another driver to have won races with BMW in international sports car racing, and who was heavily involved in the development of the new car before his announcement.
“I really enjoyed the tests with the BMW M3 DTM, and it was interesting to see the continuous further development of the car,” said Werner. “I learned a lot in recent months and the team has also worked in a very focussed manner and made huge progress. Like everyone, I will increasingly feel the tension in the run up to the start on Sunday, but I’ll try to deal with it positively. When it comes down to it, I want to enjoy my first DTM race and make a good start to the season.”
The third and final BMW team is RBM, the Belgian-run team best known for its success in the World Touring Car Championship. There it claimed three straight drivers' titles with Andy Priaulx, and their relationship with the Guernseyman is reignited as Priaulx takes on the DTM.
“We have spent a long time preparing for this, so it is about time we finally got down to business,” he said. “I am really proud of what BMW Motorsport and our team have achieved so far. Despite this, we remain realistic. BMW is new to the DTM and we have less experience than our rivals. That is why it is important for us to improve and develop from race to race. Every one of us is relishing the challenge.”
Priaulx is partnered by another man who raced in the WTCC with RBM, Brazil's Augusto Farfus.
“I am very excited and enthusiastic, but at the same time very curious ahead of my debut in the DTM this weekend,” said Farfus. “It has been a long hard road to get to this event with an amazing learning curve which we are still on. Everyone in the team has given 100 percent and more in recent months, so we are as well prepared as possible. We are entering the next phase now, and want to prove that we have given ourselves a good basis.”
The DTM programme provides the first major test for recently-appointed BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt.
“After the long preparation period, every one of us is now desperate to finally get racing and find out how we really compare to the opposition,” said Marquardt. “We have many months of hard work behind us, and certainly an exciting and instructive season ahead of us. Hockenheim has a special place in the DTM history of BMW, and we enjoyed major success there between 1984 and 1992. We obviously want to follow on where we left off, but we will have to take it one step at a time. Initially, it is vital for us to learn and gain experience. Everyone in the team is totally motivated. It will undoubtedly be a very special weekend. Not just for the fans, but also for everyone at BMW Motorsport.”
Audi's assault is headed by Swede Mattias Ekstrom, who lines up for a 12th successive DTM season with the marque's 'main' team Abt Sportsline. Last year's runner-up, he's hoping the new A5 model will help him to add a third DTM title to those he won with the A4 model in 2004 and 2007.
“After working so long on developing a new car it's nice to finally drive races and to see how quick it is,” said Ekstrom. “It's become tradition for the new DTM season to start at Hockenheim but this year the race will surely be special because in BMW a new manufacturer has joined the series. The DTM fans have been waiting for this moment for a long time.”
The second driver at the head of Audi's lineup is another two time champion, 2008/09 victor Timo Scheider.
“After 2000, being part of the beginning of a new era for the second time is fantastic – especially at Hockenheim, the most emotional place in my DTM career because that's where I won both of my titles. These feelings will always be there. Being part of the field on the DTM's revival for Audi is really special. We're in for a great future in the DTM.”
Team Abt run another two cars, for female racer Rahel Frey, who will hope to be more competitive in her second DTM season, and for debutant Adrien Tambay, who prevailed in an evaluation by Audi of young drivers.
“I'm really excited about the new season – finally – starting,” said Frey. “I worked hard during the winter and thoroughly prepared myself, both mentally and physically. I finally want to see the results of my work – and also where I stand. I want to further improve compared with last year. I've got the opportunity to do so in Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline. I feel really well received there.”
Tambay commented: “When you're a rookie it's always difficult to talk about expectations – particularly in a highly competitive series such as the DTM. Obviously, I've set goals for myself. I want to do my job as best I can, make no mistakes and finish the race – because for me it's mainly about gathering experience. I'm eager to see what kind of result I'll be able to score.”
After winning the title last year with Tomczyk, the Phoenix team is made up of two drivers switching from Abt for this season. Mike Rockenfeller replaces his fellow German in the Schaeffler-backed car.
“The excitement about the new DTM season coming up is huge because a large number of new factors are involved,” he said. “That makes it very interesting. Obviously, the biggest question mark is where we stand compared with the competition. Personally, I've been doing fine with the new Audi A5 DTM and am pleased with the tests. I'm motivated and eager to see where we stand. I'd like to win the season opener!”
Spain's Miguel Molina will hope to build upon his late-season form from 2011, where he claimed two pole positions in the last three races and took a maiden podium finish at the season finale.
“The first race of the year is always special. For me, this is now the third DTM season opener – and each one took place at Hockenheim. I'm looking forward to it, even though it'll be tough. I want to be as competitive as I was in the final races last year. With three manufacturers in the field, it'll be a fantastic championship – and Hockenheim is just the beginning.”
Former F3 Euro Series champion Edoardo Mortara enjoyed a promising start to his DTM career last year, and returns in 2012 with Team Rosberg.
“Alongside Audi and Mercedes-Benz, BMW is joining the field as a new manufacturer,” said the Italian driver. “This means the beginning of a new era in the DTM, which looks very positive. I'm happy to be part of it. It'll be interesting for us and also for the fans. I think that with the new cars the DTM will be even more spectacular than before. I'm hoping that 2012 will be a great season for Audi, the DTM and the spectators.”
Mortara is again partnered by fellow second-year driver and 2010 Race of Champions winner Filipe Albuquerque.
“I'm expecting an even fiercer competition than before,” said the Portuguse ace. “A manufacturer and additional drivers have joined the series. That's good for the fans but also for us drivers. On position 14, you're no longer at the rear of the grid but right in the middle. Naturally, the air is getting even thinner. To be the best, absolutely everything's got to a fit to a T. But that's how we've come to know the DTM – and that's what people value in the DTM.”
Audi's Wolfgang Ullrich hailed the new era of the DTM:
“The new DTM era with new Technical Regulations and Germany's three premium manufacturers united in a championship event – that's something the fans can really look forward to. We developed attractive race cars that not only look superb and dynamic, but which are quick as well and that can deliver a tremendous spectacle. Obviously, we'll be doing everything within our means to ensure that our new Audi A5 DTM leaves a particularly good impression.”
Mercedes' effort is spearheaded as always by the HWA operation, who enter four cars this year. Britain's Jamie Green is the first of their drivers, as he chases that first DTM crown.
“For myself, I'm obviously hoping that I can start the new DTM era in the same way that I finished the old one – namely with a win,” said Green. “The DTM field is so strong and well matched that it is vital to lay down a marker in the first race and to build on that basis by consistently finishing at or near the front.”
Ralf Schumacher will hope to build upon the first two podiums of his DTM career that he scored in 2011.
“I have very positive memories of the season opener last year when I finished on the podium for the first time in my DTM career,” said the younger Schumacher brother. “It would be great if I could repeat that result this season. However, the winter testing has left us none the wiser as to the balance of power in the new DTM era – we'll only find that out at Hockenheim. All the same, we're coming to Hockenheim well prepared for the new season.”
2005 series champion Gary Paffett will hope to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 in which he failed to score a single podium finish, as he again combines racing with his McLaren duties in F1.
“During the tests, I've thoroughly familiarised myself with our new Mercedes AMG C-Coupe and got used to the different handling of the car,” said the 31-year-old. “It's hard to predict the result of the first race, but I'm happy with our level of preparation and hope that we can get the season off to a solid start.”
Spengler's departure to BMW has allowed German youngster Christian Vietoris to step up to an HWA seat for his second year in the DTM, after combining his 2011 campaign with racing in GP2.
“Our preparations have been very good, and I learned a lot in my rookie season,” he said. “I intend to build on this and convert the lessons from last year into respectable results. The conditions are perfect: I think I've slotted in well with Mercedes-Benz in the DTM and I feel at one with my Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG C-Coupe.”
Former Grand Prix winner and current BBC commentator David Coulthard continues with the Mucke Motorsport setup.
“Hard to believe it, but I'm just about to start my third DTM season,” said the Scot. “As always, I'm immensely looking forward to the season opener at Hockenheim, a contributory factor being the part played by the fans in our home race. I am aiming to improve on my first two seasons in the DTM, especially in qualifying and at the start of the race. If I can do that, I should be able to post decent results this year.”
Coulthard is partnered at Mucke by Canadian Robert Wickens, who switches to the DTM after winning last year's Formula Renault 3.5. He is one of three drivers inducted into the new Mercedes Junior Team, together with Vietoris and fellow rookie Roberto Merhi, also a single-seater champion last year in the F3 Euro Series. Susie Wolff joins Merhi at Persson Motorsport, embarking on her seventh year in the DTM and fresh from the recent announcement of her role with the Williams F1 team.
Mercedes-Benz motorsport chief Norbert Haug commented: “In 2012, the DTM starts a new era – indeed, its third and most important era. Now, the world's three best and best-known premium car manufacturers are competing against each other in the DTM, with a new and exciting generation of vehicles. Over a quarter of a century, Mercedes-Benz has been the most successful manufacturer in the DTM. We will all work on the new chapter of this success story with focus and the highest motivation.”