At the end of last year, it was difficult to see just how the DTM could become more exciting for the fans this year, as I had spoken with Martin Tomczyk at the latter part of the season about how the “show” could be improved. As he said in the interview, which you can find here, it was a case of some ideas being worked on.
Roll on to 7 races completed and a title fight that may not have been quite expected at this point, as we approach the business end of the championship. We have seen some historic moments, including two Canadians on the podium at Brands Hatch after two decisions to penalize two experienced champions that weekend during the race and qualifying, as well as a ‘no winner’ situation declared at the Norisring, due to a Sporting Regulation infraction, thanks to some water squeezed into a racesuit.
With the addition of both the Drag Reduction System and Option Tyres from Hankook, both were untried and limited testing during the off-season hampered the teams’ understanding of how the new technical changes would assist their strategies during a race weekend.
This, coupled with the shortening of the race weekend with only one practice session on the Saturday morning, totaling just 90 minutes, really had put all and sundry under pressure, no matter if the driver was a veteran or a rookie.
I spoke with depending champion Bruno Spengler at Brands Hatch earlier this year, when we discussed in great length how the driver and team can get it right on the new format: “The new format with the DRS and the Option Tyres are quite challenging as a driver, I have to say. Not only as a driver, but for the team it is quite challenging as well, because they can do so much with the strategy during the race. I think that there is a lot that you can do right, where you gain a lot of time, but there is also a lot that you can do wrong.
“If you don’t have a perfect Qualifying, you can still make something out of the race because of these new factors that come into play. Last year, there was a lot of pressure on Qualifying, as you really had to perform. There was no choice because if you were not in the top 4, it was difficult to finish on the podium, let alone win the race. So it was a case of having that perfect lap at the perfect moment.”
Optimization was one of the key factors that gave the tell-tale signs of things to come, when his team mate Dirk Werner was the next subject under discussion, when he had that great drive in the season opener from the back of the grid to 2nd place behind Augusto Farfus, who is now 1 point behind the Franco-Canadian. “It is a very hard time for them, as you say, because the cars are optimized during the winter. We got to learn our car throughout the whole of last year. And even though winter testing was rather limited, we learnt even more, but we didn’t get a lot of option tyres.”
Strategies were very much up in the air as well, especially with the teams not having that much to go on, especially when the racing got underway at Hockenheim. Was there a change of the guard to come this season, or were the veterans to take advantage of this new format? Well, it’s not entirely crystal clear as of this moment, truth be told, as no one could have predicted any of the events we have seen this year.
Yes, cost cutting is happening everywhere in motorsport, no matter the series, which saw the reduction in the race weekend duration, which caused an uproar amongst a lot of the fans. But the welcomed agreement between the GTA, GRAND-AM and the ITR to help reduce costs and promote competitive racing has helped all three governing bodies to secure their futures over the next decade or so.
With the way that the DTM is ensuring its popularity from a global perspective, it is helping all three luxury car brands to showcase their racing heritage, as well as their road cars, which are descendants from the high-tech developments that are pushed to the boundaries and beyond. Then with the involvement of the GTA, there is hope that Nissan, Lexus and Honda will help to swell the ranks of the DTM and vice versa, as a unilateral platform can help to globalize in many different ways.
Then we also get to the fact of the hard-charging, full contact moments that we have seen this year. Take for instance this weekend, where several drivers were punted off-track when the racing was clean up until the point of no return. Having asked Andy Priaulx’s feeling on this, it was quite clear where the line needed to be drawn to an extent: “Touring car racing, whether it be in the WTCC or the DTM, is often a contact sport. I am clear about how I feel. Intentional contact is unacceptable but on many occasions as drivers, we find ourselves with nowhere to go and then contact is inevitable. In such circumstances we usually discuss what has happened, as it is important to clear the air so no grievances hang over until the next race.”
Then you also have to take into account about the results for the drivers that have won championship titles in the last decade or have come close, irrespective of where they have competed in the past. Drivers like Tomczyk, who finally scored his first points in over a year, after a long drought, and then Timo Scheider, who was again to suffer a DNF this time, due to forces outside of his control. Also factor in the likes of Andy’ move to Team RMG and Jamie Green making the move to Audi Sport after a long association with Mercedes-Benz. That can also slightly unsettle a driver for a minimum amount of time, but the routine becomes ‘de riguer’ very quickly.
The youngsters that have entered the fray may have been adding some spice to the festivities over the last 7 races, but it will be a case of who comes out on top. Andy also answered a very relevant question on what he thought may decide the title, just after the action at Norisring: “If I could answer that I would be a fortune teller. At the end of the day you need a reliable car, which is good in all different types of circuits and if you look at our competition I don’t think you can say one manufacturer has an advantage over the others at the moment. I expect the title to go down to the wire again. We may wish for BMW to win every race from now on and so have an easy path to a second title, but that is unlikely to happen in such a close fought series.”
Consistency is a key factor in trying to develop a title challenge these days, as going all out for the win is something that all the drivers may want to do every time they pull the visor down, but in reality, it is a lot more complicated when the lights go out….