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The DTM: A lesson in German subculture


I recently had the pleasure and honour of travelling with BMW Motorsport to witness the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, or German Touring Car Masters) season finale. Having been a fan since the original DTM series that ran until 1996, the setting at Hockenheim and the championship points race made a perfect plot for my first experience. Audi driver Mike Rockenfeller had already secured the driver title in his No. 19 RS 5, but the fight was still on for the coveted team and manufacturer trophies.

I arrive at the track on race day, in a whirlwind trip that has me flying in straight from Atlanta after watching the first three hours of the final American Le Mans running of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

Running on adrenaline, coffee and the few hours of sleep I manage on the plane, I am quickly brought to life when I sit shotgun in the new BMW M6 Gran Coupe, part of BMW's Munich-based VIP Shuttle Service that employs drivers with advanced BMW performance driver and security driver training.

I'm immediately impressed by my first up-close encounter with the newest M6, but the real eye-opener comes when our driver reaches the autobahn. Pedal-to-the-floor acceleration to over 250 kilometres an hour in a twin-turbo performance Gran Coupe is something that must be experienced – and it is just the 'boost' my senses needed en route to Hockenheim.

Unfortunately the wet Atlanta weather followed us across the pond for the DTM finale, but it does little to dissuade fans from seeing who will capture the team and manufacturer titles at one of Europe's iconic tracks, and the biennial home of the Formula One German Grand Prix. Going into the final round, Audi holds only a slight lead on BMW for the manufacturer's trophy, 325 points to 317.

In the paddock, fans weave in and out of each other in an orchestral procession of umbrellas as the rain continues to fall heavily.

dtm 2013-04-09-0018The quality and grandeur of a DTM paddock is akin to Formula One, but with a uniformity that looks more like a study in pattern design. All 24 of the three manufacturer-backed team trucks are dressed identically and lined up perfectly. Behind them are the garages that house the most impressive and technologically-advanced touring cars in the world.

Each vehicle is a culmination of cutting-edge technology from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Audi develops the driveshaft, transaxle and half shafts; BMW develops the steering, fuel and electronics system, and Mercedes-Benz develops the carbon-fibre monocoque and steel roll cage.

Despite this conceived partnership to create the ultimate race car, once the technology is developed, each team and manufacturer is free to exploit it to its full potential. Even amongst factory teams alterations are ultra-secret.

Seeing the cars up close for the first time, they are easily as impressive – if not more so – than a Formula One car. Inside and out the vehicle is covered in carbon fibre and tightly-packed technical systems. The driver's seat is completely engulfed in carbon fiber, and beside him sits the fuel cell for optimal weight balance. The electronic packages in the centre console and the dashboard are more than anyone should be able to handle at any speed, and they make the cockpit look more like a spaceship than any GT or touring car I've ever seen. Paired with the banner that extends across the top of the windshield, the car also seems nearly impossible to see out of.

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On the underside of the tub is the side-exit exhaust and gold heat-temperature foil protecting any accessories from melting on contact. On the exterior are the carefully-placed, tiny aerodynamic pieces, which despite their appearance, play a vital role in the outcome of a race position.

In DTM qualifying, time is of the essence like no other series. The driver is pushed to his absolute limits where the difference between first and 24th on the grid is often one second or less. It speaks volumes to the skill these drivers posess. 

When the cars line up for the standing start, the enormous grandstands at Hockenheim are filled with thousands of fans as lively as any European football match – flags waving, people donning the colours of their favourite manufacturer, and cheers and jeers that seem to echo for kilometres.

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On the top level at the final turn grandstand is a reminder of the passion and severe risk of the sport; fans wave a flag giving tribute to the late Porsche Supercup driver and then-championship-points-leader Sean Edwards, who passed in a tragic accident in Australia just one week prior.

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The weather begins to clear as the green flag waves. Polesitter and 2012 Champion Bruno Spengler launches off the line and leads after his first pit stop, but a motivated Timo Glock avoids a first lap collision and races an incredible 32 laps in his yellow MTEK BMW M3 before pitting. The former F1 driver emerges in second behind the Mercedes of Roberto Merhi, who struggles for grip and cedes first to Glock with just six laps remaining. Glock crosses the line for his first-ever DTM win in front of Merhi, while Spengler holds on for the final podium position.

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A non-points finish by BMW Team RBM left the door open for Audi Sport Team Phoenix to capture the 2013 team trophy, but most importantly, four BMWs finish in the top 10 at Hockenheim, giving the Bavarian automaker its second-straight Manufacturer's Championship by 22 points after being away from the sport for 20 years.

Glock's MTEK teammate Marco Wittmann also caps off the hugely successful season for BMW by taking top rookie honours.

BMW DTM team photo

“This really means a lot,” BMW Global Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt says following the dramatic finish. “It is a tough environment here, it's a mega professional, super tight racing series, and to come back into DTM after 20 years – winning three titles last year was already mega – but then to reconfirm with the manufacturer's title and Marco's Rookie of the Year, that's really a hat's off to all my guys. I'm really really proud.”

From the cold, wet bleachers to the luxurious hospitality suites, the fan support and regimented personnel live up to the DTM's mystique. The support the series garners is a direct result of the hard work and dedication among each manufacturer to provide excellent competition and technological advancement.

But foremost, the series is an example of patriotism at its finest.

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Motorsport is built into the fabric of Germany. It is home to the fastest highways and beautiful roads that run along the Rhine River and through the Black Forest; the legendary Nurburgring, unequivocally the most dangerous and picturesque racing circuit this world has ever seen, and four of the world's greatest performance and luxury automakers in Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. If anything, the DTM is evidence of that strong culture and legendary automotive history.

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