Germans absolutely love their cars – and their motorsport – and if you ever needed evidence of that, switch on any DTM race and check out the fans.
DTM, or Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, is Germany's touring car championship that races across Europe and is contested by three brands — Mercedes-AMG, Audi and BMW. But, in a wake-up call to the series, Mercedes confirmed earlier this year it would quit the DTM at the end of the 2018 season to focus on the all-electric Formula E race series. A sign of the times, perhaps?
Each manufacturer races a silhouette race car that uses a brand supplied 4.0-litre naturally aspirated engine, air restricted and producing 373kW of power (500hp). Drive is sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed semi-automatic gearbox with steering wheel mounted paddle-shifters.
Under the skin, sits a custom-built chassis and safety cell, unrelated to the road car. To keep competition tight and costs down, there are a host of control parts shared across all three brands; such as the transmission, brakes and tyres.
Aerodynamic parity testing is done prior to the season and locked in for the entire year. In fact, the aerodynamics are part of the reason these cars are able to corner so quickly – up to 2.0g – thanks to incredible amounts of downforce these cars generate.
To get up close and personal to the action, last weekend CarAdvice was invited to spend some time checking out one of the most popular round of the DTM season, the Nurburgring round.
Part of the reason this particular round is so special is because it sits within the shadow of the world famous Nurburgring Nordschleife (northern loop). The DTM race is held at the Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit, which connects to the northern loop, the home to some of the very sports cars produced by the likes of Mercedes-AMG, Audi and BMW.
DTM events run over two days, with a single 55-minute (plus one lap) race on Saturday and another on Sunday, with a mandatory pit stop required during each race.
We were a guest of the Audi Phoenix Racing team, which has two cars and two drivers in the series. During our couple of days at the track we went into the pits, had a chat with some of the drivers and even had, what the series calls a 'taxi ride' but we know better as a 'hot lap', in a DTM racer.
The noise these cars make is absolutely incredible. There are crackles, fire exploding from the exhaust pipes and incredible cornering speeds. The reliance on aerodynamics also means that any damage sustained during a race can adversely affect a car's cornering performance, which is important on a fairly short and technical circuit like the Nurburgring GP track at around 3.6km in length.
We spent some time in the pits to see how the team works during practice and during Sunday's race. The pit crew are is a smaller team than we were expecting and as a result, efficiency needs to be high to maintain track position.
A control Hankook tyre is used by all teams and a remarkable amount of effort goes into ensuring a level playing field. Each garage has a scrutineer that scans barcodes on tyres that come off vehicles to ensure they are compliant, with each tyre featuring a unique barcode that's catalogued prior to the race.
An additional engineer from Hankook is on hand to check tyre temperatures and ensure each tyre is performing as it should. There's another scrutineer in the garage that keeps an eye on aerodynamics to make sure teams don't make any adjustments after being given settings at the start of the season.
To make the series even more exciting, there are no driver aids. Things like ABS and traction control are nowhere to be found, leaving car control directly up to the driver.
And, being the Nurburgring, the weather was absolutely hectic and unpredictable. Saturday had an incredible amount of rain that was on and off, making driving at speed hard, while Sunday was sunny and dry.
Audi Sport Team Phoenix driver Loic Duval summed it up pretty well, describing the Nurburgring as an iconic place.
"For sure, it's a special event for us. Team Phoenix is based here and this track is something special in the history of racing. I have been racing here with the LMP1 and it's a great track," said Duval, who won the Le Mans 24 Hour with Audi in 2013.
"It might not be the best weekend for us with the weather. At the end we are going to get it home and it's always nice to be able to race here in Germany with the support of the DTM fans."
"I'd love to go to Australia to race in a bit of V8 and the 12 Hour. Bathurst is something... the racing is great, it's a different type of car but Australians love the sport," he added.
The most exciting part of the weekend (for me, at least) was getting the chance to ride shotgun in a 2016 Audi RS5 DTM car. Driven by ABT Sportsline driver Daniel Abt, I donned a race suit, helmet and HANS device and manoeuvred my way into the 'passenger' seat.
The noise from outside is loud, inside it's another story altogether. The noise is matched by vibrations and incredibly violent gear shifts. As we raced down the front straight, it was a sudden jump onto the brakes, through the corner and back on the throttle. The huge level of downforce means that you can carry more speed through a corner because the faster you go, the more downforce you have.
It was an incredible experience that goes to show how much talent is involved in driving a raw race car like this fast.
If the name Phoenix Racing sounds familiar, it's because the Nurburgring-based team has raced in each Bathurst 12 Hour from 2012-2016, taking out the title in 2012 and coming close each year since.
Team boss Ernst Moser told CarAdvice he loves racing at Bathurst, but it's a challenge to get the entire team to Australia each year.
"The first big step that you have to do to race in Australia, you start to plan in October and in December the containers are leaving," said Moser. "The containers come back in April and the season in Europe starts. For one race, it's more than four months a year with the equipment and cars out of the factory!
"When you are there, it's one of my favourite races in the world. I like it because the track is famous, the people are famous and the atmosphere is great – except for the kangaroos as traffic!
"Starting at five in the morning with the sun coming up and the birds, you just don't see this in Europe."
"I'd like to come again; five years in a row we were there," said Moser.
Watching the final DTM race from the pits and getting the chance to see the excitement of fans in the stands echoes the V8 Supercar experience in Australia. German fans absolutely love this sport and like in Australia's domestic touring car category, changes to engine regulations will make for an interesting future for both sports.
DTM vehicles will switch from 4.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 engines to 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engines from the 2019 season.
If you get the chance to watch a DTM race in Germany, we'd highly recommend it. The atmosphere is electric and the racing tough.
We had the chance to spend some time exploring the Nurburgring region, along with a first-time drive of the Nordschleife by yours truly. Keep an eye on the site in the coming weeks to read about it.