Why ADAC shouldn't celebrate if the DTM collapsed

The potential demise of the DTM in 2021 would leave the ADAC GT Masters as the flagship racing category in Germany. But this development might not be such good news for the German automobile federation.

Why ADAC shouldn't celebrate if the DTM collapsed

It would have been natural to expect the champagne to be uncorked at ADAC’s office following Audi’s announcement that it will quit the DTM after the current season. After all, when you consider how the DTM has treated other series including ADAC championships in the past, you would think that the ADAC has cause to celebrate.

However, things are not quite as simple as they look. Let’s take a realistic look at the situation.

In the wake of Audi’s withdrawal, there remains a possibility that the DTM might disappear from the scene in 2021, at least for the time being. However, such a drastic change would not only adversely impact series promoter ITR but also cause concern at ADAC.

Sudden and far-reaching shifts in the balance of power entail incalculable risks - which is why they should be avoided whenever possible. But in the current situation, there’s little ADAC can do. It may have to accept a completely changed landscape in German motorsport.

To put it simply, in the event of the DTM’s demise, the GT Masters series will assume the mantle of the leading series in Germany, whether it likes it or not.

Not a repeat of 1996

Bernd Schneider, AMG-Mercedes C-Klasse

Bernd Schneider, AMG-Mercedes C-Klasse

Photo by: HOCH ZWEI

Initially, the DTM’s fall may sound like positive news for direct rival ADAC. After all, public interest in GT Masters would rise significantly in the absence of an alternative. Moreover, ADAC is already familiar with this situation from the 1990s, when its Super Tourenwagen Cup (STW) offered a substitute for the classic DTM after the latter’s discontinuation.

But a deeper look at the situation shows that the DTM’s hypothetical demise could spell trouble for ADAC. With the DTM gone, the federation would have to assume sole responsibility for preventing mainstream motorsport in Germany from slipping into oblivion.

Apart from the GT Masters, there will be no other top-level alternative for German motorsport fans. Of course, there’s the NES (previously known as the VLN), but its total focus on the Nurburgring Nordschleife very much makes it a niche category. 

ADAC will also have to ensure that fans migrate from the DTM to GT Masters instead of turning their backs on motorsport altogether. As strong as its growth has been in the past, 30,000 trackside spectators are simply not sufficient to keep domestic motorsport relevant in Germany. 

There’s also the question of the cars involved. Admittedly, downgrading from Class 1 to GT3 isn’t as steep a drop as going from old DTM to Super Touring was. GT3 cars are potent racing machines and would offer a similar level of spectacle to Class One, thus making it easier for fans to transition from the DTM to GT Masters.

But again, the situation is not as simple as it appears from the outside. STW was as much a touring category as the DTM was back in the day, but GT Masters is a sportscar racing series with its own rules and principles (let’s leave the discussion about whether present-day DTM cars are really touring cars for another time).

Die-hard DTM fans would have to be convinced of the merits of races featuring Balance of Performance, pitstop windows, driver changes and success ballast.

The prestige attached to the DTM

Jake Dennis, R-Motorsport

Jake Dennis, R-Motorsport

Photo by: Mario Bartkowiak

Let’s face it, much of the DTM’s appeal comes from the involvement of the German automobile giants. The very presence of heavyweights Mercedes, BMW and Audi drew tens of thousands of fans to race tracks, and got millions more to watch the action on their TVs.

Of course, this is not a phenomenon that is just limited to motor racing; fans have always been lured by the leading teams and players in any sport. For example, a Real Madrid-Bayern Munich Champions League tie will always attract more attention than a Borussia Monchengladbach-FC Valencia game, even if the latter fixture delivers a more exciting contest. 

In Germany, this phenomenon is more pronounced than elsewhere. Unlike in the UK, where thousands of fans flock to club races as if they were world championship events, German motorsport fans usually don’t entertain the notion of attending less prestigious races.

In that respect, with GT Masters you have a series that doesn’t rely on manufacturers at all. Instead, private teams play a crucial role in running of the series, something that sits just fine with the hardcore fans that make up its audience.

Casual fans don’t really care if the manufacturer has a factory entry or not, as long as their favourite brand still comes out on top. And these are precisely the fans the ADAC must target if the GT Masters does go on to replace a defunct DTM as the number one racing series in Germany. It’s hardly feasible for ADAC to convert all DTM fans, but it must hope to attract a big chunk of that following to keep national motorsport alive in Germany.

In an ideal scenario, GT Masters could be formally presented to DTM viewers at the season finale in Hockenheim later this year, should the fate of the ITR-run series be sealed by then.

“Go here in future. This is your new home. You will not be disappointed here,” could be the message for tens of thousands of fans who would gather for the last DTM race in the foreseeable future. Such an event could also feature demo runs or perhaps even an exhibition race to give the DTM fans a taste of the GT3-based series.

Flood of out-of-work DTM personnel

Jonathan Aberdein, Audi Sport Team WRT, Audi RS 5 DTM

Jonathan Aberdein, Audi Sport Team WRT, Audi RS 5 DTM

Photo by: Gruppe C GmbH

While the worst-case scenario for GT Masters would be that it fails to capitalise on DTM fans needing a new home, there is another danger that ADAC must prepare itself for.

With the likely dissolution of the Audi DTM teams (and probably BMW-affiliated outfits), a lot of their personnel will have to look for jobs elsewhere. Indeed, due to the coronavirus crisis, manufacturers will not be able to transfer these employees from their motorsport departments to other parts of the company as easily as they may have done in normal times.

Some of them will inevitably end up flooding the much smaller GT Masters series. While such a scenario would bring an increase in professionalism, it would also inevitably raise the cost of competing, something that has already been on a steady rise much before the realities of the DTM’s current troubles came to light.

Rising costs is an issue the ADAC must have on its agenda to maintain good health of the GT Masters series. But because of the pandemic, ADAC’s first priority is simply getting the 2020 season run, leaving it little time to consider various scenarios for 2021.

Bearing in mind all the above, perhaps the ADAC is secretly hoping that the DTM will be able to somehow ensure its survival. As someone at ADAC told me: "Throughout its history, the DTM has always had a very strong will to survive.”

Marco Wittmann, BMW Team RMG, BMW M4 DTM

Marco Wittmann, BMW Team RMG, BMW M4 DTM

Photo by: BMW AG

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