DTM: Looking ahead to Spa-Francorchamps

Feature Image Credit: Audi Media Center

After a long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this weekend the 2020 DTM season gets underway at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium. Ahead of the opening round, let’s introduce the class of 2020 and recap what happened in testing.

Spa-Francorchamps will play host to the season opener for 2020. The series hasn’t visited the iconic Belgian circuit for over a decade, having last raced there back in 2005. There is just one driver on this year’s grid who has participated in that last race – Jamie Green, who made his DTM debut that year. Unlike the other eight events, the season opener will take place across two days instead of three. There will be a practice session on Saturday morning, followed by qualifying and the race with a second qualifying session and race on Sunday.

This year’s grid consists of 16 drivers across the two manufacturers with seven driving a BMW and nine in Audis. Current manufacturer champion Audi is retaining the same six drivers in their lineup from 2019. First in the lineup is Rene Rast, who won his second title last year, and will enter his fourth full year in the series. His first races in a DTM car were back in 2016 when he had to replace Adrien Tambay in Zandvoort and Mike Rockenfeller in the final weekend at Hockenheim. On both occasions he proved himself to be a great asset to the team. Scoring 17 victories, 27 podiums and 13 pole positions, his short career has been quite impressive.

Rast’s teammate will again be Jamie Green, who is the most experienced driver on this year’s grid with 193 races under his belt. The British driver made his debut back in 2005 for Mercedes. However, in 2013 he decided to make the switch to Audi. Despite having started almost 200 races, Green has never won the championship. His most successful year was 2015, in which he became vice-champion behind Pascal Wehrlein.

Both Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline and Team Phoenix remain unchanged as well. Nico Mueller, who battled with Rast for last year’s title, and Robin Frijns stayed loyal to Abt Sportline, the team from Kempten. Mueller made his DTM debut in 2014, with Frijns joining the series in 2018. Both drivers also juggle their DTM commitments with roles in Formula E, so the pair have a busy month ahead, as the final six Formula E races are scheduled during the next two weeks.

Image Credit: Audi Media Center

Driving for Team Phoenix are Mike Rockenfeller and Loic Duval. For Rockenfeller, this will be his fourteenth season in the series. In those 173 races, he achieved 6 victories, 30 podiums and 6 pole positions. The Audi driver is also a former DTM champion, having taken the title back in 2013. He was in the title fight again one year later but in the end, finished 3rd. The years that followed were difficult, but his goal right now is clear. Rockenfeller wants to be the last Audi driver to win the title in DTM. Duval has less experience in the series, as he only entered in 2017. Last year, he finished 7th in the championship, scoring one podium in Misano.

Audi’s customer team, WRT will be competing with three cars this season. Three new faces and two rookies. Their only driver with experience in the series is Ferdinand Habsburg who made his debut last year for Aston Martin R-Motorsport. Despite only finishing in the points twice, Habsburg has shown enough skill to be rewarded with his WRT seat. The team’s two rookies are Fabio Scherer and Harrison Newey, both known from single-seater series like Formula 3 and 4.

Newey became champion in the Asian Le Mans Series in the 2017-2018 season, while in 2019 he raced in Super Formula. Newey will be stepping in for Ed Jones, who was meant to drive for WRT this year but is stuck in Dubai due to travel restrictions. “I’m really excited to join the WRT Team Audi Sport for the 2020 DTM season,” said the Brit. “I can’t wait to get started at Spa. DTM is such a historical championship and it’s an honour to be a part of it. I can’t wait to get going in my rookie season and be a part of such a high competition. It’s going to be a good challenge for me and that I’m very excited about.”

DTM’s second manufacturer BMW is making a few changes to their line-up for 2020. Their two most-experienced drivers this season are Marco Wittmann and Timo Glock, both have 112 races under their belt. Wittmann is a double DTM champion having won the championship in 2014 and 2016. Last year, he was the only BMW battling with Rast and Mueller for the title, but in the end, finished 3rd. Glock, also an ex-Formula 1 driver, made his debut together with Wittmann. However, he has been less lucky during his time in the series, scoring a total of 14 podiums but no championships. BMW Team RBM’s first driver is Philipp Eng who is starting his third season in the series. Last year, he scored his emotional maiden victory, which he dedicated to the late Charly Lamm.

BMW has two South African drivers in their squad this year: Jonathan Aberdein and Sheldon van der Linde. Aberdein is new to the BMW RBM team this season, having made his DTM debut last year with Audi’s customer team WRT. Teammate Sheldon van der Linde debuted for the Munich-based manufacturer last year. He started from pole position one time and finished in the points 8 times.

Their sixth driver is someone who’s had a little break from the series – Lucas Auer. He raced in DTM from 2015 to 2018 for Mercedes during which time he scored 4 victories, 10 podiums and 9 pole positions. After Mercedes’ exit from the series, he spent last year racing in Japan in the Super Formula, finishing 9th in the championship. Now he’s back in DTM with BMW Team RMG, sharing a team with Wittmann and Glock.

Image Credit: Team Orlen Twitter Page

The final driver on the grid is Robert Kubica. The Polish driver is known for his time in Formula One from 2006 to 2011. In February of that year, while still having a Formula One contract, he got badly injured in the Ronde di Andora rally. He underwent several surgeries and began his rehabilitation two months later. In the years that followed he was active in rally racing. In 2018 he returned to Formula One as a reserve driver for Williams. Last year, he got a full-time seat for the Williams team, partnering George Russell. This year, he will make his debut in DTM with privateer team ART Grand Prix, driving the BMW M4 DTM.

Last month, from the 8th to the 11th of June, the series ran four days of testing at the Nurburgring. Multiple measures like distancing, using protection and temperature checks combined with multiple zones being allocated to each manufacturer and the tyre supplier Hankook ensured the event ran smoothly.

Over these four days, WRT’s Habsburg emerged as the fastest driver with a lap time of 1:18.911. Mueller ended in second place overall with a 1:18.944, which makes these two the only ones within the 1.18. Fastest BMW was van der Linde in fifth, with a 1:19.070. The three rookies Kubica, Scherer and Newey ended 12th, 13th and 16th.

The works teams were only allowed to run one car per team whereas the privateer teams had permission to run up to two cars. That meant, Kubica was allowed unlimited running on all four test days racking up 541 laps and 1,963.289 km in the car. Only one driver drove more laps and distance than him: Phoenix’s Rockenfeller. Rockenfeller managed to complete 569 laps and over 2,000 km. He stepped in for his team-mate Duval, who broke his collarbone a few weeks before and was still in pain.

It seems that Audi is the dominant manufacturer again, though we’ll only get an accurate picture of where they all stand this weekend in the practice and qualifying sessions. For this weekend’s season opener, practice is on Saturday morning instead of Friday starting at 09.00 am local time. Qualifying starts at 10.55 am and the race at 13.30 pm.

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