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How Abt Audi brought back Red Bull to the DTM

Red Bull will return to the DTM next year as the chief sponsor of Abt, with both its Audi R8 LMS GT3 cars carrying the famous colours of the energy drinks giant. Here’s how the German squad managed to bring Red Bull back to the DTM.

Team Abt Sportsline DTM 2024

Team Abt Sportsline DTM 2024

Abt Sportsline

There was a great degree of surprise in the DTM paddock when Abt took the covers off its 2024 challenger at the Hockenheim finale last month. A shiny new Audi R8 LMS was showcased late in the evening to a huge hoard of photographers and journalists, with the car sporting the famous blue-and-red livery that has become a distinct identity of Red Bull in motorsport. 

While confirming that Abt will continue its long-standing relationship with Audi despite the German manufacturer’s decision to curtailing its GT3 programme, the reveal also marked the start of a new partnership with Red Bull, a brand that had heavily been involved in the DTM in the past. 

Most recently, Red Bull fielded its own team in the DTM between 2021-22, giving race opportunities to the likes of Liam Lawson, Alex Albon and Nick Cassidy

But Red Bull’s most recent involvement in the DTM came largely thanks to series owner Gerhard Berger, who wanted a major brand to help promote the championship following the demise of the manufacturer-led Class 1 era. So when Berger sold the DTM to German automobile club ADAC at the end of last year, Red Bull also followed the Austrian through the door, leaving a major hole in the series.

Nobody would have expected such Red Bull to return to the DTM in the future, but Abt has managed to strike a deal to bring the brand after an absence of just one season - and at a crucial juncture as it prepares for a future independent of Audi.

Team presentation Team ABT Sportsline DTM 2024, Kelvin van der Linde, Team ABT Sportsline, Ricardo Feller, Team ABT Sportsline

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Team presentation Team ABT Sportsline DTM 2024, Kelvin van der Linde, Team ABT Sportsline, Ricardo Feller, Team ABT Sportsline

Key to this transaction was Abt’s marketing head Harry Unflath, who is easily one of the best people in the entire industry.

"Harry Unflath is always in contact with the very top at Red Bull," Abt Managing Director Thomas Biermaier told Autosport sister title Motorsport-Total.com. "He has always worked on it. When he realised that the door was slowly opening again, he immediately got his foot in." 

"It's like husband and wife. You can tell when there's interest. And then you have to be there."

Another leading figure in the Abt-Red Bull deal was former DTM driver and the team’s current sports director Martin Tomczyk

Tomczyk drove for Abt in Red Bull colours from 2004-10 and continued to carry the logos of the brand on his helmet and cap until retiring from the series at the end of the 2016 season.

Further, Tomczyk acted as series manager and representative for Berger's ITR organisation in 2022 and in this role also had frequent dealings with Red Bull’s decision makers.

"In him, we have a former Red Bull driver who also helped with his contacts," said Biermaier. "The two of them landed this together."

Martin Tomczyk, Audi A4 DTM, Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Martin Tomczyk, Audi A4 DTM, Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline

Long-time DTM fans will remember that Abt enjoyed a long partnership with Red Bull from the rebirth of the series in 2000 until ‘17, when two-time champion Mattias Ekstrom called it quits to focus on rallycross.

However, Abt’s association with Red Bull outside of motorsport goes as far back as three decades, and it continues to provide parts for the company’s road car fleet. 

"We supply them with the cars for the field service in Germany," Biermaier revealed.

The Red Bull logo first appeared on an Abt Audi in the Super Touring Car Cup (STW) in 1997, three years prior to their tie-up in the reborn DTM. 

Red Bull involvement enables Abt to stay with Audi

Abt’s partnership with Red Bull is important for the Kempten-based company in more ways than one. That is because Audi will no longer be providing financial backing to its top teams in GT3 racing, reducing its involvement to a mere supplier of spare parts. 

The deal with Red Bull, along with renewal of contracts with other sponsors, ensures Abt can independently finance the running of a two-car team in the series next year.

The new sponsorship agreement was announced at Hockenheim in the presence of Hohensinn, showing the power Abt holds in Red Bull circles.

"There is definitely some compensation [from Red Bull]," said Biermaier. "That was also a decisive reason for us to remain loyal to Audi. For them, it was important that it was the DTM and that it was Abt."

Abt had previously flirted with the idea of switching to Lamborghini, another brand of the Volkswagen Group, and had even entered a Huracan GT3 at the Nurburgring 24 Hours this year.

But it eventually decided to continue its long-standing association with Audi, despite the lack of a financial incentive from its partner manufacturer.

The team will continue to have an all-pro line-up in the DTM next year, with both Ricardo Feller and Kelvin van der Linde staying on for another season.

Ricardo Feller, Team ABT Sportsline Audi R8 LMS GT3

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Ricardo Feller, Team ABT Sportsline Audi R8 LMS GT3

Abt's marketing head brought Red Bull to Volkswagen

Interestingly, Abt marketing head Unflath, who has held this role since mid-1980s, previously played a small role in Red Bull’s rise in Germany.

Back then, the son of former Volkswagen CEO Carl Hahn had his car tuned by Abt and Unflath asked him to speak to his father in order to get an appointment with the Volkswagen canteen manager.

The plan worked out, Unflath and Red Bull's general manager Robert Hohensinn met with the Volkswagen decision makers in 1994 and all Volkswagen canteens started serving the drink, which was still controversial at the time due to its effects on the human body.

Red Bull proved to be very popular with shift workers and it was reflected in the turnover of the company.

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