DTM mechanics – the unsung heroes
Without men such as Alexander Gramlich, the impressive performances of the DTM drivers would be just impossible. Gramlich does his job in the shadow of the main actors. And nonetheless, he and his colleagues often are the ones who deserve the biggest thanks, at the end of a successful season. “I thank my team for their outstanding work. They gave me a fantastic car!” A sentence arguably every DTM driver will have said during the course of his career. Robert Wickens also made a similar remark, following his third place secured in the first qualifying session of the 2016 season, thus also thanking Gramlich who has been working on the Canadian’s car since the beginning of the season – a job you need a lot of passion, stamina and expert knowledge for.
Gramlich has been a part of Mercedes-AMG Team HWA since 2008. After having finished his motorcar-mechanic apprenticeship and having acquired his mechanical engineering Bachelor’s degree, he applied for a job at AMG without further ado. “But the Bachelor’s degree isn’t a precondition for the job in DTM,” reveals Gramlich. “In addition to the obligatory know-how, you first of all need a lot of commitment, team-player qualities and have to really love your job. The bits and bobs count and overtime hours are the daily occurrence.“ Character traits and skills Gramlich obviously displayed in the pit-stop casting some eight years ago. He was employed and slowly worked his way up in the team hierarchy, since then. “At first, I only executed pit stops and minor tasks. But I wanted more, wanted to work on the car,” says Gramlich whose wishes came true in 2014. His first car was the one of Paul Di Resta – and at the end of the season, the crew was presented the Pit Stop Award for the fastest DTM team. In the following year, he worked on Wehrlein’s car and celebrated the drivers’ titIe. Now he wants to continue his streak of success with Robert Wickens: “It goes without saying that repeating this triumph would be just great. Such a title is the ultimate reward for all the work you have invested in the car.“
A work that begins for the mechanics in the run-up to the new DTM season and just a few weeks after the previous has ended. “Development, adaptations and tests – all this of course is accompanied by us,” Gramlich says. And the preparations for the coming race meeting begin right after the first race weekend,. “The cars are completely disassembled – as far as it is allowed by DMSB – cleaned and broken parts naturally are replaced. Furthermore, all the spare parts for the next race already are picked and prepared at home in the company,” explains Gramlich who usually arrives at the respective venue on the Thursday of a race weekend.
Some 10 people are responsible for a car, on a race weekend: four mechanics, one electrician, the truck driver who also is responsible for the tyres – plus the different engineers. On the day before, a build-up crew already prepared the garage while the mechanics are responsible – inter alia – for the ‘interior fitting’: from unloading the tools to installing the metering station. In the end, everything including the car is standing in exactly the same position as in the company work shop,” reveals Gramlich.
The first thing on the Friday morning schedule is the systematic inspection of the vehicle. Absolutely everything is checked. “We always use the four-eye principle und control each other,” says Gramlich. The final control in working temperature usually is executed on the first lap of the respective practice session. After one lap, the drivers usually return to the pits. “After this control lap we once again check everything ,” reveals Gramlich who attends to the engine cooling at the front of car by dint of the respective cooling unit. “This measure helps against the accumulated heat. Then the car is pushed into the garage, the wheels are taken off and put into tyre warmers. Should setup changes be necessary, the bonnet is taken off to allow me to execute the desired changes – for instance regarding the ride height, the dampers or the camber. Or we change the planking – the air flow on the car – by masking certain parts. Despite the all the technology, screwdrivers still are an often used tool, in the garage.“
Another task Gramlich is responsible for is the job at the filling pump. “No matter of a car is fuelled or fuel is pumped out of the car; here, nearly every gram counts. This is an important part of my work where noting may go wrong,” stresses Gramlich who also acts in the case of damages. “The major part of this job is rather easy,” says Gramlich. “The spare parts are held available in the truck and are checked by dint of the measure arm to make sure that the dimensions are correct. In the case of serious damages, on suspension components, the front or the side wall of the car, things are getting more dramatic.” Then, he and his colleagues possibly also have to opt for the joker that allows them to circumvent the Parc-Fermé regulations in the night to be allowed to keep on working on the car.
But the most important precondition for working in DTM, he underlines, is passion for detail. “You just need an incredible amount of heart and enjoyment. Blending some glue here, embellishing a screw there. Those are the bits and bots that may count in the case of doubt. You need a lot of passion and commitment for this job – and that’s why I like it so much and enjoy doing it to the max. And if success is added to all this, it’s even twice as nice.”