It was the dawning of a brand new start for the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterchaft in 2012, as three premium German manufacturers that are known throughout the racing world went head to head for the first time in twenty years. The return of BMW Motorsport, headed by Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt, would be on equal footing, as the new regulations enforced by the DMSB this season, would help to ensure closer racing and qualifying action throughout the year.
The “New-Era” would see many changes from a technical, safety and configuration standpoint, as the saloons that had been seen for many years, made way for their coupe counterparts, with the iconic M3 DTM returning back home after a long hiatus, a car synonymous with the DTM. Audi would bring along the A5, with Mercedes-Benz using the C-Class Coupe, as the drivers, both old and new hands would have to get to grips with the challenges ahead for all.
The cars would have to share common parts, be equipped with fuel cells, with refueling out of the window, as well as paddle shift gear changes on the steering wheel instead of sequential gearboxes. Qualifying would sort out the best of the best, with a final four-way shoot out to decide pole position, as each driver would have one lap to see who would be up front.
Old experienced hands were switching alliances, and new faces were entering the fray, with 10 races to decide, just who would become “DTM-Meister”. The Show event in Munich, on BMW’s home turf, would provide a welcome sense of fun to the usual seriousness of battling on the tracks around Germany, Spain, Holland and Britain, and another spectacle for the fans to enjoy.
Reigning champion Martin Tomczyk had switched from Audi Sport to BMW Motorsport, along with former Mercedes-Benz Motorsport driver Bruno Spengler, as both were up for the challenge of joining a new outfit, which could be a dark horse in the season’s proceedings, as the new regulations provided all three brands with the chance to take the bull by the horns. BMW also brought a new set of drivers along to the party, with 3-time WTCC Champion Andy Priaulx, ex-WTCC racer Augusto Farfus, long-serving Dirk Werner and ALMS veteran Joey Hand, making up the rest of the Munich assault on the “New-Era”.
Canada’s Robert Wickens and 2011 F3 Euroseries Champion Roberto Merhi joined Mercedes-Benz’s ranks for this season as part of the Junior Team, alongside Christian Vietoris, who moved from Persson Motorsport to HWA, and would be mentored by none other than 7-time Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher. 2005 DTM Champion Gary Paffett, alongside Jamie Green, Ralf Schumacher, Susie Wolff and David Coulthard would again be helping the campaign of the “Three-Pointed Star” for another season.
Audi Sport’s line-up had one new addition this year, in the form of 21-year-old Adrien Tambay, son of former Scuderia Ferrari driver Patrick, who was looking to make sure his youth didn’t get in the way of his competitiveness. He joined the well-established line-up of two 2-time DTM champions, Mattias Ekstrom and Timo Scheider, along with Felipe Alberquerque, Miguel Molina, Rahal Frey, Mike Rockenfeller and “Mr. Macau”, Edoardo Mortara, with Ingolstadt wanting to fight hard to regain the Number 1 plate that Tomczyk took with him to BMW.
The official presentation of the drivers, cars and teams took place in Wiesbaden, before racing got underway for the series opener at Hockenheim. Practice and qualifying showed just how much closer things had become in the off-season, with all three manufacturers having worked on intensive test programs throughout the winter period.
Ekstrom got Audi off to a great start, by securing the first pole position of the season, before Paffett and Green secured a masterful 1-2 at Hockenheim, with the C-Class Coupe showing real pace on the Grand Prix circuit. Spengler was to be an early casualty in the race, having suffered cooling system damage on lap 3, with Tomczyk coming together with Merhi a lap later, and both veterans duly retired. Priaulx showed a great debut performance, securing 6th place, and the first set of points for BMW.
Spengler, however, along with Farfus, secured a welcome front-row lockout at the next round in Lausitzring, before securing the first victory for BMW Motorsport ahead of Paffett, whose mistake on the last lap cost him another victory. The Brazilian rounded out the podium ahead of Green, Ekstrom and Scheider. Tomczyk ended up in 7th, ahead of Mortara, Alberquerque and Schumacher. So in just the second round, it was going to be difficult to see just who would become the dominating force in the “New-Era,” and only time would tell.
Brands Hatch would be moved into the early summer, as the backdrop for race three around the 1.939 Indy circuit, where Paffett and Priaulx would be favoured for a good result. The Suffolk-based McLaren Test Driver put it on pole position, whereas Priaulx ended up towards the back of the grid for the race start, and retired after lap 12. The 2005 Champion got off to an electric start and worked on an extending lead, with Vietoris not having the greatest of results, after securing his first front-row start, having slipped down the field.
Spengler kept his hopes alive, even with damage to the left front of his splitter causing an aero imbalance throughout the latter stages of the race, valiantly holding off Rockenfeller, who secured the final place on the podium. Tomczyk was a man on a charge, as he took no prisoners on his way to 4th, having started further down the order.
Spielberg saw Mortara strengthen Audi’s title chances, by doing the double at Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich’s home track, which provided all at Ingolstadt a welcome motivation boost, as the Italian showed that he was a force that was emerging within the ranks, as one to watch, showing his composure when Paffett got off the line quicker, as Edo retook the lead at the first corner. Tomczyk again muscled his way into second place, ahead of the current series leader, with Spengler again suffering another DNF, as contact towards the second round of pit stops ended his race again. Ekstrom finished fourth, which saw him leapfrog to second in the title race, 36 points behind Paffett. So at this point, all three cars from the manufacturers had scored one win, and no one was forging ahead with any true dominance.
The Norisring circuit, Germany’s answer to Monaco, would mark the halfway point before the Summer break, would see the new cars put under differing weather conditions, as Qualifying was hot, with temperatures for the crowds reaching 35 degrees Celsius, before rain put a dampener on proceedings, when racing got underway. Paffett and Green made it another front-row lock out for Stuttgart, but calamity was to change the order at the very first hairpin.
Green spun Paffett around as Farfus and Ekstrom collided, pushing the two teammates into each other, which found Schumacher in the lead, ahead of Tomczyk and Spengler. It was looking set to be the end to a dominant streak of wins for Mercedes-Benz, as Tomczyk was leading from Spengler, but Green was catching them at a rate of a second per lap, as the track started to dry out and evolve. With just two minutes left, he got past Spengler, and started to hunt down the tall Bavarian, inching closer and closer as all factors came in the direction of the Leicester driver, before passing him just as the time limit expired. This was an inspired drive, truly making him “The King of Norisring,” with Mercedes’s record streak still intact.
The non-scoring points Show Event that was held in BMW’s back yard, was the DTM’s version of the world-renowned Race Of Champions, using a similar format, with team and individual champions crowned. Also an ROC veteran and three time Individual champion, Mattias Ekstrom took on the might of Stuttgart’s finest, in the form of Britons Paffett and Green, coming back from behind in the individual final against the latter, to win by just 0.1 seconds. BMW didn’t fare that badly with Hand and Werner losing to the eventual runners-up in the form of Audi’s Abt Sportsline duo of Scheider and Tambay. Green and Schumacher restored HWA’s pride for Mercedes-Benz, winning the event, which would not be part of the schedule after the conclusion of the title fights this season.
Four weeks later saw the resumption of the business at hand, as “The Green Hell”, the spiritual home of BMW Motorsport GmBH, which celebrated its 40th birthday this year. Mercedes were aiming high, but the “Ultimate Driving Machine” and its loyal troops had other ideas. Spengler again made it a weekend to remember, securing another pole position, whereas Stuttgart struggled and Ingolstadt flourished, with Mortara, Alberquerque and Rockenfeller made as clean sweep of the remaining positions within Q4.
The Canadian further strengthened his fight for the drivers’ title by having a faultless race from lights out, until the chequered flag was waved after 49 laps, with Mortara picking up his second place and second podium finish, with Tomczyk rounding off a great weekend for BMW, finishing in the final podium spot. Mercedes were clearly on the back foot, as track temperatures were in the region of 50 degrees Celsius, and showed that even the greatest teams have bad weekends, being as it is a part of racing. Paffett exercised damage control, finishing 6th, having qualified outside the top ten.
The sandy Dutch shores, where Zandvoort would see a historic moment for Audi Sport, as well as the New-Era, with the A5 DTM occupying the first five grid places after qualifying, as Timo Scheider secured his first pole position for 21 months, which he dedicated to his father, who was celebrating his birthday that weekend. Rockenfeller, Alberquerque, Mortara and Ekstrom showed the solidarity of the Audi brand in force, having given their rivals to smell their exhaust fumes, around this track, which pretty much has its own microclimate like Spa-Francochamps.
Scheider’s luck again would turn bad, rather quickly, as his A5 DTM stalled at the lights, whereas Mortara would again secure another victory in mixed weather conditions, as rain started to fall on the warm-up lap. Spengler had a woeful Qualifying, but made up quick ground, having gotten up to 11th after just the first lap. Wickens spun after contact with Vietoris, which then resulted in the Canadian colliding with Priaulx and Frey, with the Safety Car coming out afterwards as Frey, Molina and Vietoris retired. And another historic moment for Ingolstadt, as Rockenfeller and Ekstrom completed a clean sweep of the Dutch podium, with Green the highest Mercedes finisher in 4th, and Spengler in 5th, after a great recovery.
Oschersleben saw Spengler again do the double, securing a third pole position and victory for BMW Motorsport, with Paffett edging near his rival again on the other spot on the front row, with Green and Werner making up row two, as Ekstrom was the highest ranked Audi. Tomczyk suffered with a faulty shock absorber, during practice, but such a small incident did not deter the Bavarian, who ended up 5th.
Tambay was almost a non-starter, as the Abt Sportsline team worked feverously on his A5 DTM to replace the alternator before lights out, and retired on the penultimate lap. Paffett and Green again showed consistency, securing a 2-3 finish, with Werner again having a strong result in 4th. Spengler could have ended up second, had he not stayed composed after running wide just three laps left.
Valencia saw just 19 points splitting Paffett, Spengler and Green, going into the penultimate round. Green secured only 18th place is Qualifying, thereby ruining his chances of really being in there with a chance of the title, with Paffett only two places ahead. Spengler didn’t fare much better, only another four places ahead. Farfus used his experience to secure the first pole position for a Brazilian driver in the DTM, with Mortara and Alberquerque rounding out the top three. Adrien Tambay, however, made an impact with his first foray into Q4, which was a great result for the young French rookie.
The race saw Farfus again make history by winning the race, with Tambay making a name for himself again, securing his highest result of the season and a worthy second place, and Ekstrom had another strong third place finish. Tomczyk, by now, was clearly well out the running for the title, and had been a couple of rounds again, as his DNF at Zandvoort was accompanied by another in Valencia, having made contact on the first lap with Wickens, ending up in the gravel. Paffett suffered his first non-finish of the year, retiring on lap 19. Spengler finished 6th, with Green only just having a mathematical chance to secure his first title, if there were developments in the final round that would be to his advantage.
Hockenheim would be the fitting background for the final round of the 10 race series, as Spengler was only 3 points behind Paffett in the race for the Drivers’ Title. Farfus again secured his second successive pole position, upstaging the dueling pair for pole position honours. Green again had a bad qualifying, securing 1-0th place, putting him out of the running. Ekstrom again showed good form, placing 4th on the grid for the race, ahead of Hand and outgoing champion Tomczyk. So at the end of the race, would the No. 1 plate stay at BMW, or would it return to Mercedes after 2 years?
At the start, Farfus got away cleanly, as did Spengler and Hand, with Paffett having a technical issue at the start, dropping him down the field. Tambay retired early on, as did Rockenfeller, as Audi came into this round leading the Manufacturer’s Title race. Spengler got past his Brazilian stablemate a few laps later, further extending his lead as the race continued. Ekstrom lost his front right wheel, which was insecure after a lightning fast pit stop, but the Swede did not receive a reprimand over the incident.
Bruno Spengler finally shattered the curse of the title that had eluded him for all the previous times he has been so close, but yet so far. In another fitting twist, Spengler, Team Schnitzer and BMW Motorsport took all three titles that day, for driver, team and manufacturer. It was a scene of pure emotion and tears of joy for all at Munich, showing what can be done under extreme pressure, new regulations and a leap of faith coming backing into the DTM.
A “New Chapter” had begun in the DTM, thanks to what could only be classed as a fairytale story for all in BMW’s ranks, with the Number 1 Plate now resting with the new Champion, who outstretched his arms, helmet off, and looking up, whilst standing on the bonnet of the ear that had helped him to the title. Now as Charley Lamm, Team Schnitzer Team Principal, sprayed the champagne and Bruno raised the Drivers’ title trophy in his hands, the focus now switches to 2013, where the homologation specifications have been frozen, drivers such as Susie Wolff and David Coulthard say goodbye, Marco Wittman gets a full time drive with BMW, Jamie Green switches to Audi Sport for 2013, and much more.
You can be sure there will be more surprises in store when the DTM roars back into Hockenheim next May, as the most-internationally recognized touring car series goes forward into a bright future at full throttle…