Following the announcement last April that Audi would leave the DTM at the end of 2020, the German championship was forced to abandon the hi-tech silhouette cars that had given it a distinct identity in a crowded touring car racing arena.
Series promoter ITR’s original plan was to run beefed-up GT3 cars in 2021 as part of what it referred to as the ‘GT Pro’ formula, but it quietly settled for standard GT3 regulations following opposition from manufacturers to upgrade their existing offerings.
This was met with criticism from some quarters, with fans and even former DTM drivers questioning how the series would differentiate itself from other GT3-based championships, especially its homegrown rival ADAC GT Masters.
But the DTM has so far managed to assemble a promising line-up of teams and manufacturers, attracting Nurburgring and Spa 24 Hours-winning BMW outfit Rowe Racing, top Ferrari squad AF Corse, and Mercedes customers GruppeM, Winward Motorsport and Haupt Racing among others.
Audi, BMW and Mercedes have all pledged their factory support for the series, with Mercedes also believed to be bringing a substantial budget to assist its customers.
Several top-level drivers have also been confirmed for the DTM’s first season under GT3 regulations, with the likes of Alex Albon, Nick Cassidy and Christian Klien joining established stars like Mike Rockenfeller, Nico Muller and Timo Glock.
AF Corse Alpha Tauri design for Alex Albon and Nick Cassidy
Photo by: Red Bull Media House
Speaking as part of Motorsport Network’s #ThinkingForward series of interviews, Berger believes the championship has once again proved that it is the place to be for professional teams and drivers despite the move to standard GT3 machinery.
“DTM stands for professional race drivers sitting in the cars,” Berger said. “So you have the highest level of drivers coming into the touring car, GT racing. You have the best teams. If you look at our list of who entered the field, it is the best teams existing in these categories.
“Look at Audi for example, they have Abt. That was the team in Class One, exactly the same. That’s their factory team. With Ferrari we have AF Corse, it is their strongest factory team.
“When you look at Mercedes, it’s the best teams. So DTM is known as the highest competitive series in this kind of business.”
Berger expects the pace difference between Class One and GT3 cars to be minimal, and hopes the new regulations will continue to attract more manufacturers into the category.
The DTM featured a three-way rivalry after BMW joined the category in 2012, but it was down to just two marques last year after Mercedes and its quasi-replacement R-Motorsport Aston Martin quit the series in successive years.
“Class One was a fantastic ruleset, I love it,” Berger. “The reason why I love it is because you could see motorsport without BoP (Balance of Performance) and still having a competitive field and wheel to wheel fighting. That’s what fans love to see.
Jamie Green, Audi Sport Team Rosberg, Audi RS 5 DTM
Photo by: Alexander Trienitz
“And BoP is something we all don’t like too much. But if you have different kinds of concepts, technical concepts, you need it. So I understand that some people prefer Class One.
“But at the end of the day, the difference is very small, because the cars look the same. Maybe the cars looks even better as a GT3 car because it really looks like a Mercedes, it really looks like a BMW, it really looks like an Audi, which was missing before.
“Then the big thing [we wanted] for many years was we should have more brands, manufacturers on our platform. Lap time-wise, it’s very close to the Class One. We are talking about three, four or five seconds difference, but it’s more or less the same.”