If you’re a motorsports fan, then you’ll know the German-based Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) is one of the leading tin-top series in the world. Similar to SuperGT in Japan and IMSA in America (all three series are working towards a common rules package), the series is silhouette racers that look like production cars but are actually advanced machines running carbon monocoques, multiple aerodynamic add-ons and turbocharged engines.
As with most tin-top racing series, the DTM allows manufacturers to showcase the excellence of their road going product so fans get to see Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz battling it out on the track. And just like other races where big saloon cars race each other in a handicap format, paint swapping door-to-door racing is the name of the game. There are limits though and Audi may have overstepped some at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg last weekend.
Here’s the setup. Race 1 on Saturday was won by Edoardo Mortara in an Audi RS5 but Audi’s championship leader for 2015, British driver Jamie Green, was a victim of mechanical issues. His DNF allowed 20-year old DTM phenom Pascal Wehrlein to take over the points lead after he finished the race in second. Wehrlein drives a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. It was also the first time all year an Audi driver did not lead the standings.
On to Race 2 on Sunday, run in wet conditions. Audi’s Swedish rain master, Mattias Ekstrom dominates the race from the front. He qualified on pole and is giving everyone a lesson in wet weather racing with only Gary Paffet in a Mercedes seemingly able to keep up. Further down the field, Pascal Wehrlein was fighting with Audi’s Timo Scheider and fellow Merc driver Robert Wickens for sixth, and on the final lap it appeared Wickens braked early for a corner to slow up Scheider and allow Wehrlein to past both of them.
The response from Audi was immediate and the words “Scheib ihn raus” (German for “push him off”) can be clearly heard over the pit-to-car radio in the race broadcast. The phrase was uttered by Audi’s motorsport boss. So, at the next corner, Scheider gives Wickens a nudge as he’s turning in, which results in the Canadian driver caroming into Wehrlein and taking both cars out of the race.
Mercedes and Wehrlein were rightly infuriated. “That was simply unfair. I am defending our position and he is punting both of us off,” said the disappointed championship leader. Scheider however defended his driving and said, “I didn’t hear any instruction. Robert braked so hard that I ran into him. That was racing on the edge, something like that can happen.” (judge for yourself from Scheider’s in-car footage below)
Of course Audi were caught red handed by the race telecast and after they were shown the evidence Audi’s head of motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, copped a mea culpa and explained his actions. “After the move by Mercedes, I was so upset and cried: ‘Push him off’. That was out of emotion and I want to apologize to Mercedes for this. I wasn’t aware that the radio was on at that time.” (Audi motorsports boss explaining his naughty radio message below)
Mercedes-Benz of course were not impressed and thought the explanation was smelled a lot like excrement from a red bull. Ulrich Fritz, head of Mercedes-AMG DTM: “It always takes two to tango. One who gives the instruction, that was clear for everyone to hear, and one who follows it. The whole thing had nothing to do with fair racing. We don’t want to see something like that in the DTM. The overtaking move prior to that was hard, but fair.”
Hmm…a case of German pride and competitive spirit spilling over? This DTM conflict has the potential to expand.
Audi and Mercedes-Benz are locked in a titanic battle to be the leading luxury car brand in the world (with BMW making it a three-way fight) and racing is seen as one of the best ways to promote each brand. Audi has scored 13 overall wins at Le Mans since 2000 and after they were beaten by sister brand Porsche this year, one wonders how much motivation they have to go back to the drawing board. After all, they make more headlines losing rather than winning, so it’s counterproductive.
The rumours of Audi heading to Formula 1 have been circulating for some years now, and they admitted to conducting feasibility studies this year. They could enter as an engine supplier like Honda or perhaps buy the Red Bull Racing as Dieter Mateschitz hasn’t been too happy about how the last two seasons have gone.
A big reason for that of course is the dominance of Mercedes-Benz with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg seemingly being seconds per lap faster than every other driver and car combination. They’ll easily win the 2015 championship with the only intrigue being which of the two driver’s will be world champion.
So could we see Audi versus Mercedes-Benz in Formula 1 in the future? Both have an amazing track record of motorsports success and it would be the ultimate crowning glory to say you’ve vanquished your rival at the pinnacle of racing. Let’s hope it happens and let’s hope they hire Nico Rosberg because I for one would love to hear Dr Wolfgang Ullrich screaming “Scheib Hamilton raus!” at him during a race.