How Audi lost its edge over DTM rivals at Hockenheim season opener

BMW and Mercedes shared the first wins of the DTM season as new regulations helped relegate last year’s dominant force Audi, which was baffled by its Hockenheim performances, to also-rans.

Having feared that a simplistic common aerokit and conventional suspension would “hurt” it more than others, Audi confirmed those worries as the DTM field grappled with a 30% reduction in downforce and smaller set-up windows.

That largely ended the DTM’s long-held perception of being “Formula 1 with a roof”, as various winglets and aerodynamic devices disappeared overnight.

It immediately benefitted Mercedes, which had shied away from the high-cost development that Audi used to find the DTM-leading aerodynamic advantage that took it to a clean sweep of the titles last year.

Audi’s Jamie Green explained to Autosport where Audi had to adapt compared to its rivals.

“All the details around the front flicks – the little winglets we had on the front – we now have one and it’s half the size of what it used to be,” he said. “We used to have two per side and they were big.

“There are lots of other little details around [and] underneath the splitter. All the side channels between the front wheel and the rear wheel are different now.

“We used to have air ducts taking air into the rear wheel arches which have now gone. So [it’s a] massive difference.

“We also used to have some details on the front wheel arches that shape the air around the car, which have gone.

“You look at the car now, it’s a lot more basic and clean with a lot less details, flicks and winglets that were all giving us grip.

“That’s mainly bodywork and a little bit under the floor but it’s a big percentage of downforce loss.”

He added that the simplified suspension had also changed Audi’s approach.

“The suspension used to be more complicated,” Green said.

“So there was obviously a lot more to think about with set-up, whereas now you’ve got four springs and an anti-roll bar on each axle, so the car is more simple.

“There are less things to work on, so it’s a bit more straightforward to set-up and our optimal set-up is just different to last year.”

The removal of all those designs meant that Audi suffered from oversteer and excessive tyre degradation on Friday and into Saturday, as Mercedes took pole two tenths clear of BMW.

Rene Rast was able to finish ninth and improved to second in qualifying on Sunday, but with the caveat that Audi sacrificed race pace.

Audi was at a loss to explain its turnaround when Mike Rockenfeller took an opportunistic third, but race one winner Paffett suspected Audi simply had more to lose.

“To be honest we [all three manufacturers] got handed the aero package and put it on the car,” he said.

“I don’t think it was that complicated, I think Audi had more downforce to lose than we did.

“We have all been given the same aero package and we’ve all gone to try and maximise the parts we’ve been given. At the moment, it seems Mercedes has done a better job of that.”

BMW added that it expected to be on a learning curve through the season, and Timo Glock suggested the picture would be clearer in races following the similar Laustiz.

BMW motorsport director Jens Marquardt told Autosport: “You can say everyone had one proper test because Vallelunga wasn’t really one [due to poor weather].

“It helped the [ITR] test was here at Hockenheim and the conditions are not very far away [similar in the races].

“It will be a learning curve through the year and we have two new tracks on the calendar [Brands Hatch and Misano] which will be a challenge for everyone.

“At the end of the day, you want to have things a bit mixed up and you don’t want to know at the start of the season how it will go.”

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