2020 has been tough on global motorsports with the coronavirus outbreak and social distancing and what not. The German Touring Car series, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, also suffer the consequences with race teams and organisers feeling the pinch. In a surprising revelation, Audi has announced that it will no longer extend its commitments to DTM beyond 2020. However, it’s for reasons that may not be so obvious.
The management board of Audi AG made the announcement last week that it will no longer take part in DTM from 2021 onwards. Current economic challenges and the realignment the brand's initiatives towards its carbon-neutral footprint are two reasons given for leaving the race series. Moreover, Audi’s successful campaign in Formula E and customer racing will be their key focus for their motorsports future.
Formula E seems to be high in Audi’s priority as they are the series’ most successful team since its introduction in 2014. Audi Sport ABT Schaeffer has gathered 41 podiums and 12 wins and more impressively, the team gained the driver’s championship in 2016-2017 and the constructor’s title in 2017-2018. With Audi projecting 40 per cent of their future sales to be electric cars and plug-in hybrids by 2025, it’s no wonder they have such a strong emphasis on Formula E.
However, don’t think Audi is leaving DTM due to lack of success. Having scored 23 championship titles, including eleven driver titles, plus 114 victories, 345 podium finishes, 106 pole positions and 112 fastest laps, Audi is one of DTM’s most successful and influential teams since joining the series in 2004. The 2019 season has been Audi’s most successful season yet, winning all three possible championships.
“Audi has shaped the DTM, and the DTM has shaped Audi. This demonstrates what power lies in motorsport – technologically and emotionally,” says Markus Duesmann, Chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG. “With this energy, we’re going to drive our transformation into a provider of sporty, sustainable electric mobility forward.
Formula E offers a desirable platform for this. To complement it, we’re investigating other progressive motorsport formats for the future.” he adds.
Chairman of the ITR e.V., the DTM’s umbrella organisation, Gerhard Berger has also expressed his regret at the suddenness and short notice of Audi’s withdrawal from DTM.
“Given our common association and particular difficulties we face during the COVID-19 pandemic, we would have hoped for a more united approach. This decision worsens the situation, and the future of the DTM now very much depends on how our partners and sponsors react to this decision,” he says.
Berger goes on to add, “Nevertheless, I fully expect Audi to undertake its planned exit properly, responsibly, and in full partnership with the ITR. My commitment remains to the year ahead, and ensuring we provide our hundreds of thousands of fans with a thrilling and competitive season.”
The exodus of Audi adds further complication to the future of its customer racing teams in the DTM series. Audi Sport Team Phoenix, Audi Sport Team Rosberg and Audi Sport Team WRT are the non-factory teams that currently use the Audi RS5 Turbo DTM. Audi Sport Team Rosberg is the reigning drivers and constructors champion.
Audi has not commented on continuing the supply of engines to its customer teams in the DTM. However, Team Rosberg boss Kimmo Liimatainen believes that even if an agreement could be reached with Audi, it would only prove too expensive for teams to compete in the championship without any factory support.
Audi’s departure from DTM has certainly jeopardized continuity of the sport. With Mercedes-Benz pulling out in 2018, and Aston Martin making a sudden exit at the end of 2019, BMW is the only remaining manufacturer in the entire series. The feasibility of BMW competing in a single-make series is undoubtedly questionable as the benefit gained by BMW would unlikely commensurate the cost involved.
Whatever the case may be DTM officials better put on their thinking hats and come up with a revival plan ASAP. Or 2021 may see another iconic racing series bite the dust for good.