Wednesday, April 05, 2006

DTM Preview

It’s a new season for DTM, the premier German touring car series, and there are some notable changes. Since there’s very few different makes of car (two this year, with the withdrawal of Opel) it’s easy to get confused as to who’s who. So here’s a list of drivers with their number, team and sponsor:

Bernd Schneider, #2, AMG Mercedes, Vodafone
Jamie Green, #3, AMG Mercedes, Salzgitter
Mike Hakkinen, #8, AMG Mercedes, AMG
Bruno Spengler, #9, AMG Mercedes, Daimler-Bank
Jean Alesi, #10, Persson Mercedes, Stern
Alexandros Margaritas, #11, Persson Mercedes, Truck Store
Mathias Lauda, #21, Persson Mercedes, currently sponsor-less
Stefan Mucke, #17, Mucke Mercedes, TV-Spielfilm
Daniel La Rosa, #18, Mucke Mercedes, TrekStor
Susie Stoddard, #22, Mucke Mercedes, Auto Scout 24
Martin Tomczyk, #4, Team Abt Sportsline Audi, Red Bull
Matthias Ekstrom, #5, Team Abt Sportsline Audi, Red Bull
Heinz-Harald Frentzen, #6, Team Abt Sportsline, Veltins
Tom Kristensen, #7, Team Abt Sportsline, Siemens
Christian Abt, #12, Audi Sport Team Phoenix, Playboy
Pierre Kaffer, #14, Audi Sport Team Phoenix, Castrol
Frank Stippler, #15, Team Rosberg Audi, Audi S-Line
Timo Scheider, #16, Team Rosberg Audi, Audi S-Line
Olivier Tielemans, #19, Futurecom TME, Henk
Vanina Ickx, #20, Futurecom TME, Audi Zubehor

That’s it, 20 drivers, of which I’d say five are in with a shout at the championship: Hakkinen, Green, Ekstrom, Frentzen and Kristensen. Hakinen now knows the tracks and has already won once. Green can step out of Gary Paffett's shadow now that Paffett has moved to F1. He's got the talent to follow in Paffett's footsteps. Frentzen finally gets a decent car to show why he may actually have been the quickest guy from the old Sauber Group C team that featured a certain Mr. Schumacher. Kristensen is also a winner, he just needs to be a bit more aggressive. And finally, Ekstrom is surely the favourite. I mean, he can run in the top 6 of a WRC event just for fun!

With Opel leaving, there's some notable team changes. Team Phoenix have switched to Audi and run 2005 cars. They pick up Abt and Kaffer. Kaffer is Audi using Porsche's approach to factory drivers: young, fast and crashing someone else's car while they learn.

Joest have also left to run the new R10 in the sportscar world. Their loss is partially made up for by Rosberg moving from Merc to Audi with S-Line sponsorship. They'll run 2005 cars with the fast young Stippler and Timo Scheider, who can finally show his speed after years in Opels.

A new Audi team, Futurecom TME, arrives, run by Colin Kolles of Midland F1 fame. His best hope for success is the very fast Vanina Ickx, daughter of the legendary Jacky. Their major handicap is 2-year old cars.

Over in Mercedes, AMG again run 4 cars and pick up Spengler. Alesi moves to Persson after typically inconsistent seasons with AMG, where he joins Niki Lauda's son Matthias. Don't expect much from either driver. Rounding out the Merc challenge, Stefan Mucke's father's team will run Stefan, and newcomers Susie Stoddard and Daniel La Rosa - another team that will run near the back.

One other item of note is the drivers missing this year: The aforementioned Gary Paffett, Manuel Reuter, Allan McNish (returns to sportscars), Marcel Fassler (goes to the Swiss Spirit Le Mans team) and Laurent Aiello (retired).

It looks like being Audi's year - their flagship team, Abt, is the match of AMG Mercedes, and their second level teams are definitely stronger than Mercedes' customer teams. It would be nice to see a 3rd manufacturer involved, but the Aussies have shown that an expensive 2-make touring car championship is feasible if the racing is exciting.

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