The DTM will kick off its delayed season at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, with the series facing a crucial time in its history as what is likely to be the final season of the series as we know it gets underway.
With just 99 days spanning the start to end of the nine-event season, the DTM will be active on nine out of the next 15 weekends, with races in Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands.
Gone are the further afield races at Igora Drive in Russia, Anderstorp in Sweden, Monza in Italy, Brands Hatch in the UK and the famous city race on the Norisring in Nuremberg, all due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
The series has also faced significant setbacks during its most prolonged off-season in its history, with both Aston Martin squad R-Motorsport and full factory outfit Audi pulling the plug for 2020 and 2021 respectively.
Although privateer Audi Team WRT has expanded to a third car, and BMW privateer squad ART Grand Prix has joined the series with a sole car for Robert Kubica, the car count stands at just 16 for the coming season – two down on 2019.
Audi’s withdrawal from the DTM at the end of the year, just two years after Mercedes pulled the plug, is a huge blow for Germany’s premier championship, and one which could spell the end of the Class One regulations at the end of just their second year.
ITR Chairman Gerhard Berger has already openly admitted that the series may have to adopt new regulations, such as GT3, in order to survive next year, whilst the prospect of 2020 being the final DTM season has also been floated.
To the sporting side, and Audi’s René Rast will be looking to defend his DTM title in 2020. The 33-year-old was in a class of his own for much of 2019, continuing the form which saw him almost win the title in 2018.
Rast won seven times last year, taking the title by a 72-point margin ahead of stable-mate Nico Müller.
“The anticipation that the DTM will finally get underway is huge, even more at Spa, one of my favourite racetracks,” said Rast. “It’s a really challenging circuit with corners where you need to be brave, especially in qualifying. It’s going to be a cool event.”
BMW’s best challenger last year was two-time champion Marco Wittmann, and the German looks likely to be the marque’s leading contender again in 2020.
For the first time in the series’ history it will get underway at Spa-Francorchamps, marking a return to the calendar for the Eiffel venue for the first time since 2005.
Only one current driver – Audi’s Jamie Green – has prior experience of the circuit, which makes the venue a great leveller this weekend.
WRT Audi newcomer Harrison Newey – who only secured the drive in July after a last-minute test with the team – believes that fact will mean the season opening event is wide open.
The DTM has a long history in Belgium, and the circuit which hosted its first-ever race in 1984, Zolder, will get two back-to-back outings in 2020, with races on 9 – 11 October and then again one week later on 17 – 18 October.
Also joining the series as a rookie in 2020 will be Swiss racer Fabio Scherer, also at WRT, and former Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica.
Kubica is making a high-profile switch to tin-top racing following his departure from F1 at the end of last season, with the Pole being perhaps one of the biggest unknowns in the coming season in the independent ART BMW team.
Aston Martin refugee Ferdinand von Habsburg has moved to the WRT Audi team for 2020, and the young Austrian has already proven he has strong pace by topping the recent ITR tests at the Nürburgring in a comfortable fashion.
The 23-year-old could only muster two top ten finishes in the under-performing Vantage DTM last year, and believes he has a point to prove in 2020 with race wins being the target.
Whilst Audi’s factory teams feature an unchanged driver rostrum, BMW has recruited two faces new to the marque but not to the DTM. Lucas Auer, a former Mercedes driver, joins Team RMR, whilst South African Jonathan Aberdein moves from a WRT-run Audi to line-up alongside the Austrian.
Weekend schedule (BST)
Saturday 1 August
08:00 – Free Practice
09:55 – Qualifying Race 1
12:33 – Race 1
Sunday 2 August
09:45 – Qualifying Race 2
12:33 – Race 2