The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) racing series is frequently described as "the NASCAR of Europe," a shorthand referring to the family sedan silhouette formula employed by both series. This always seemed a bit lazy, given the huge differences between road racing reasonably sophisticated carbon-fiber, sequential-shift machines and oval racing steel tubeframe, carbureted throwbacks.
But a few minutes watching DTM races on Speed Channel suggests another parallel: DTM racing is full-contact, like Winston Cup at Bristol. A trip to Hockenheim for first-hand experience reinforces this impression. The difference is that even egregious punts seem to be shrugged off as part of the game. If a following driver can get his (they are all men since Ellen Lohr retired a few years back, though she was on hand conducting television interviews for "Eurosport") front fender alongside the rear fender of the car ahead, he will stake a claim on the inside line of the next corner.
When the leading driver turns in to the apex, the following driver keeps his foot in it and holds position, spinning one or both of them off the road. Inexcusable intentional contact that would have drivers rolling on the ground in any series outside hit-to-pass claiming races seems to raise little more than a shrug among competitors.
Unsurprisingly, the fans are pretty divergent from those commonly seen in a NASCAR infield or grandstand. The German spectators arrive fully equipped with the requisite air horns and smoke bombs ("Hey, we can't get smoke bombs like that at home," groused one writer). The cool central European weather steers attire away from the T-shirts and shorts typical at a hot southern summertime stock car race, but these fans don't look the type to wear tee shirts silk-screened with the Tasmanian Devil.
Likewise, the thick synthetic neoprene-like shirts we saw on some spectators wouldn't fly in the U.S. And the calendar must read differently in Germany than in the U.S., because retro-fashion fad or not, I've not seen a floppy denim hat anywhere outside a '70s Blaxploitation flick in the U.S. in decades. But I saw one shapely young woman in flared jeans at Hockenheim. (Speaking of young women, the famous Hawaiian Tropic girls at Le Mans have nothing on the red leather pants-clad Vodafone girls of the DTM!)
A strong NASCAR parallel is the DTM's emphasis on parity and cost control. The series strictly regulates the aerodynamics of the competing Audi, Mercedes and Opel cars to equalize drag and downforce among the competitors. Engines, too, are scrutinized and equalized.
As with the stock car series, where we are accustomed to seeing bellowing pushrod V8s installed in race cars wearing the bodywork of sleepy rental cars, the DTM is liberal with its engine rules. In this case, manufacturers have to use an engine that is related to one the company sells in any of its cars, anywhere in the world.
In the case of the Opel Astra racers, that means using a version of the 4.0-liter dohc Oldsmobile Aurora V8 that dominated the Indy Racing League until this season. That racing engine is based (very, very loosely) on the streetgoing Aurora V8, so it is eligible for race duty in the Opel.
Audi and Mercedes, at least, needn't look quite so far afield for the sources of their V8 engines, though they too are racing engines only distantly related to the production powerplants.
As in NASCAR, Goodyear holds a contractual monopoly on the tires used in the DTM, in the form of its Dunlop brand.