Zolder may have been the first stomping ground of what we know now as the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft back in 1984, but the series has evolved and been followed by a multitude of fans over the past three decades.
The action finally gets underway for DTM’s thirtieth anniversary after a very long off-season for all twenty-three drivers and three manufacturers. Volker Strycek was the man that captured the inaugural season due to consistent results back then and Bernd Schneider is still the man they call “Mr. DTM,” with his run of five championship titles not yet under threat.
Funny how that was how Mike Rockenfeller was able to do so last year with Audi Sport and Team Phoenix, but he’s got a lot of competition. During our TCF preview for the forthcoming season, we’ll talk about the new faces, the “Magnificent Seven,” regulation changes and what to look out for this year.
There are several new faces in the DTM this season, especially with some young guns out there with something to prove. Firstly, one of the drivers that has joined the ranks of BMW Motorsport, whose talents could have seen him in the second Scuderia Toro Rosso car in Formula One this year, but he now lines up as the youngest of the eight M4 DTM drivers this year.
Antonio Felix da Costa steps up to his first season with a roof over his head, but will also be doing double duty as the test and reserve driver for Infiniti Red Bull Racing. This man will be flying the flag for Portugal, following countryman Filipe Albuquerque’s departure to the Audi Sport LMP1 program, so he could factor in on qualifying like young Marco Wittmann did in his debut season last year. He teams up with an experienced hand in the form of ex-F1 driver Timo Glock at Team MTEK, who won at the finale at Hockenheim last year.
Nico Muller also has made the jump into the deep end with his fellow World Series by Renault 3.5 rival, and the Swiss ace has teamed up with “Mr. Norisring,” Jamie Green at Team Rosberg. The 22-year-old becomes the latest talent that both Dieter Gass and Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich have been impressed with and joins the brand of the “four rings.”
Maxime Martin has made a name for himself in the world of sportscars, just like some of the drivers that currently make up the numbers at Munich like Joey Hand, but after being in the test and development driver role for the 2013 season, he now gets a chance to show his skills in the high-pressure and fast-paced arena.
The last man is one of Russia’s most beloved sons, who raced in Formula One, and now adds a bit of Siberian flavour to the series. Vyborg’s Vitaly Petrov now joins the seven-car line-up at Mercedes-Benz, having been on the sidelines of the racing world last year. He knows that the challenge ahead will be tough, but anything can and almost certainly happens.
Seven of the current twenty-three drivers that will take to the grid this weekend for the first assault on the 2014 title have been privileged enough to hoist the DTM title high above head and shoulders. There is a wealth of experience between them, which also includes a man that returns to a former stomping ground that has served him well, before his Formula One escapades saw him return to a place he can call home.
Rockenfeller is the man with the archery target on his back, having secured his first DTM title at Zandvoort last year, as his Schaeffer-liveried Audi RS5 DTM will be sporting the #1 over the course of the year. Hot on his heels will be two of his fellow teammates, who have both won the title twice. The man who now replaces the ABT Sportsline bound Miguel Molina is 2008 and 2009 champion, Timo Scheider, who is still hungry for more success after a couple of difficult years in the series.
The man whose motto is “Go Hard or Go Home,” is now set for his 14th season in the series, as Mattias Ekstrom has also secured his very own double title with Audi and is still looking to push harder than ever. The pairing of BMW Team Schnitzer’s Martin Tomczyk and Bruno Spengler will be looking to capture their own victories in the arena of battle, with the former also competing in the series for the same length as the Swedish double champion. Spengler will look to use his “Black Beast” to the best of his abilities to get back the #1 on his BMW.
Mercedes-Benz have two drivers that have both won the title just once each, but the fires are still burning deep for 2005 champion Gary Paffett and the returning Scot, Paul di Resta, who goes back to the ranks of the “Three-Pointed Star” after three years in Formula One at Sahara Force India. The cousin of Dario Franchitti secured glory back in 2010, and is now back where it feels comfortable, but he has also got a lot to re-learn in order to get back to winning ways. Paffett may have something to say about that, having narrowly missed out to Spengler in 2012 by a mere four points.
The Regulation Changes
There are several changes that have been made in order to firstly change up the action both during qualifying and the race itself. During the fight for grid position, the 1-lap shootout Q4 session is now no longer around, as three qualifying sessions will determine the fight for pole position every weekend.
The first five drivers will be eliminated after the first 13-minute session, with a further ten after the Q2 antics. Drivers will be pushing hard to get into the final 11-minute session, where the top eight will fight for pole position. But on top of this, there will also be a ballast adjustment after each race weekend, which means that those that are racing at the very top may be hit with an extra 10 kilograms at the very most, whereas those that are struggling will end up with the opportunity to lose 10 kilos off the car’s total weight.
The mandatory pit stops that are allowed in each race is now just one, so the newly developed Hankook tyres will have to last half the race. This means that the drivers will not be diving into the pits after just a few laps on the soft compound tyres to make their strategies work. This also means that the drivers and teams will also have to look after the option tyres for a lot longer than last season.
DRS is back once again, but the drivers will be able to use the rear wing for overtaking possibilities right up until the finish line, so it could mean that when push comes to shove, someone may get an advantage…
What To Look Out For
Some of the drivers that were going to give “Rocky “ a fight last season included three challengers that are back for more this season, as BMW’s Augusto Farfus and Mercedes’ Robert Wickens and Christian Vietoris could be even more of a threat this year. They were very strong as their results showed, but there could also be others waiting to get in on the action.
Audi’s French racer, Adrien Tambay, along with BMW’s Joey Hand, have also been more on the pace with their respective results last year, and could also factor in this season’s events at the ten circuits. China returns for its third outing at Guangzhou, with Paffett being the man to beat when it comes to Asian street tracks, as he won there in the past two events held there.
Hungary will also return to the calendar for the very first time after a long hiatus, and saw the drivers get familiar with the Hungaroring, with those ex-F1 drivers having a potential advantage around a very demanding and technical track, which could limit overtaking in other series, but could be explosive for the DTM’s alumni.
Forgetting the sanctions against Russia regarding the Ukraine situation, the fact that Petrov is the DTM’s first Russian driver will be of huge interest for the local fans, who will flock to Moscow Raceway and support him in their droves.
So the stage is set and the chess pieces are in position for tomorrow’s first qualifying session to get underway. The V8 engines will make their customary sound, as the pecking order will begin its first formation on the 2014 landscape. The action will soon begin. Stay tuned for TCF’s coverage of the season opener this weekend, as the DTM gets back to what it does best – racing.