In case you haven’t been paying attention, we love touring car racing. So does Sam Smith over at [REDACTED] Jalopnik, particularly the DTM of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But even though data collected by the scientific community over the years unanimously supports the hypothesis that it is impossible to front on the concept of race-prepped E30 M3s and 190E Cossies powersliding and leaping over kerbs, that, as the title of that video suggests, is only part of the story.
Dateline: Milan, 1993. Alfa-Romeo enters the DTM with a special version of its 155 sedan. The Mercedes and Bimmer entrants (as well as the odd Opel Omegas and Ford Mustangs) are summarily trounced. That’s because ze Germans were built to satisfy the FIA Group A formula; the Alfa was built around the new-for-’93 FIA Class 1 formula. The Class 1 regs allowed manufacturers to chuck basically the whole production car body-in-white into the garbage can, though the composite bodywork that was used had to retain the same basic shape. Another requirement was that the engines be production-block-based naturally-aspirated lumps no bigger than 2.5L and have no more than 6-cylinders. And…well…actually, that was pretty much the whole rulebook.
Unsurprisingly, this decidedly liberal approach to rulemaking led to scores of automaker beancounters being rounded up and locked in broom closets as Opel and Mercedes-Benz – which joined Alfa in the Class 1 club the following year with silhouette versions of the Calibra and C-Class, respectively – let their engineers go nuts. And the cars that the three marques came up with were indeed nuts. Correction: The cars they came up with were foaming-at-the-mouth, snapping-at-the-air bonkers. Dig: All-wheel-drive with active diffs? Check (on the Opel and the Alfa; the Three-Pointed Star peeps opted to stick with rear-drive). Anti-lock brakes? Check. Traction control? Check. Active suspension? Check (starting in 1995). Active aerodynamics? Check (below the axle centerlines). Long story short: If you could name a technology that had been banned in any other racing series on earth up to and including Formula 1, chances are using it in DTM was hunky-dory. Oh, and those “production-based” engines? They were cranking out close to 500hp and spinning to redlines deep in the five-figure range.
Needless to say, the Class 1 era provided orgy after orgy of screaming, spark showering, and fender banging action. The series gained enormous popularity not only in the Fatherland, but internationally as well: I remember being glued to our tiny kitchen TV as a tyke whenever the Prime Sports Network would show highlighted coverage. This worldwide popularity led to more international events, and in 1996 the DTM moniker was dropped altogether and the series became the ITCC (International Touring Car Championship). Unfortunately, the commercial rights holder, ITR, gave the FIA free reign when the latter offered to handle the sanctioning. Teams saw much smaller shares of the series revenue (even as ticket prices were raised), fan access to the paddock was reduced, and the cost of TV rights was jacked up so high that only German, Italian and Finnish households could watch it. Was the FIA hell bent on killing the series the way it had killed the World Sportscar Championship at the end of 1992 so that Formula 1 would get all the attention? If you have even a passing familiarity with the politics of the FIA and F1, you probably know the correct answer. Of course, the fact that the series’ overseas rounds took place in countries where not all of the participating marques sold cars, not to mention the obviously gobsmacking costs of developing and campaigning these rolling shrines to Skynet the microprocessor, didn’t help, either. Whatever the real story is, Alfa and Opel left at the end of ’96, and with no one else willing to step into the breach and join the title-winning Mercedes juggernaut, the series that gave the world Kimi Raikkonen’s most recent teammate, 50–percent of Corvette Racing’s full-time driver roster, and Mr. Ashley Judd (to name but a few graduates) breathed its last, and the racecars that were equal parts NASCAR, Formula 1, and O.G. Can-Am were consigned to the history books.
Will we ever see the likes of Class 1 touring cars again? As with the real Can-Am, Group B and the Indy 500 prior to 1970 or so, probably not. Such formulae, where rules are few and engineering creativity is – not coincidentally – abundant, do not mesh with the current safety- and cost-control-obsessed, hyper-homogenized “racertainment” mentality that dominates the thoughts of mainstream motor racing sanctioning bodies. Thankfully, we have the ability to look back and remember such times, and marvel at the men and machines that made them so memorable in the first place.
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