Gerhard Berger’s decision to shut down DTM promoter the ITR and sell the brand rights of the DTM at the end of last year came as a shock to many, including those that were part of the championship. However, it has brought the DTM under the umbrella of ADAC, Germany’s premier automobile club, and it can only take the series to greater heights in the coming years.

ADAC has been treating the DTM as its prized possession ever since the takeover was completed and it was even ready to reposition its successful two-driver GT Masters as a second-tier category under the ‘DTM Endurance’ banner, before backtracking in the face of opposition from teams and drivers.

ADAC is keen on growing the DTM in its core German-speaking markets and has made a number of changes that should make it more attractive to fans and competitors. Combine that with a strong line-up of teams and drivers, there are plenty of reasons for fans to tune into this weekend’s Oschersleben curtain-raiser.

1. Rene Rast in a BMW

René Rast, Schubert Motorsport BMW M4 GT3

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Rene Rast is easily the DTM’s biggest and most recognisable star. The three-time champion will be back on the grid this year, except this time armed with a BMW M4 GT3 after departing the Audi fold.

Rast did take some time getting used to the Audi R8 LMS GT3 again following a 2021 sabbatical that followed the DTM’s move away from Class 1 cars, but once up to speed he challenged for race wins and took the championship down to the wire at Hockenheim - eventually ending up a strong third in the standings behind Sheldon van der Linde and Lucas Auer.

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To make matters more interesting, van der Linde will be his team-mate at Schubert Motorsport this year and Rast will have to come up with his best in order to give the South African a run for his money. Following pre-season testing, Rast was unsure if he will ever be able to fully gel with the M4, but it would be foolish to dismiss his prospects of adapting.

A championship assault is unlikely as Rast will be forced to miss the Zandvoort round due to clashing commitments with McLaren in Formula E, but the 36-year-old can be counted on to be a regular contender for victories and podiums.

2. Last Audi season?

Ricardo Feller, Team ABT Sportsline Audi R8 LMS GT3

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Despite the best efforts of customer racing boss Chris Reinke and new motorsport head Rolf Michl, there is growing evidence that suggests Audi will shut down its customer racing division at the end of 2023, meaning it could be the last season in which cars from the Ingolstadt-based manufacturer will race in the DTM.

Audi’s GT3 programme has been on a steady decline in recent years with Rast and Nico Muller - not on the grid this year after joining Peugeot in the World Endurance Championship - among its big-name factory drivers defecting. A decline in its annual budget has only made things worse.

Abt Sportline will lead Audi’s charge in the DTM following the withdrawal of Team Rosberg, with the German team running a pair of cars this year for factory driver Ricardo Feller and Kelvin van der Linde, the latter now competing independently of Audi and signing directly with Abt.

The rebranded Attempto Orange1 team will expand to two cars this year for works drivers Mattia Drudi and Patric Niederhauser, while Luca Engstler will pilot the fifth and the final Audi on the grid this year for his family-run Engstler Motorsport team.

The R8 LMS GT3 received a second Evo upgrade package only last year and can be expected to put up a challenge against its rivals, with Feller and Drudi combining to win against strong GT3 opposition in the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup at Brands Hatch earlier this month.

3. Jack Aitken among fresh faces

Jack Aitken, Emil Frey Racing

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Nine drivers will be making their DTM debuts this weekend, but Jack Aitken's is a name that will stand out from the rest. A one-time race starter in Formula 1, Aitken proved his credentials with Emil Frey Racing in GT Masters and GT World Challenge Europe in recent years, and remains with the Swiss squad in a Ferrari 296 GT3.

The Sebring 12 Hours winner will have to miss Zandvoort due to his IMSA SportsCar Championship commitments with Cadillac, which won’t be ideal for his rookie campaign, but Aitken is firmly targeting becoming the first British driver to win a race since Jamie Green at the Nurburgring in 2019. 

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Rising Mercedes young driver Jusuf Owega also has the potential to create headlines and, having been given the chance to drive for last year’s title-winning GT Masters team Landgraf alongside proven DTM ace Maro Engel, will have the right people around him to flourish.

Elsewhere, Tim Heinemann will make the step up to DTM after winning back-to-back titles in the GT4-based DTM Trophy, and will be a part of a six-strong DTM attack from Porsche.

Factory Lamborghini driver Franck Perera, Porsche ace Christian Engelhart and Bernhard driver Ayhancan Guven will all be competing in their first full seasons in the DTM, although the three got one race outing each last season as replacement drivers - Guven particularly impressing at the Norisring in an unfamiliar Ferrari.

4. Big names return

2023 DTM class

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

While several drivers on the 2023 DTM grid might appear anonymous to an international audience, and it’s unfortunate to see the trend of pay drivers continuing in the series since its GT3 switchover, there will be no shortage of top-line professional racers in this year’s field.

Apart from Rast, Feller, brothers Sheldon and Kelvin van der Linde, the 2023 grid will be headlined by several high-calibre factory and professional racers, many with race-winning and championship-winning experience.

Two-time DTM title winner and BMW works ace Marco Wittmann will lead the assault for series newcomer Project 1 and will seek to give a tough fight to stablemates Rast and van der Linde after a 2022 season in which he was held back by previous team Walkenhorst Motorsport's lack of testing. 

Mercedes will be hoping to recapture title glory with Luca Stolz (HRT), Lucas Auer (Winward) and Maro Engel (Landgraf) after losing 2021 champion Maximilian Gotz from its line-up. Stolz, Auer and Engel are all race winners in the DTM and Auer put in a late charge to come up just 11 points shy of the crown in 2022. Now recovered from the broken vertebrae that put him out of the Daytona 24 Hours, Auer will be itching to carry on where he left off.

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Lamborghini will have two top-line drivers in Mirko Bortolotti and Perera, both racing for the SSR Performance team that has made the jump from Porsche machinery over the winter. Bortolotti was one of the star performers of 2023 and, together with Perera, Lamborghini will be aiming to finally bag its first victory in the DTM this year.

Dennis Olsen and Thomas Preining will be teaming up at Manthey EMA after both impressed as rookies last year, scoring all three of Porsche’s wins between them.

5. 2023 changes

Car group shoot

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

ADAC has made a number of changes to the sporting regulations after taking over the DTM from Berger’s ITR operation. Firstly, the length of the races will be increased by five minutes to an hour plus one lap, enabling more on-track action.

Points will now be awarded all the way down to 15th place (25-20-16-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1), a marked change from the F1-style scoring system where only the top 10 drivers received points. The top three drivers in qualifying will continue to get bonus points, but there will be no extra incentive for the fastest lap in the race.

Success ballast will continue to be used in DTM, but the top three finishers from each race will only have to carry 20, 10 and five kilograms of extra weight to the next race as instead of 25, 15 and five kilos previously.

The Balance of Performance will now be handled by SRO, which is also responsible for equalising the speed of cars in other ADAC categories including GT Masters. In the last two seasons, AVL was responsible for determining the BoP in the DTM.

Following criticisms about the Indy restart procedure, which some claim contributed to a crashfest at Hockenheim last year, the DTM will switch to flying restarts in 2023.

The pit window, meanwhile, has been shortened to between the 20th and 40th minute of the race. Earlier, drivers could complete their mandatory pitstops as soon as the 10th minute of the race.

The DTM will also introduce a MotoGP-style long lap penalty system which the drivers will have to pass at a speed of 50km/h. It will cost them roughly five seconds.

But the biggest change of all will be the switch to Pirelli tyres, which are markedly different from Michelin rubber most of the DTM drivers are familiar with. The Pirellis not only vary in durability to the Michelins, but they also require a lot more time to get up to temperature. With no tyre heating allowed in the DTM, drivers will face an uphill battle to stay ahead of the competition on their outlaps.

6. Long absent tracks return

Thomas Preining, Manthey/EMA Porsche GT3-R

Photo by: Markus Toppmöller

Six of the eight rounds in 2023 will take place in Germany, as part of the decision initially taken by ITR to focus more on German-speaking nations. This means the 2023 calendar looks vastly different to recent years, when races were equally split between Germany and the rest of Europe.

Both Portimao and Imola have been dropped to make way for Oschersleben and Sachsenring, two circuits that are returning to DTM after lengthy gaps. 

Oschersleben was a regular fixture on the DTM calendar since the series’ rebirth in 2000 and it was only dropped in 2016, when Hungaroring joined to the schedule. Its narrow and winding course will pose a challenge to drivers, with Sheldon van der Linde explaining it doesn’t offer “a  moment for a mental break” based on his previous experience in GT Masters.

The other returning venue is Sachsenring, which is best known for hosting the German round of MotoGP since 1998. Sachsenring was featured in the first three seasons of the ‘new DTM’ from 2000 to 2002, but is now making a comeback after more than two decades. Some drivers and teams already have raced at the Sachsenring from their time in GT Masters.

The Sachsenring has been absent from the DTM calendar since 2002

Photo by: Andre Irlmeier / Motorsport Images

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