Assessing the DTM’s options after Audi’s exit

Audi’s impending departure from the DTM has thrown the future of the German category into doubt. From switching to GT rules to a late 1990s-style ‘pause’, we examine what options are available to the series.

Switch to GT3 rules

Pros: The biggest upside of moving to GT3s, as Hans-Joachim Stuck suggested, is the sheer variety of car models available, all of which could be operated at a price that is acceptable to privateers. Both Audi and BMW already have GT3 cars in their arsenal, although BMW’s M6 GT3 is a little long in the tooth now, while such a move would also allow Mercedes and Aston Martin to re-enter the series through their customer teams.

Moreover, DTM can try and convince its existing manufacturers to run factory programmes with contracted drivers, thus ensuring a smooth transition to the GT3 era. Using an externally-devised  Balance of Performance (for example, the same one used by the SRO) would also avoid a repeat of the politics that marred the DTM’s ‘performance weights’ era, which was so hated by ITR chairman Gerhard Berger.

Cons: A GT3-based DTM risks being overlooked by more-established championships, not least its homegrown rival, ADAC GT Masters. Not to mention, GT3 would only provide a short-term solution to the DTM’s current quandary rather than a long-term solution to its identity crisis. 

How likely is it to happen? The GT3 route is the easiest, most cost-effective option for ITR and doesn’t require any manufacturers to get off the ground. 7/10.

#71 T3 Motorsport Audi R8 LMS: Maximilian Paul, Simon Reicher

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Switch to GTE rules

Pros: There are five manufacturers active in GTE in both the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – BMW, Porsche, Corvette, Aston Martin and Ferrari – or six if you count Ford, which only wound down its programme last year. Works teams and privateers alike operate these cars on both sides of the Atlantic, providing great entertainment with the help of Balance of Performance.

A GTE-based DTM would also be fairly unique, in so far as there is no other championship that uses GTE as its top class, or in a sprint race format. The WEC has in the past mooted standalone qualifying races for GTE (albeit never going so far as to implement these), and there’s a certain logic in giving the manufacturers that race these cars a stage of their own.

Cons: While there are enough GTE cars around to fill a grid, it’s far from clear if there are enough teams, factory or otherwise, willing to race them. The last manufacturer standing in the DTM, BMW, may have a GTE car in the form of the M8, but it wound up its WEC programme last year after a single, winless campaign and it’s unlikely to want to dust them down without the promise of at least one, if not two manufacturer opponents.

Also, while faster than GT3s, GTE cars are still a fair bit slower than current DTM cars. In 2018 the DTM pole time was around five seconds faster than the European Le Mans Series GTE pole time around the Red Bull Ring, which is a relatively short track.

How likely is it to happen? In some ways it’s more attractive than GT3, but at the same time it would be a lot harder to pull off. Would hinge on BMW’s backing. 4/10.

#25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: Connor De Phillippi, Bruno Spengler, Colton Herta, Philipp Eng

Photo by: Art Fleischmann

Try and keep Class One alive

Pros: The Class One rules are a product of several years of negotiations between DTM and SUPER GT and have some untapped potential, offering manufacturers the chance to race in both Europe and Japan using the same platform. While the cost of competing is relatively high, regulatory stability would help reduce costs to some extent in the seasons to come. 

Cons: Even if an acceptable grid could theoretically be cobbled together for 2021, it is nearly impossible to imagine how BMW would want to continue in the series long-term without any manufacturer opposition. The possibility of Audi supplying engines even after its exit has been mooted, but such a scenario has already been dismissed by the Ingolstadt brand’s teams, which view Class One cars as impossibly expensive to run independently.

Moreover, SUPER GT’s manufacturers – including Toyota, which has a base in Cologne – have expressed no real interest in running their Class One cars in the DTM full-time, and given how badly R-Motorsport and Aston Martin fared against the established German manufacturers last year, it’s not hard to see why.

How likely is it to happen? Given the current environment, it’s difficult to see how any new manufacturer committing to join BMW. 2/10.

Pietro Fittipaldi, Audi Sport Team WRT, Audi RS 5 DTM

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Add a second class

Pros: Multi-class racing has been successful in SUPER GT as well as established sportscar racing series like WEC and IMSA. Instead of running the DTM Trophy on the support bill, the ITR could simply add a separate class for GT4 (and similar) cars in DTM, thus solving the problem of diminishing grid numbers even if the top class was not well-supported.

Cons: Smaller tracks like Norisring may not have enough garages to accommodate the required number of cars, while multi-class racing always carries the risk of slower drivers getting in the way of the main action. Some might also contend that multi-class racing is too confusing and isn’t the right thing for touring car racing, although both the WTCC and the BTCC have used two-tier grids before during their leaner years.

How likely is it to happen?: No matter what direction the DTM takes, it could always add a second category as an easy solution to bolster the grid. 6/10.

#37 3Y Technology BMW M4 GT4: Akhil Rabindra and Stephane Lemeret

Photo by: SRO

Take a break – and come back stronger

Pros: This is very much the ‘nuclear’ option, but it’s not totally without merit. If the idea was for the DTM to become fully-electric by 2025, it could be possible to bring this deadline forward by a year (or even two), wait for economic conditions to become more favourable and then try again to lure the manufacturers, perhaps including some that are tiring of Formula E.

It also provides the clearest opportunity to completely rebrand the series and throw off the shackles of a name so clearly linked to Germany, if that’s what the ITR and those interested in participating want. Remember that the DTM disappeared once before at the end of 1996 and then after three seasons ‘off’ came roaring back to life in 2000 with three manufacturers, including one (Opel) that had abandoned the series previously.

Cons: Clearly, this option is fraught with risk. If the DTM is put on hold, there’s no guarantee it will ever resume. And going up directly against Formula E is no small task either.

How likely is it to happen? In some ways it’s the boldest option on this list, but it seems unlikely the ITR would willingly let the DTM ‘die’ again as it did back in 1996. 3/10.

Giancarlo Fisichella, Alfa Romeo 155 V6 Ti

Photo by: Sutton Images

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