GLOBALIZATION IS IMPORTANT…AND PROFITABLE
Of the lone wolf championships and sanctioning bodies throughout the world, three big names come to mind and they just happen to be the ones trying to globalize the DTM. And why does the ITR want to see DTM series on as many continents as possible? Control and cash.
ITR, with its new just-order-it-from-the-catalog DTM formula, has become a bit of a powerhouse in recent years. Japan's Super GT series signed on to adopt the new DTM regulations for its top-tier GT500 class starting in 2014 and NASCAR, possibly the most self-contained racing organization on the planet, has targeted 2015 for an eight-race American DTM championship.
Put the three together, and any manufacturer that aligns itself with the 2014 DTM regulations can compete in European, Asian and North American markets with a single model. For the ITR, its desire to expand its product to new regions comes with the blessing of the FIA, and also comes with the potential for significant income generation. There are plenty of major racing series that race internationally, but at present, the ITR is the only one following the Starbucks model by trying to setup international franchises.
Think of it as bringing a European Trans-Am series to America, minus the tubeframe-and-V8 simplicity that made Trans-Am so popular here for so long.
The DTM has always been driven by manufacturer participation and funding. For where it's at today, it's the sole domain of manufacturers, with Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz bringing the championship to life. Without their checkbooks, the series collapses.
With a recent move to use as many spec components as possible, the three German marques essentially buy all of the equipment, pay to have the non-spec items like engines and bodywork created and distributed, hire most of the teams, hire and place factory drivers within those teams and sponsor the cars and/or help with B2B arrangements. There are some privateers, and independent sponsors, but don't bother visiting Craigslist.de because access to cars and equipment only comes with factory approval.
It's counter to just about everything the Rolex Series is built upon. DP or GT teams purchase and run everything themselves, with the exception of leasing engines in the case of DP, and the majority of entrants are true independents.
Establishing an American DTM series under the European model – one where the factories call all the shots – might not be received favorably, but Ed Bennett says the American concept has yet to be finalized.
“The manufacturers, they make commitments on the front end so that you know that you can have a good proper grid of cars for each result, and not worry about that part,” he notes. “You could have works teams [but] I also think that the factories can have alliances with privateer individual teams and work out a relationship. It's kind of what they do in the DTM – they're not all factory teams, although each manufacturer makes a commitment to put x number of cars on the grid for every event. I think they have some works program teams and I think they have some teams where they're manufacturer backed, but yet operated by individuals.”
COSTS MORE THAN SPRINT CUP?
We've spoken a lot about costs in a general sense so far, and although Grand-Am does not have a fixed number in place to show prospective manufacturers and teams, if it's anything like what the DTM costs Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz incur each year, getting an American version of the series off the ground could be impossible.
My conversations with a few DTM insiders have put the annual outlay at 50 million euros (about $64m) or more per manufacturer. That's vastly more than any manufacturer spends in Sprint Cup...
Knowing the current financial landscape in America, and how tight sponsorship dollars and factory marketing budgets have become, Grand-Am would need to bring the buy-in costs down to a much more realistic level.
SO WHAT IS THAT LEVEL?
Would a new manufacturer be able to secure something in the $5-8 million range for an American DTM program that comes with a large viewing audience? Probably. Would those dollars become available if the series lived on cable TV – a place that already generates a reliable but modest Nielsen rating for endurance racing? Probably not.
Keep in mind that despite the silly costs the DTM is Germany's one and only major championship. It's their NASCAR, just like the V8 Supercars own the auto racing airwaves Australia. When they race, a significant portion of the country tunes in.
To get a Chevy, Dodge or Ford to enter a domestic DTM series, the price point has to match the value it would return. And it would almost have to be a bargain, frankly.
The only way I see the U.S. DTM championship coming to life is if the three German marques currently involved with the series push their American subsidiaries to fund the endeavor. With Audi of America, BMW of North America and Mercedes-Benz USA coming out of pocket, it has a chance.
WHO'S INTEREST, WHO'S COMMITTED?
Plenty are interested, but at the time of the announcement, there were no takers. Here's a sampling of manufacturer input over the past month on the proposed American DTM championship:
Jamie Allison, director, Ford North America Motorsports: “We're very familiar with this plan. So through our relationship with Grand-Am, we've already had the meetings with the DTM folks. But at the Ford Motor Company, we're focused on our current programs. It's really a declaration of intent. There's not a lot of specific details to provide specific comment on. Certainly, it's an exciting form of racing – the current brands that already race there, I think it's a natural opportunity for them to race there and expand beyond Europe. At this time, we feel production-based racing is a foundational criteria.”
Beth Paretta, director, SRT brand and motorsports marketing and operations, Chrysler Group: “There's some very interesting things about it – the fact that the specs should be the same across multiple markets. If you're looking at a global racing platform or something like that, there's a lot of good in there on paper. It's interesting to see that there's other manufacturers that are looking to get on board and that's wonderful. Like anything I think we'll keep an eye on it, and if there's anything that would be a suitable fit for a brand within our portfolio, then we would consider it. But I'm still in the information-gathering phase.”
Mark Kent, director, GM Racing: “I think at this point we're in the listen, learn and evaluate stage. We have had some very high level discussions with Grand-Am about DTM. It basically was them telling us what they were doing. What we basically told them was we constantly evaluate the competitive landscape for opportunities to showcase our products, and as soon as we learn more about the DTM series and the format and what the commitment is for the manufacturer and what opportunities it offers us to demonstrate our products, we'll take it under consideration for future participation. But, again, at this point, it's way too early for us to comment on any plans or commitments to participate.”
Roger Griffiths, technical director, Honda Performance Development: “There are the plans by Honda in the Super GT500 category, but nothing we have heard about in America. With our IndyCar engine program, sports car programs and other programs in the works, we have plenty to concern ourselves with already.”
John Doonan, motorsports manager, Mazda North America: “Competing in the new DTM series isn't likely for Mazda.”
Wolfgang Ullrich, director, Audi Sport: “I can just say that the American market is very important for Audi. The DTM is a high level touring car series that's been very successful in Europe at present. We have the intention to cooperate with other motorsport authorities internationally to find a way to run these cars based on this new technical rulebook in other countries as well.”
Jens Marquardt, director, BMW Motorsport: “Of course we remain interested in an internationalization of the DTM. We are involved in good discussions with all parties. However, we must all take it one step at a time. Then we can work together to draw up the next stage of the plan. In short: yes to internationalization – but not at any price.”
Toto Wolff, director, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: “For Mercedes-Benz, the U.S. represents the biggest market area worldwide. We are particularly delighted about the long-term cooperation deal between DTM and Grand-Am/IMSA. Thanks to the technical basis agreed upon, we will be offered the opportunity to use our DTM cars to also demonstrate the competitiveness of our brand on U.S./North American racetracks, in the future.”
The lack of form commitments isn't a guarantee some of these manufacturers won't sign on for the 2015 season. Without the exact costs to forecast what a multi-year commitment would require, it would be foolish for any marque to cast their lot with the American DTM championship. Once Grand-Am has those figures to share and a suggested TV package to support the investment, there could be movement.