DTM: Top Gear’s highlights of the 2013 season

DTMFor those who feel racing is all about the driver, in DTM this year it was about 29-year-old Mike Rockenfeller. The survivor of that monster shunt in the dark at Le Mans in 2011  is now 2013 DTM champion, joining a roll call of Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters that includes racing legends and fellow Germans Bernd Schneider, Klaus Ludwig and Hans Stuck.

Rockenfeller won it for Audi, who along with the 2013 World Endurance Championship and first place at Le Mans, also picked up the team prize in the DTM with its RS5 silhouette racer. But this wasn’t really Audi’s year. Not in DTM anyhow.

If you combine Audi’s own headline results with those of Mercedes, they still don’t eclipse those of the gathered BMW teams. In a ten-race series, BMW M3 DTMs won five races and took five pole positions. Only just back in the DTM after a long break to race in the World Touring Cars, the M3 will make room for the new BMW M4 next year. Only the brave would bet against that car picking up where the M3 left off…

By the time the DTM 2013 reached its finale, back at the Hockenheim where it started (after a five-month tour that took it to the UK, Austria, Russia and Holland), the BMW M3 was just about unbeatable. Not that it stopped everyone from going hell for leather in the race of the season, and a stirring vindication of all the DTM’s management has achieved this year with the introduction of F1-style option tyres and DRS rear wings.

The new ideas haven’t always worked, and the races sometimes became more oblique than Grands Prix (for the 700,000-odd fans who bought tickets for the ten races, especially). But they did mean that anyone could win, from anywhere on the grid. The hard-to-read, wet-and-dry track in Hockenheim proved the formula worked as the talent came through the pack to the front, drivers like Spain’s Roberto Merhi and Timo Glock grabbing their simply magnificent V8 supertourers by the neck (an AMG Merc C-Coupe and M3 respectively) and showing everyone what DTM is about, namely, astonishing machines and awe-inspiring car control.

Timo Glock, you may remember, was the man who found himself at the right corner in the wrong gear at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2008, and allowed Lewis Hamilton to get by to win the F1 World Championship. With as much grace as was possible in the circumstances, he was let go by the Marussia F1 team at the start of 2013. BMW, recognising the value of an F1 driver in the DTM, signed him up straight away, but until that last race, 2013 was not his year.

It was the DTM’s counter-narrative – the young guns lining up to take shots at the legends – that came to the top in 2013. Rockenfeller may be no stranger to DTM but his win at Brands Hatch in the UK this year was his first. Canadian Robert Wickens took his first DTM win at the Nürburgring with a drive with probably the finest overtaking manoeuvre in racing this year. Then there was Brazilian Augusto Farfus, who won the opening round and two of the last three en route to the runner-up spot in the driver’s championship. 2013 was only the second DTM Farfus has completed since graduation from the World Touring Car Championship.

Other highlights? Wickens’s drive at the new ’Ring among them, but also Glock and Merhi’s drives at the season finale. There has been the inevitable contact and there have been moments of farce, notably when qualifying was stopped short in Moscow to allow President Putin’s private jet  to fly over the raceway (this meant grounding the DTM’s safety helicopter).

DTM is catching on among the global fraternity, and next year the series will be in China. Sadly it won’t be in the UK. Nor will it be in the USA until at least 2017, as delays in negotiating the complex maze of US governing authorities have pushed back the original deadline.

Japan’s racing bosses have had no such problem and the process of harmonising Japan’s Super GT series and the DTM starts next year, leaving us with the tantalising prospect of grids full of DTM cars from a whole flush of premium car makers racing across the globe from 2017…

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