TG chats with Audi motorsport chief

“This is a very special situation,” opines Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi’s motorsport division. He has a glint in his eye and a wry smile. “It’s the three brands that have the highest level of competition, in some of the biggest markets. The expectations for the race result from all three are high.”

He pauses to reflect on the upcoming DTM season. We’re sitting in the opulent confines of Goodwood House – itself a shrine to motorsport – and he appears to take in the heady aroma of history permeating this magnificent locale.

“Nobody wants to be a loser.”

Naturally, his team’s eight champion’s titles in 15 years, 64 victories and 53 fastest laps over 194 races will come as little solace ahead of the 2012 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters. Because for the first time, Audi, BMW and Mercedes will go head to head in one of the most competitive racing series on earth. That’s right, the German Big Three will battle it out in the new, revitalised version of the DTM. Mercedes has a long and rich history in DTM, while BMW practically dominated the series in the 1980s.

And as we previewed way back in the February issue of Top Gear magazine, there are very interesting new rules and regulations governing the 2012 season, in a bid to spice up the racing and keep the fans on the edge of their seats.

Costs are some 40 per cent lower, thanks to many standardised parts that each manufacturer must use. The carbon chassis, paddle-shift gearbox, dampers and steering rack, for example, are all off-the-shelf bits the three will use, meaning that the engineers have only the engine and aerodynamics to themselves.

“Aerodynamic efficiency is important,” says Dr Ullrich. And we’re inclined to believe this man, a legend in the research and development teams of various automotive companies and holder of a doctorate in technical sciences. “With our last A4 DTM car, the airflow was going completely through the front to the rear of the car. Now the rulebook has banned this, so we have to bring all the air that goes under the splitter into the front of the car, outside of the car before it hits the rear axle.

“We have done a lot of intensive work into these aerodynamic aspects, and I hope we can work out a small advantage there.”

Indeed, looking at one of these DTM beasts is a sight to quicken the pulse: they’re biblically angry machines, plastered with so many aero parts and wings half of you wonders whether they’ll take off come the first corner in Hockenheim. All in all, there’s about 1,000kg of downforce over the rear of these new DTM cars, themselves weighing in at just over a tonne. And each sporting a ludicrously tuned, 500bhp V8. That gets a salutary tip of the cap from TG.

Still, development time is a different universe from race day, and Dr Ullrich is, naturally, cautious. “There are a lot of question marks before we go into the first race at Hockenheim,” he says. “We might have been testing together over the winter, but I have to say we don’t really know where the others are, and – I think – they don’t really know where we are.

“So the surprise is up to the various points in qualifying, after which we’ll understand our competitors a little bit more. And even then, one single qualifying in Hockenheim… we have to be careful not to take too much information out of that.

“Lausitzring is immediately the weekend after Hockenheim, and is quite a different circuit because it is basically a low grip track; a little bit the other way around to Hockenheim. I think that after these two races we should get a feeling where the competitors are and where we are.”

He also takes the time to spell out the importance of pit stops. Anyone who’s watched the last few races in Formula One will will instantly understand why many P45s could very well be dished out to some of the pit crew following some very famous on-track hiccups. And in this, he labels it so: “You need a car that is, for the mechanics, not a threat.”

Yes, these DTM cars make The Terminator look like a children’s party entertainer, but a ‘threat’? “It must be easy to maintain, because there is a lot of work to be done,” he clarifies. “Pit stops will be a key factor in the races – it’s not just lap times.”

Quite. But it’s Dr Ullrich and his team’s job to concentrate on such nuances as tyre wear, pit stop performance and aero. In the end, he’s acutely aware the DTM is not about science, nor engineering, nor complicated mathematics understood by few. It’s about entertainment.

“I personally like the Red Bull Ring – it really is a great race track. Sure, the Norisring is good for the DTM series itself, because it’s only DTM that’s doing it there, but if you are mentally ready to do so, you can spend nearly an entire weekend of holiday at the RBR… with a little bit of racing on the side.”

Roll on Hockenheim. Have a look at the three cars, and then, whilst making loud engine noises and using utter conjecture, tell us your predictions for this series, Internet types.

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