DTM UBER ALLES!
As BMW re-enters DTM Riggers heads to Germany to see what we're missing
But however slick and big-budget the BTCC operation was, it never felt like this. I'm standing in the paddock at Hockenheim on race day of the first event of the 2012 DTM season, being jostled (albeit politely) by a throng of motorsport fans streaming past immaculate team transporters, and expensive-looking hospitality suites, all hoping to catch a glimpse of a favourite driver or other celebrity of the motorsport circus. PH among them, as detailed in our earlier blog.
In fact, the quality of the kit on show isn't far off the sort of stuff you see in the paddock at a GP or Le Mans. Except that in sports car racing or F1 you can't get anywhere near the paddock unless you're rich, important, or both. Or, perhaps, you're a scruffy journalist with a temporary media pass. Ahem. But while I've only ever felt ridiculously out of place taking a behind-the-scenes glimpse at an F1 or Le Mans paddock, at a DTM meeting, any punter can pay for a pass and rub shoulders with drivers and team owners.
And there are a lot of punters. Official word is that the weekend has brought a record 142,000 spectators out for the action, not least to witness BMW's return to DTM after a 20-year absence and the possible dawn of another golden age like that of the E30 M3 and Merc 190 Evos of the early 90s. I can easily believe that figure, since Hockenheim's considerable grandstands are filled to near-capacity in anticipation of the afternoon's race, bringing that feeling you only otherwise get at a GP and the sense of a whole large town's worth of people all gathered for one thing - the spectacle of motor racing.
The whole weekend package feels rather GP-like, actually. There aren't a whole lot of support races going on, but there's all sorts of entertainment to keep the masses happy (many of which are camping in immaculately tidy campsites) including demonstration runs by the likes of Nico Rosberg in a 1950s Mercedes GP car and one Michael Schumacher in last year's Mercedes F1 contender.
Of the support races, probably the most entertaining is the CNG-powered VW Scirocco R-Cup, the 235hp one-make racers, with their push-to pass buttons liberating an extra 50hp and loose rear ends making for an entertaining spectacle. In all honesty, the DTM boys could learn a little from these cars, because the new-era DTM regs, for all their spectacular technology (and the carbon fibre monocoque, with its steel roll cage, integrated seat and carbon body panels is truly trick) make the cars look, sound and behave all the more like prototype sports cars.
This is frankly a bit weird to those raised on a diet of production-derived saloon-car racing. On the other hand, once the racing gets underway, cars that looked glued to the road during qualifying suddenly seem a bit more lairy when they're all trying to pass and not be passed. There's little in the way of panel bashing or catch-it-or-lose-it slides, but the racing is certainly hard-fought and close.
Just how hard they're battling becomes clear when the HWA Mercedes team mates Jamie Green and Gary Paffett slip past Audi man Mattias Ekstrom. Paffett, behind Green, proceeds to chase down the lead Mercedes of Green before the leader pits and Paffett is left on his own. Paffett duly pits a short while later and, on exiting the pitlane, finds himself side by side with Green, a situation only resolved in Paffett's favour quite a few corners later and only after the two almost swap paint at more than 160mph. No team orders there, then.
Headed your way
It's this sort of top-level fight, and the fact that even F1 drivers of the calibre of Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard won't stroll to the front of the pack, that makes the DTM a genuinely involving spectacle. Sure, it's not got the dressed-up banger-racing appeal of the BTCC, but its charms are more subtle than that. And they're certainly not lost on 142,000 German fans.
Then again, if you want to see the DTM in Blighty, you need only to head to Brands Hatch on May 20.