As Audi produced its five-millionth A4 model recently, the car is set to embark on a new season in the DTM German Touring Car Championship at Hockenheim on May 1. And this year, the teams will be on new Hankook rubber.
The 2011 season will be the fourth and final year for the current A4 DTM, originally developed by Audi Sport for the 2008 season under the "R14" project name. The car evolved to become the "R14 plus" in 2009 after a technical update. Both versions are in action this year because DTM technology has been frozen since August 2009 to limit costs. Audi Sport is working on the new "R17" successor to comply with new 2012 regulations but the technicians face a completely different challenge for the 2011 season when they must adapt the A4 to new Hankook tires, after the company became the DTM’s exclusive tire supplier.
Without being able to alter the car’s technology, Audi must adapt the car better than it did in 2010 after Audi suffered after a new design from the former supplier did not work well with the A4 DTM.
The Audi drivers complained about the lack of "feedback" from the front axle and the rear tires could not be stressed as much as in previous years. "Our hands were tied since the technology is frozen," remembered Head of Audi Motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, recalling the 2010 season in which Audi only won two races after previously taking three successive DTM championship titles.
The Audi Sport technicians were justifiably nervous when the DTM changed its tire supplier. During joint development tests with Hankook, the primary aim was to configure a tire for the 2011 season that suited the competing manufacturers – Audi and Mercedes.
Previous tests appear to confirm this has been achieved: "We applaud Hankook," said Mattias Ekström, DTM Champion in 2004 and 2007. "The company has designed and produced a tire for the demanding DTM racecars like our A4 DTM and it works very well. The tire functions immediately on the first lap in qualifying, and in the race we expect excellent durability, which is why, in my opinion, the races will be even more exciting. I think the field will stay much closer together for longer."