As racing worldwide gets back underway after the enforced pause from the global COVID-19 crisis, there’s a steady stream of announcements from teams about changes in their programs and priorities.
One series that is attracting more external interest than most is the high-profile national touring car championship in Germany, the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM),.
The DTM was already struggling for commercial traction in the wake of the withdrawal of Mercedes AMG at the end of 2018 after 19 years. The series then lost the stopgap R-Motorsport Aston Martin effort after just a single year at the end of 2019.
Worse, the first big factory program in world motorsport to be pulled during the COVID-19 shutdown was one of only two marques remaining, as Audi announced its withdrawal from DTM competition after the end of the delayed 2020 season citing a focus for future motorsport effort based on electric and customer racing. The company fielded no fewer than nine of the 17 registered entries for this coming season.
That was a crushing blow to DTM, and leaves the series with just a single factory operation – BMW – and leaves the DTM’s organizers ITR scrambling for a solution to keep the series alive.
Industry sources from Germany, and public statements from ITR’s Chairman, ex-F1 driver Gerhard Berger, have suggested that a variety of very different formulae have been considered.
A reeling back from the high-tech ‘Class One’ Touring Car formulae to lower-performance touring cars such as TCR seems to have been rejected. So too has a proposal to recast the DTM around GTE/ GTLM-type GT racing cars.
More recently, adoption of the forthcoming LMDH prototypes, due to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship, has been considered, but the timeframes for the introduction of the new cars is not yet clear in the wake of COVID-19, and there are, as yet, no confirmed factory takers either – and the clock is ticking loudly for DTM.
The favored solution then appears to be a formula based around FIA-homologated GT3 cars, likely with a more generous balance of performance than are currently seen in national and international competition, including IMSA’s GTD class, to enable performance levels at something close to the current DTM levels.
There is little in terms of concrete detail at present, but there are signs that DTM will struggle to get a foothold even with that solution.
In particular, that’s because some of the significant teams currently running Audi machinery and set to leave at the end of 2020 are very actively planning their replacement programs, and there’s little or no indication of an appetite to stay.
That’s particularly pointed from two of Audi’s representative teams that have very significant capabilities in GT3. Nurburgring-based Phoenix Racing has taken two DTM drivers’ championships (2011 with Martin Tomczyk and 2013 with Mike Rockenfeller) and the 2013 team championship.
They have also had huge success in endurance racing, with no fewer than five overall wins at the punishing Nürburgring 24 Hours and a win overall at the Spa 24 Hours.
Despite that though, team principal Ernst Moser is not looking to the DTM’s potential GT future for his next program. Instead, he’s focusing on a shift to LMP2 racing in 2021, alongside the team’s GT3 plans as Phoenix target a role in LMDH prototype racing if and when factory teams and monied customers pick up the baton.
And fellow 2020 Audi DTM squad Team WRT is also looking outside the DTM for its next program, with CEO Vincent Vosse also looking at LMP2, and at the potential role of GT3 to supplement and/ or replace the currently troubled GTLM/ GTE Pro classes in international sportscar racing.
As with Phoenix Racing, Team WRT has had enormous success in GT3: twice winners of the Spa 24 Hours, winners of the Nurburgring 24 Hours, winners of the Bathurst 12 Hour and Suzuka 10 Hours and multiple championship winners in Europe in both sprint and endurance formats.
But despite the fact that DTM’s best option for survival effectively fits the capabilities of both Phoenix and WRT like a glove, neither team are actively targeting a return in 2021.
With the 2020 DTM season set to start at Spa Francorchamps on 1 August, details of the plan for 2021 will be a hot topic among the teams, drivers and followers of the series.