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Motorsport

DTM: Why it matters

Saturday 21st April 2012

2012 is a big year for the DTM. Riggers explains why it's the most exciting touring car series around right now


It's worth, with a new DTM season almost upon us, pondering a few stats. For 2012, there are 22 drivers from 11 countries. Of those drivers, two are former F1 winners, one is a former Le Mans winner (Mike Rockenfeller) and one - Andy Priaulx - is the only person ever to have won four consecutive international touring car championships.


And that's not forgetting the wealth of drivers who cut their teeth in competitive international single-seat categories, or DTM specialists such as Matthias Ekstrom. Or that the DTM is increasingly seen as a valid path to F1 - 2010 champ Paul Di Resta shone last year in his debut season with Force India, and Susie Wolff is now reserve driver for Williams

There is, in short, arguably more talent behind the wheel in DTM than in any other race series with the exception of F1.

Of course, a wealth of top-flight drivers does not necessarily a thrilling spectacle make. Stung by criticisms over the past few years that the series was becoming too expensive and that the cars were becoming too reliant on aero grip - to the detriment of entertaining racing - the DTM has been working hard to reduce costs and improve the racing.


The first move was to halt technical development from August 2009 in order to push costs down. Since then any technical fiddling has been virtually entirely prohibited, and the engines have to be sealed units for the entirety of the season, the whole field limited to 4.0-litre 90-degree V8s pushing out around 470hp.

The big change, however, is for 2012, with the cars moving to a coupe bodystyle instead of the previous saloon shape (although this is still essentially a silhouette formula - the coupe bodies clothing a carbon-fibre monocoque and steel-tube roll cage). And although the regs are more tightly controlled - control parts will be used in all non-performance areas - the rule-makers at the DTM are keen to stress that innovation will still be rewarded.


The control parts, they say, comprise just five per cent of all components, so that aero, chassis and engine developments are still eminently possible - and the car builders will have the opportunity to display their technical prowess in making the best possible touring car within the regulations.

There is also a third manufacturer once again involved in the sport following Opel's pull-out at the end of the 2005 season - BMW is back in DTM for the first time since 1992. BMW's return is seriously big news for the DTM, as it means that the 'Big Three' German premium marques are once again duking it out in a direct fight on tracks in Germany, the UK, Austria, Holland and Spain.

BMW hasn't won a DTM title since Roberto Ravaglia took the crown in 1989 with an E30 M3, so the folks from Munich are going to be hungry for success on their return to the series.


The seriousness with which BMW is approaching its DTM comeback after a two-decade hiatus should not be underestimated, either. It might have been the slowest of the three marques so far in testing, but BMW has some serious firepower behind it. It's nabbed Mercedes star Bruno Spengler, reigning champ Martin Tomczyk, and has brought in Brit touring car ace Andy Priaulx among its driver line-up.

BMW has also clearly got the respect of its rivals - Audi competition boss Wolfgang Ullrich certainly isn't counting them out: "BMW has been very intensively preparing for the DTM for more than a year," Ullrich tells Autosport. "And, just like Audi and Mercedes, [it has] developed a new car according to new regulations which are the same for everyone. In view of the touring car know-how that BMW has gathered in many years of work in the field [in championships such as the WTCC], we're expecting to meet with a very strong rival - and that's exactly our assessment of BMW right from the first race weekend on."


Reading the form book when any racing series undergoes big changes is tough, but this year's DTM seems particularly wide open - Mercedes old-hand Gary Paffett has topped time sheets in pre-season testing, but has gone on record saying that the season will be too close to call until it gets underway.

Given that the Audis are right on the pace with Mercedes, and that most observers reckon BMW won't settle for being also-rans, it looks as if the DTM could be set for a vintage season. Which is why we'll be heading to Hockenheim next weekend to see the dawn of a new-era of German touring cars. Should be exciting stuff, and you'll be able to read all about it here on PH.


DTM: A video history


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