Much is new in the 2017 DTM: The cars now have over 500 hp and at the same time, the level of grip has been reduced. Softer tyres have been introduced, which wear faster and may not be preheated. All eighteen of the races will have the same duration: 55 minutes plus one lap, each with a pit stop. 

The format of the pit stops has also been changed: Previously, thirteen mechanics were allowed to change the four wheels of an Audi RS 5 DTM, but now only eight are allowed to do so this year. More importantly, only two wheel guns may be used, one on each side.

The stationary time of the cars has increased due to the changes. It is clear to see: “Of course, it was fascinating to see that all of the tyres could be changed in three seconds, or even faster, during a pit stop,” says Head of Audi Motorsport Dieter Gass. “But this was hardly visible to the naked eye and needed slow motion replays on the television broadcast.” 

Not anymore. During the final pre-season test ahead of the new season, the fastest pit stops were clocked at about eight seconds. Even if not everyone has shown their hand yet, the spectators can now follow each movement of a pit stop more easily.

The challenge for the mechanics is also greater. In the past, they were required to be precise whilst remaining in the same position. However, now the mechanics need to be precise and be sprinters as they have to run from the front axle to the rear, and vice versa. “The short run between the front and rear wheels requires a lot of speed and also hand-eye coordination when arriving at the other wheel,” says Thomas Biermaier, Motorsport Director at Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline. “This also applies to the mechanic who mounts the wheel. The pit stop format demands a high degree of physical fitness, which we needed to work on during the winter months.”

Continuous pit stop practice is now part of a DTM team’s daily routine. It gets tested daily. All three of the Audi Sport teams have stand-in vehicles for this purpose. At Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline, there is an older DTM car, Audi Sport Team Phoenix has a modified Audi RS 4 and Audi Sport Team Rosberg has a self-built pit stop simulator based on a small Piaggio pickup truck. This pickup is in constant use and has been given the nickname of “Marianne.” “According to our record, we completed 7,641 pit stops last year,” says Team Director Arno Zensen. 

Training with the simulators or the real race cars alone is not enough. You have to be fit in order to control the 20-kilogramme wheel gun, which operates at 18,000 rpm with a force of 2,000 newton metres to loosen a wheel nut. For this very reason, the teams send their mechanics to the gym for coordination, conditioning and strength training under the guidance of exercise trainers several times a week. 

“We use the young and athletic guys for the pit stops,” reveals Dirk Theimann, Team Manager at Audi Sport Team Phoenix. “We have some experience with this thanks to our involvement in GT racing, which has a similar pit stop format. The sequence of tasks during a pit stop is completely new for the DTM.”

 

The importance of each team member is even more important than in the past. Not only is more expected from the drivers, but also from the mechanics. “It will be exciting,” says Head of Audi Motorsport Dieter Gass. 

 

The new race against the stopwatch will be seen for the first time during the season opener at the Hockenheimring from 6 to 7 May. Tickets and Audi fan packages for the start of the season are available here.