The DTM stands tall among the world’s elite race series as much for its technical brilliance as for the spectacle it creates. After all, when the name entered the international lexicon, you can conclude it made its mark.
Forged in the late ’80s as the German touring car championship, it was one of the premier tin-top series. However, the organizers went their own way in 1993 when Group A was dropped in favor of Class 1, ushering in 2.5L V6 engines and introducing the awesome Alfa Romeo 155 V6 TI. However, the series stuttered and disappeared in the late ’90s, only to re-emerge in 2000 with a new formula but only Mercedes, Audi and Opel competing. By 2006, Opel had withdrawn, and so it remained until BMW re-entered DTM this year, pitting the three premium German marques against one another with new technical regulations that allowed coupe body styles to be used and operating costs reduced.
With the Mercedes DTM budget rumored to rival its F1 expenditure, the manufacturers campaigned to reduce costs and a representative declared 2012 would be approximately half that of the previous year thanks to numerous new measures. For example, American BMW driver Joey Hand explained to us during a tour of his Samsung BMW M3 DTM, that his team was only allowed three sets of carbon brakes for the entire season. This obviously slashed costs but meant drivers go into brake preservation mode towards the end of each race, using a manually operated water spray to cool the components.
The sophisticated aerodynamics were curtailed for 2012, losing some of the smaller winglets to make them less sensitive while drafting. Although they still sprout carbon addenda from every panel, this is a simplified version of previous years and no enhancements can be made mid-season. Each car must use a spec splitter and rear wing, but ducting and winglets are unrestricted. As is air management around the side and rear, although the floor must be flat.
To avoid costly engine development for the other manufacturers, BMW agreed to construct its own 90˚ 4.0L V8 32v. These aren’t production based and carry 28mm inlet air restrictors yet still produce around 500hp on the same Aral 102-octane fuel used by everybody. Only three motors are allowed per car per season, and the specification has been frozen for three years to avoid development costs.
Up to 50 mechanical components were standardized throughout the series, including the same Hewland transmission used by all teams, as well as the 300/680-18 front and 320/710-18 rear Hankook Ventus tires. Then there are the aforementioned AP Racing carbon discs and pads, and every team uses Bosch electronics, but car-to-pit telemetry is now banned.
Minimum weight for a DTM car, including the driver, overalls and helmet, is 2425 lb (1100kg) and they must include the new carbon safety cell and rollcage stipulated by the rules. This houses the driver’s seat alongside the fuel cell, and is surrounded by six deformable crash elements.
The exhaust system runs alongside the safety cell, exiting just under the door and making the very wide sill sections incredibly hot after each race. Joey explained that exiting the car in a hurry is particularly difficult, given the tight cell and the heat, but that since his car burnt to the ground during a test at Lausitzring, drivers have practiced their exit procedure.
Another spec item is the steering wheel, and teams aren’t permitted to add extra buttons that might have nefarious uses. However, each driver can customize the rim, so Joey uses a cut-down aircraft-style yoke.
Despite all these measures, DTM is a major undertaking. Joey Hand’s pit crew, for example, came from Toyota’s F1 effort. We watched as the engine and transmission was warmed by a pre-determined computer program, its lubricants externally heated for the entire weekend when the car wasn’t running.
With Audi and Mercedes running four two-car teams, BMW had three and its complement of young drivers includes reigning DTM champion Martin Tomczyk, who defected from Audi, plus three-time World Touring Car champion Andy Priaulx. Hand is the only American in the entire series, driving for the RMG squad based near Nürburg. He’s clearly adapting well to his first season and has become a fan favorite for his unrehearsed comments.
Using US-style city stadium events to bring DTM action to large population areas, the traveling circus pitched its tents outside the 1972 Olympic Stadium in Munich. Within walking distance of BMW’s corporate HQ, assembly plant, museum and Welt building, this was the home race for the Bavarian team. However, the tight track and intermittent rain showers created uncertainty.
The paved stadium was divided into two identical 2014ft “figure-8” tracks, with cars running side-by-side in very close racing. Winning margins were often less than a tenth of a second, keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats.
The action was non-stop, with stunt drivers and riders entertaining the crowd between the DTM rounds. There was even a music concert at lunchtime to keep the entire family happy.
We were incredibly fortunate to get firsthand experience of the track by being invited to take a passenger ride in a FIA GT4-spec M3 piloted by BMW test driver Marco Wittmann.
Equipped with a full cage, racing Recaros and smelling of race fuel, it was a series of frantic laps with the driver continually on full power or under heavy braking. We were thrown around as Marco power-slid the M3 out of each tight turn, expertly skimming the concrete barriers.
Down on the track, surrounded by 45000 spectators, you got a real sense of the amazing atmosphere as well as the daunting task faced by the DTM drivers, who needed their tightest “Norisring” steering racks to complete the turns. Yet remarkably there were no crashes and only minor body damage to one of the cars.
Saturday was a team relay competition, won by the Mercedes-AMG C-Coupé pairing of Ralf Schumacher and Jamie Green, who beat the two Audi A5 DTM of Timo Scheider and Adrien Tambay.
Sunday saw head-to-head racing, with the loser from each round going home. One by one, BMW’s home team was knocked out, although Canadian Bruno Spengler finished in third for BMW Team Schnitzer in his menacing matte-black BMW Bank M3 DTM. He was eliminated by Jamie Green, who advanced to the final to meet Swede Mattias Ekström in his Team Abt Sportline Red Bull A5 DTM.
Ekström had reached the final by knocking out first Hand and then Tomczyk in their BMWs, although he only beat the latter by 0.09sec in a very close fight.
Compulsory pit stops in the later rounds created even more excitement as valuable tenths were lost to tire changes, but Ekström beat Gary Paffett’s Mercedes more convincingly to reach the final.
Despite very wet conditions, Ekström’s three wins in the “Race of Champions” appeared to give him the upper hand. He won the first race of the final, before the drivers swapped sides and Ekström came through to win by 1.5sec after Green was delayed by his pit stop.
“It was a nice weekend,” said Red Bull driver Ekström. “The car was perfect all weekend but the final against Jamie was tough; I was running behind after the first laps but managed to improve and win. There are no championship points for this victory, but we showed we’re able to win races and it was a fantastic reward for the team.”
Meanwhile, we caught up with Joey Hand who confirmed: “The event in the Olympic Stadium was definitely very special. I’ve never experienced one-on-one duels like that on a racetrack, so it was great fun. It was a great show for the fans; they could get closer to the teams and drivers than at any other race this season.”
The teams had a long break before the remainder of the season, which includes five races in Germany and four around Europe. A BMW representative spoke about how there was a push to expand the series globally, increasing its stature and reach to a wider audience. With discussions for a race in North America and Asia, it could undermine their cost-saving measures, but it’ll definitely help with their air miles!