DTM is considered to be the most hight tech of all “tin top” racing. In fact it is so competitive that it’s one of the breeding grounds of future F1 drivers.
Three manufactures compete in it, Audi, Mercedes and BMW and unlike almost any other form of motorsport… every driver on the grid is a paid professional.
To drive a DTM car is an honor and a privilege and up until today only the world’s best drivers had ever been given the opportunity to experience them.
That is until we got an email from Mercedes asking if we’d like to try their new 2016 Mercedes DTM car at Hockenheim.
A ‘quick’ thirty six hour jaunt from Cape Town, South Africa, to Germany and I find myself at the track surrounded by worker bees stripping down three story hospitality structures that were setup by each manufacturer just for the DTM race weekend that had passed by.
Eventually it was my turn to get into the car at which point the realisation of what I’m about to experience finally hits me.
I climb in horizontally as I squeeze through a tight roll cage and over a massive carbon sill into a tiny area for the driver which is completely devoid of common day luxuries that you’d find in your daily road car.
The seat, specifically moulded to DTM driver Maro Engel’s body, just barely fit my shoulders and my helmet was slightly skew in the tight confines of the car. The position of the seat is as far back and to the center as possible. If this was a road car I would basically be sitting in the rear passenger seat as the teams try to get the driver as close to the center of the car as possible.
Once strapped in, a mechanic hands me the steering wheel with grips that are just big enough for my hands – wouldn’t want any unnecessary weight now would we? – and buttons for a number of settings which I won’t be using today.
Finally after a short briefing between myself and the engineer it was time to start her up.
I flick a switch in the center cross beam, press the clutch and hit “Start” on the wheel. Almost instantly the car literally barks into life with a loud bang that cameras simply don’t do justice.
I hold down neutral, select 1st gear, ease off the clutch and I’m away.
Straight away I’m aware of the precise control weights of the throttle, brakes, gear paddles and steering. Every single input generates an immediate response from the car without hesitation.
Given that I’m basically sitting directly on the carbon tub, the vibrations from the engine and the road are transferred directly up my spine as I head down the track. The moment is real and there’s no hiding from it.
Banging through the gears on the back straight at full throttle I am left wondering if there’s more power hiding somewhere. DTM cars generate around 520bhp and with a weight of 1100kg they’re not slow by any means but I couldn’t help but feel like there was something missing. Compared to the Ferrari GT3 that I race in the Blancpain GT Series it was not out of this world quick on the straights.
Having said that the sound is simply incredible and the moment I lift off the throttle there is a loud crackle and pop which no one could ever get tired of.
If the engine power is a little underwhelming it’s the complete opposite of everything else.
When it comes to racing cars people often ask about engine performance but very rarely question braking. The truth is that braking is where it’s all at. If you think 520bhp in an 1100kg chassis gives you a kick, wait until you stand on carbon brakes at 250kph.
The car doesn’t stop so much as it basically goes into some kind of reverse warp drive. My eyes pop out of my skull and anything that is vaguely loose, like seat belts or radio cables, shoot forward in an instant while my eyes re-adjust and look for the corner.
Upon rolling off the brake pedal and diving for the apex I’m stunned by the car’s ability to rotate on its own axis. It’s almost as if a wheel in the middle of the car has dropped down and turned the car on a point. It’s truly astonishing and goes to show how well sorted these race cars are at any speed.
Out the tight hairpin, down another straight, I quickly accelerate back up to 250kph and through a right hand kink which is easy flat in cars which generate this much downforce. Back into a hard braking zone and through a tight complex I tip it into a 3rd gear right hander which is heavily reliant on the wings and diffuser to pull me through.
In DTM downforce is the name of the game and though these machines look like road cars they actually behave more like single seaters. The forces I experience through the turns are difficult to describe and was reminded of them when I woke up the next morning and parts of my body that I never knew existed were hurting.
Adjusting to a car which is so reliant on downforce requires a completely different approach. You need to trust that when you tip into a corner that the rear of the car will stay planted even though the initial sensation is of something that is loose and without grip.
As I tip into the corner the car squats and settles as the downforce comes into play. Almost immediately after turning in I wish I went in a bit quicker as I come to realize the sheer performance of the wings and diffusers.
After a brief 3 lap run I pull into the pits for a quick chat to the team while they check tire pressures and refuel the car. I’m then given one final 3 lap run before parking the car for good.
It all ends way too soon and by 12pm I’m at the airport watching the onboard footage and trying to come to terms with what I’d just experienced.
Even while writing this review it’s difficult to comprehend how surreal it all was. The lasting impression is that of precision and refinement where ultimate horsepower is not the aim but instead the focus on getting around a track in the quickest time possible. It’s pure and unfiltered driving at a level few get to experience…
Happily GTSpirit are now one of the few.