ROBBING PETER TO PAY PAUL?
The DTM hopes Allison, Paretta and Kent will bring America's Big 3 into the new U.S. series, but for that to happen, it would likely involve axing other racing programs to free up a budget to build and race DTM cars.
Using General Motors as an example, it's involved in everything from IndyCar to NASCAR to Grand-Am to ALMS to SCCA World Challenge to the NHRA. Where does the extra budget come from to race in the DTM? And what would it get from the DTM that its popular Corvette Racing ALMS/Le Mans program doesn't deliver? Or its curvy Corvette Daytona Prototypes? Or the rumbling Cadillacs in World Challenge GT?
I'm not saying a trip into the DTM hold no interest for GM, but if it's going to add a fourth sports car program to its plate, how could they justify the funds for something that costs more than its ALMS/DP/WCGT programs combined?
GM uses its Corvette Racing program and its IndyCar engine program for heavy tech transfer, so R&D dollars wouldn't be available for anything in the DTM. It uses marketing dollars for everything else, so without cutting a bunch of series to free up the budget, we're still left with a question of how money appears to green light a DTM effort from a giant like GM.
Without big ratings to show the bean counters, it's hard to see where new factory dollars emerge to support this series.
“We'd also have to look at what that means to our overall racing portfolio,” said Kent. “We can't be everything to everybody so we need to look at each one of our series and our involvement in those series and to figure out: is that the best place for that brand in which for us to participate?”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO USCR AND ITS TEAMS?
I've spoken with a few veteran sports car entrants about the American DTM announcement, and so far, the support for it has been limited. In a general sense, the feeling I've gotten has been one of teams wanting to see Grand-Am place its full focus on the USCR, and not a potential support series with no guarantee of ever happening.
“I have no idea what they're doing,” said one owner. “How does it fit into our lives here, and who benefits from it?”
In theory, the DTM project should not hinder any of the work or planning required to launch the USCR in 2014, but if we're going strictly by appearances, the 2015 DTM series does look like a distraction that's coming at exactly the wrong time.
There is, however, one point another owner made…in deference to the cash windfall that could come from the American DTM series.
“If I'm one of the teams chosen to run a factory program for a manufacturer, it's the best thing that's ever happened to me,” he said. “Ever.”
WHY NOT GLOBAL GT?
The FIA and the ACO have been busy for some time working on the creation of a new GT specification that, like the DTM, would apply globally.
A look through recent GT categories – GT1, GT2, GT3 and GT4, in particular – reveals a tangled mess, and with custom classes and rules like you'll find in Rolex GT, manufacturers have wasted an awful lot of money building GTs to fit the criteria of specific sports car fiefdoms.
That problem will soon be solved, giving production-based GT entrants some very encouraging news and opportunities. It means that if Corvette Racing builds its new C7.R to the global spec, it can be sold and raced almost anywhere. Same for Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, Nissan, Porsche and the other marques who've been loyal to FIA/ACO-sanctioned series.
With competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans serving as the Holy Grail of promotional opportunities, and the longstanding desire for manufacturers to showcase their road cars in racing trim, the FIA/ACO could have the antidote to ITR's global expansion plans with the DTM.
WHY NOT PIRELLI WORLD CHALLENGE?
If we're talking about the need and demand for an excellent sprint race series, America already has one in the SCCA Pirelli World Challenge.
The production-based PWC has GT3-esque Audi R8s, Nissan GTRs and Cadillac CTS-V.Rs among its top-tier GT class and tiny Fiat Abarths and Mazda2s in its slowest class, and at its core, the 45-minute sprint races offer up the same kind of entertainment Grand-Am wants to create with its own DTM series at a fraction of the cost.
Depending on the car, a new team can purchase a turnkey GT machine and race it across the nine events for well under a million dollars. Every race is aired on the NBC Sports Network. It features standing starts, turbos, V8s and great mechanical diversity throughout the field.
Real cars, short, fiercely competitive races and a loyal fan base…I can't say if the American DTM series will materialize, but if I'm Grand-Am, partnering with the PWC starting in 2014 would be an incredibly smart move.
Look for any manufacturer agreements to include a healthy expenditure on television. If enough money can be generated to secure races on a network, there's no reason an American DTM series couldn't flourish. Other than NASCAR and occasionally IndyCar, live motor racing has become the domain of cable television, but as I mentioned, DTM manufacturers won't commit to spending tens of millions per year in exchange for a steady stream of 0.4 Nielsen ratings.
Despite the excellent set, broadcast team and overall production quality, Formula 1's move to NBCSN has yet to crack a 0.2. I'm sure that number will continue to increase as viewers learn to look for F1 on its new cable home, but if the world's most popular form of racing is only drawing a few hundred thousand viewers per race, where would the relatively unknown DTM fall on the awareness radar?
“America already has a silhouette series – NASCAR – and you'd be hard-pressed to come up with something new, a new silhouette series that's going to be any more popular than that,” said HPD's Griffiths. “You'd have to have the most amazing television package and be able to attract the biggest names in the sport to even hope to come close to what NASCAR delivers with that style of racing.”
SO THE AMERICAN DTM SERIES COULD CHANGE INDYCAR?
In a word, no.
My old pal and Racecar Engineering colleague Sam Collins wrote an op-ed piece last week that suggested the U.S. DTM series could impact the IndyCar Series. With new DTM engines of a similar size and power level coming for 2014, DTM and Super GT500 marques, according to Sam, might find more value by racing DTM cars in the States, and could even look to use their 2.0-liter turbos to race in IndyCar. Sam's longstanding distaste for Indy cars makes such hypothesis easy to pen, but it's attachment to reality is incredibly thin.
Three manufacturers have built engines for IndyCar's 2.2-liter turbo formula, and all have opted for V6s. Inline-4s, due to their lack of torsional rigidity as stressed chassis members, and need to produce more power per cylinder than a V6, were not adopted by Chevy, Honda or Lotus.
The DTM's 2.0-liter turbos are not being designed to carry chassis loads, making their use in an IndyCar pure fantasy.
WITH EVERYTHING WE'VE COVERED, WILL A US DTM SERIES HAPPEN?
I'll give you a firm maybe with a heaping ration of hope and dash of doubt.
Until Grand-Am produces the projected financials to participate in the series, it's hard to give a definitive answer. Based on what it costs the manufactures to run in the DTM right now, there's no way a U.S. series could be launched or sustained unless the costs were brought down to a sub-$10 million figure.
There's a big wild card, however, in what the three German manufacturers choose to do for 2015.
It looks like it would make zero financial sense, but if Audi, which continues to set sales records in North America, wanted to pony up the funds to put five or six cars on the grid, it's likely the other two brands would follow. Whether any of the Super GT500 manufacturers would want to spend money on racing those cars in America is another wildcard that could raise or ruin the series' chances.
The real concern is how to engage the Chevys, Chryslers and Fords – the ones that are already stretched thin financially, and in our conversations with their representatives, none were chomping at the bit to commit.
A U.S. DTM series sounds like a blast; I'd love to see it happen and hope that it does. If Grand-Am can work budgetary miracles and lock in a TV package that manufacturers will want to fund, its future begins to brighten.
If the dollars don't make sense or the TV package is less than stellar, American sports car fans will have the USCR and PWC to enjoy without interruption.
We'll see what materializes for 2015, but even if a domestic DTM series falls through, there's no reason to be concerned. Until it begins to look and feel like the ill-fated USF1 project, I'll keep an open mind and support Grand-Am's desire to try something that's a little bit adventurous and outside its character.