Why the DTM-instigated upheaval in German motorsport is a big deal

The DTM will be under new management next year, which will result in a number of important changes to the fabric of German motorsport. Team bosses weigh in on what that means for the series directly and the knock-on effects elsewhere

Why the DTM-instigated upheaval in German motorsport is a big deal

The DTM has hit the reset button. Again.

Switching organiser from ITR to the ADAC may not look like such a big change compared to that experienced by the DTM over the winter of 2020-21. But, to the teams that went through the shift from Class 1 tin-tops with full manufacturer teams to becoming GT3 customers, it has been an unwelcome reminder of the uncertainty that brought.

“It is, in a way, a similar feeling, I think,” says Team Rosberg boss Kimmo Liimatainen, whose outfit won three titles in four years with Audi and Rene Rast during the Class 1 era.

His is one of the many teams that has been stuck in limbo over recent weeks, until last Thursday’s press conference staged by the ADAC, unable to plan for the new year with drivers and sponsors because there was no calendar – let alone a commercial agreement with the promoter on which to base contracts.

“We had a luxury situation in the past years with the Class 1 because you would have two years contracts, three years contracts and whatever, so it made life quite a bit easier to plan,” Liimatainen admits to Autosport. “And I think what we’re facing now, it’s pretty much the normal in motor racing. We’ve got to live with it.”

Liimatainen says the DTM teams were left in limbo awaiting news on the future of the series

Liimatainen says the DTM teams were left in limbo awaiting news on the future of the series

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

How we got here

The DTM’s long-time organiser ITR has been headed up by Gerhard Berger since 2017, when the ex-Formula 1 driver took over the helm from series founder Hans-Werner Aufrecht. Berger oversaw the transition to highly efficient 2.0-litre turbo engines for 2019, as well as achieving the long-held ambition of closer ties with Japan’s Super GT series. That resulted in an invitational meeting at Fuji in 2019, after Nissan, Honda and Lexus sent cars to the DTM’s Hockenheim finale. It appeared the Class 1 philosophy had a bright future.

But following the loss of Mercedes to Formula E at the end of 2018, the onset of the pandemic prompted the hammer blow of Audi pulling out in 2020. With only BMW still committed to the series, Berger had to switch the platform to GT3 cars to stay alive. Suddenly, DTM was now up against the ADAC GT Masters championship that already used GT3 cars in a fight to secure entries. This domestic rivalry, many DTM team bosses believe, helped nobody.

“It was more competition between the two of them than working together,” HRT team principal Ulrich Fritz tells Autosport. “As always competition is sometimes healthy, but in this case I felt it was more poisoned and it wasn’t a positive competition. So I think somehow things grow together that belong together.”

Team Bernhard Porsche’s eponymous boss Timo Bernhard adds: “In some areas there was kind of a competition, and I believe that for the future, this would have created more issues.”

But what prompted the ITR’s sale was unrelated to the pandemic, according to Berger. Speaking to Autosport’s sister site Motorsport-Total, Berger insisted that no money was missing but rather laid the blame on problems raising money to finance the planned DTM Electric series.

“The link with this project was the precondition for obtaining the full sponsorship budget,” Berger said. “At the same time, the financing of DTM Electric itself turned out to be more difficult than expected. All in all, this meant that the economic risk for 2023 became too great.”

Berger soon turned attentions to opening a dialogue with the ADAC to safeguard the series’ long-term future, and has begun proceedings to wind down the ITR.

Despite an expanding grid in 2022, the DTM has moved to safeguard its future

Despite an expanding grid in 2022, the DTM has moved to safeguard its future

Photo by: DTM

What will change

Last Thursday it was announced that the DTM will remain a one driver per car sprint series for GT3 cars, and continue to use performance pitstops, to the relief of many team owners. But plenty will change too.

Out go Michelin and AVL as tyre and Balance of Performance partners respectively, to be replaced by Pirelli and the Stephane Ratel Organisation. A supply shortage afflicting Michelin meant many teams found their in-season testing more limited than those outfits who bought their allocation for the year pre-season, while AVL’s frequent BoP changes between sessions were a source of paddock grumbles this year.

“There was way too much movement in this process,” says Fritz, whose team has experience of working with the SRO’s BoP in its GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup. “It is good that we have a more stable BoP now, this is also something I’m looking forward [to].”

The change in tyre suppliers brings DTM in line with other SRO series, while ADAC GT Masters teams including the DTM title-winning Schubert Motorsport outfit also used Pirelli’s new-for-2022 DHF compound this year. Could it bring those DTM teams who have a GTWCE arm or any potential incomers from GT Masters an edge?

“They might have a slight advantage initially,” says Liimatainen, whose team last competed in GT Masters in 2018 with DHD2 tyres that have been replaced twice since. “But I think if you test then you will work it out. At least, that’s the plan!”

There has also been some reshuffling on the calendar front. Portimao, Imola and Spa are replaced by three returning venues in Oschersleben, Zandvoort and the Sachsenring, back on the DTM schedule for the first time since 2015, 2018 and 2002 respectively. That means less travel as the ADAC aims to consolidate its German-speaking base and save money for teams.

As ADAC Sport President Gerd Ennser put it: “It was of great concern to us, shortly after acquiring the trademark rights, to allow the teams to plan with certainty. In achieving this, it was important to focus on the core market.”

To make room for the DTM on its platform, the ADAC has effectively reorganised its pyramid of championships. GT Masters will now become a second-tier series, sharing grids with the LMP3-based Prototype Cup Germany, while Platinum-graded drivers will be barred from entering. It is hoped that the newly-renamed DTM Endurance Series will be an arena for gentleman drivers to thrive, and for young drivers looking to step into DTM to show their credentials in GT3 cars.

Existing DTM support series will also be affected. The DTM Trophy series, a sprint championship for single drivers in GT4 machines, has been canned as the ADAC already has a GT4 series where two drivers split budgets. Mucke Motorsport has only run a single GT3 car in the DTM for the past two seasons, but entered two cars in the Trophy Series in 2022. Although it plans to support the ADAC’s GT4 Germany series, Stefan Mucke laments that the Trophy series is no more.

“It’s a shame because all the drivers we tested so far wanted especially to do that single-driver racing,” he tells Autosport. “There has been no other platform so far and now this is gone.”

Big changes are coming for the new-look DTM in 2023

Big changes are coming for the new-look DTM in 2023

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

What still needs to be worked out?

“It’s good that we know a direction now, and we can speak to the drivers, partners again, make the contracts and so on,” says Mucke.

But some important details for teams to factor into their budgets have yet to be finalised, such as entry fees, catering and fuel costs. The latter, Mucke says, will be especially important, as the ADAC announced last week that the DTM will use “an environmentally friendly and innovative fuel from Shell, made from 50% renewable components, as part of a new sustainability concept”.

“We don’t know what’s the litre price of that,” explains Mucke, “so if the ADAC can find partners to support that, that would be great because that can add a lot more cost or save a lot more cost. We expect more details in the next coming weeks.”

Teams have also lobbied for the divisive double-file restarts favoured by ITR to be abandoned after they were cited as a factor in expensive crashes last year at the Norisring and Hockenheim.

Once all the conditions are in place, Bernhard will be able to continue work on securing an entry for a second new Porsche.

“The entry details are not really clear yet,” he tells Autosport. “We are in discussions with the ADAC and they know that we want to be part of it with DTM and that’s where I see my team. But second car, yes or no, this is not defined yet.

“I’m positive but we still have to wait a bit longer because everything was a bit on hold for the last couple of weeks.”

No mention has so far been made of the DTM Classic platform for older machinery, organised by former DTM racer Peter Oberndorfer in 2022.

Insight: How the DTM is keeping its touring car past alive

Mucke, who relished racing in the championship himself this year in cars prepared by his family team, is insistent that a historic offering should remain on the menu for fans.

“We really hope that there will be a Classic series as well – otherwise it makes it sort of a boring weekend because the spectators are seeing only GT cars,” he says. “They want to see something different. What we have experienced last year with the DTM Classic, a lot of spectators were coming because of these cars, so we believe it’s a very important platform and should be there as well. Probably not on all the race events, but on five, six. It’s what the spectators want to see. We also have some good cars, some different cars, coming for next year and it will be great to have them all in one platform and not to have something different every meeting.”

The DTM Classic proved very popular with teams, drivers and fans - but will it have a place in the future?

The DTM Classic proved very popular with teams, drivers and fans - but will it have a place in the future?

Photo by: DTM

The winners and losers

On the whole, DTM teams are positive about developments. Bernhard believes the DTM “will even be stronger” as a result of the changes.

“With the rescheduling of the motorsport pyramid in Germany, under the roof of the ADAC, they’ve clearly shown that DTM is like the pinnacle of German motorsport,” says the two-time Le Mans winner, who raced in GT Masters as a driver in 2018 and 2019 following the conclusion of Porsche’s 919 LMP1 programme and fielded his team in the series until 2021.

“As a team that made the step to DTM, it’s good news that DTM is still the pinnacle, it’s clearly differentiating the series. That was a historical chance of the ADAC, with this move to also restructure everything.

“I believe it’s now a very strong platform also for young drivers coming up. They have a clear goal again to target if they can’t make the path on single-seaters.”

Mucke agrees: “For the German motorsport, it’s a good direction because you don’t have two platforms anymore, there’s just one main big one and everything is going around that. It makes it more simple.”

But of course, there are two sides to the coin. GT Masters loyalists aren’t happy, feeling their professional series has now been devalued by being relegated in the pecking order, and forced into sharing grids with faster machines that will likely monopolise TV time while also leaving them unable to contend for outright victory.

“This new concept is a disappointment,” said Christian Land, whose Land Motorsport squad won the Nurburgring 24 Hours in 2017. “It’s an affront to us and a backward step for German motorsport. The ADAC GT Masters was a professional top series, which has now been relegated to the status of a support series.” Perspectives will naturally depend on what side of the fence the proponent is sitting.

DTM teams polled by Autosport believe it is unlikely that the same chassis will be able to compete in both series due to the level of detail required to optimise the cars in DTM compared to the aggregated set-ups that inevitably result from a two-driver format. That would appear to leave teams a choice of entering one series or the other, and explains in part the pessimistic outlook of Rutronik Racing’s Fabian Plentz towards the future of the newly-renamed DTM Endurance: “For me, it's completely doomed. I don't see five GT3 cars there.”

In an ideal scenario the best GT Masters squads will pitch up in DTM, as Bernhard did this year with Thomas Preining, and bring with them some of the best drivers missing from the DTM this year that would be unable to return to DTM Endurance under the new rules anyway. The likes of GT Masters champion Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon (although his recently-announced IMSA GTD Pro schedule with WeatherTech may not allow it), and Lamborghini aces Albert Costa and Franck Perera would all be superb additions. So too would Gold-rated series runner-up Ayhancan Guven, who starred with AF Corse in his DTM cameo at the Norisring, along with any number of teams including Land, Rutronik, Landgraf, Joos Sportwagentechnik and Drago zvo.

But, of course, all that is easier said than done.

“It is more expensive, yes,” concedes Bernhard, “but I think there is also a chance of financing the car in a better way.”

Bernhard sees the pros and cons of the reorganisation of the German motorsport pyramid

Bernhard sees the pros and cons of the reorganisation of the German motorsport pyramid

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Why it matters

If the ADAC’s changes have the desired effect, then the DTM could once again be the pre-eminent series in Germany as it was until its Class 1 era ended, with its revamped secondary tier acting as a launchpad for drivers to move onto bigger and better things.

That it may be achieved at the expense of GT Masters is regrettable, particularly given that the two co-existed well until 2021 – at which point it held a strong claim to be the best national GT3 series around. But when it comes to international pedigree the DTM is clearly the bigger fish and the one which, from a point of pragmatism, it makes sense to prioritise.

As Bernhard points out, there’s also an analogy to be made with the benefits seen by IndyCar and the IMSA SportsCar Championship when competing factions were unified.

“In the US when you had Champ Car and you had [the IRL], they combined and IndyCar now is as good as ever, it has really stepped up,” he says. “Or sportscars; I was a huge fan of the American Le Mans Series, but I also did one year of Grand-Am and when they joined you can see also they rise. I think it’s moving in the same direction [with DTM].”

And while ADAC boss Ennser is clear that “the heart of the DTM beats in Germany”, with the first calendar of the post-ITR era reflecting that, its mandate “to organise the DTM, with its cross-country appeal, as a strong international brand on the European motorsport scene” reveals an intent to ensure the championship retains its prestige. That can only be a good thing.

“I think we have to have a bit of patience and await all the final details so we know how things are,” says Liimatainen. “But the key point is the decisions are taken, and the show goes on.”

All eyes will be on the DTM at the start of its latest new era in 2023

All eyes will be on the DTM at the start of its latest new era in 2023

Photo by: DTM

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