It’s been a long wait for the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) to get back to action, but with pre-season testing completed by all three manufacturers and 24 drivers, the scene is set for another exciting year in one of the most competitive touring car series across the globe.
At the end of 18 races over nine race weekends, we will see a new champion crowned, but with a notable absentee in the form of reigning champion, Pascal Wehrlein, who has now graduated into Formula One with Manor Racing.
So with a third of the grid being made up of former champions, our very own Alex Goldschmidt takes a deeper look into what we can expect in 2016.
With the current performance aspects of the race cars being fixed once again, the DMSB (German Motorsport Federation), rights holders ITR e.V., all three manufacturers and the DTM Drivers’ Association, have been hard at work over the winter to see how the “show” can be improved.
One of the biggest changes that has been welcomed with open arms is that of the performance weight regulations, which compromised many drivers last year, as it was based on the results of the respective manufacturers.
For 2016, it will be based on the respective qualifying results that the drivers achieve, with a maximum of a five kilo handicap.
This will tighten up the field in qualifying, and provide all 24 drivers with a fairly level playing field when the racing starts at Hockenheim.
The Drag Reduction System (DRS) usage has also been limited for this season, as each driver will still need to be under a second behind the car in front for it to be activated.
However, the drivers will be restricted to certain amount of activations in both the sprint and main races, depending on track length. This provides the teams and drivers with a further strategic element to consider for this year, making it more of a “push-to-pass” consideration.
BMW are the only manufacturer that have received special dispensation from the governing body, as all eight M4 DTMs will be 7.5 kilos lighter than the Audi Sport RS5 DTM and the Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM at their base weight, as well as being allowed a rear wing span that is 50mm wider than its rivals.
With any highly-charged and competitive series, the DTM is no different in this aspect, as all eight former champions will be looking to stamp their authority this time around.
Both Timo Scheider and Mattias Ekström have two titles to their credit, with the former being the only current driver to have last secured back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.
Ekström, who is currently the most decorated driver, in terms of race wins (21 to his credit), will be continuing his duties in the series, alongside running his EKS RX FIA World Rallycross outfit.
BMW’s Marco Wittmann and Audi’s Mike Rockenfeller showed incredible consistency in their respective drivers’ title campaigns, before Pascal Wehrlein started to reduce the record books into a pile of rubble last season.
Mercedes-AMG DTM veterans, Gary Paffett and Paul Di Resta, who won the drivers’ title in 2005 and 2010 respectively, are also ones to keep your eyes on.
Martin Tomczyk and Bruno Spengler are the two veteran stalwarts in the Munich camp, with the former having taken the 2011 championship with Audi Sport. Expect them to also make a charge to the front, especially with the dispensation that the new M4 DTM has received ahead of the season opener.
But the man that has the potential to get his first drivers’ title, is Leicester’s very own Jamie Green, who eventually finished runner-up to Wehrlein after a season of ups and downs.
The Brit, who is still remaining with Team Rosberg for this year, blasted away from the field, taking three out four race wins in the first two weekends of the year.
However, after a disastrous weekend at the Red Bull Ring, where he was plagued with gearbox issues in the first race, it started a spell of five successive non-finishes, which ultimately scuppered his chances.
But one man that knows that he has worked hard over the winter towards a better 2016, is fellow Audi Sport alumni, Allan McNish, who we spoke to about Green’s chances at the Autosport Show back in January.
Those waiting in the wings
Out of the talented field that the DTM now sports, there are many that have made their mark in the series, especially with last year’s action being so unpredictable.
Edoardo Mortara was again in the hunt for the driver’s crown last season, but the Italian’s luck ran out in the penultimate race of 2015, with multiple dramas catching him out at the last gasp.
BMW Motorsport are keeping tabs on their line-up, with António Félix da Costa, Tom Blomqvist, Augusto Farfus and Maxime Martin having shown a great mix of experience and youthful vigour, which could help in the silverware coming back to the house of the ‘Ulitmate Driving Machine.”
Jens Marquardt’s squad, who came from behind to snatch the constructors’ crown from Audi Sport last year, will be on the hunt for a possible repeat of their successes from 2012, where the brand secured an emphatic clean sweep of all three titles after a 20 year absence.
There are several drivers that will be looking to aid the Stuttgart efforts for Mercedes-AMG DTM, as Robert Wickens, Daniel Juncadella, Lucas Auer, Maximilian Götz and Christian Vietoris will make their respective returns to the grid for this season.
The new C63 AMG DTM is the manufacturer’s new challengers, following in the footsteps of the new cars that both Audi Sport and BMW have brought under the new regulations, which were implemented in 2012.
The only driver to be the latest addition to the grid is France’s Esteban Ocon, who made his DTM race weekend début at Hockenheim last year, standing in for a poorly Juncadella during the first free practice session of the weekend.
Apart from one major change in the calendar, which sees the Hungaroring replace Oschersleben, following a year’s absence after its return in 2014, the anticipation couldn’t be any higher.
The lights will go out once again in Hockenheim, where the V8-powered monsters will roar away from the start line. It’s looking like another fine season ahead.