#DTM500 1993-1996: The rise and fall of Class 1
At the Lausitzring, later this month, the DTM will be celebrating its 500th race since the series was founded in 1984. A perfect occasion, therefore, to look back upon the series’ history, the men and machines that stood out (or sometimes didn’t) and recall some remarkable races.
In part three, we look at the years from 1993 until 1996, in which the DTM prospered with the initial Class 1 regulation, and was able to raise its international profile, not least thanks to the presence of Alfa Romeo, who became the first non-German manufacturer to contest a full-blown works team.
In 1995, the International Touring Car series (ITC) was held alongside the DTM and, one year later, the FIA-sanctioned International Touring car Championship replaced the German-based series, with rounds as far as Brazil and Japan. However, the sheer unbounded technical regulations also caused budgets to spiral, leading to the withdrawal of Alfa Romeo and Opel at the end of 1996. And, as a result, the collapse of the series. Thankfully, it proved to be only temporary.
Audi pulled the plug on its works programme in the DTM halfway through the 1992 season following extensive discussions about the legality of the crankshaft arrangement in the engine of its V8 Quattro. BMW terminated its involvement at the end of the season, leaving only Mercedes-Benz with a commitment to the Class 1 regulations that had been proposed for 1993. Then, salvation came from Italy. Under its charismatic head of motorsport Giorgio Pianta, a skilful driver himself, Alfa Romeo joined the DTM for 1993 with a four-wheel driven version of its 155 saloon car – a red-blooded racer that would become one of DTM’s most iconic vehicles.
The birth of a legend
It’s often said that experience is the key to success in DTM – but nobody had told Alfa. At the start of 1993, in torrential rain during the ‘Bergischer Löwe’ season opener at Zolder, the newcomer from Arese blitzed the opposition. Making good use of the superior traction of his four-wheel driven car, Nicola Larini won both races, each time ahead of team-mate Christian Danner.
The Italian cars dominated from the moment they arrived in the series – here at Zolder, in 1993.
These wins were the first DTM race victories for a non-German brand since Kurt Thiim’s success in a Rover at the Nürburgring in 1986. At the second race, Alessandro Nannini got to drive a spare car after his retirement from the opening heat. From the back of the grid, he charged to third and completed the clean sweep of the podium for Alfa Romeo. Later that season, Larini went on to win the title.
Ramping up the technical arms race
The Class 1 regulations that had come into force for 1993 allowed for technical developments to be implemented during the season. For instance, Mercedes used traction control for the first time on Bernd Schneider’s car at the Donington Gold Cup non-championship round in July and introduced active suspension for the next meeting at Diepholz. At the end of August, Schneider secured the first DTM win for a car with active suspension, at Singen.
A different Calibra
With models like the Kadett and the Omega, Opel had a regular presence in the DTM over the years, but neither the compact Kadett nor the rather heavy Omega had ever won races in the DTM. That was to change with the Opel Calibra, a sleek two-door Coupé that made its debut as a toe-in-the-water exercise during the 1993 season finale at Hockenheim, with Manuel Reuter and Keke Rosberg as its drivers. For 1994, Opel embarked on a full-blown works effort and Reuter gave the car its first win in the ’94 non-championship race at Donington after Alfa Romeo’s Alessandro Nannini had been disqualified due to insufficient fuel after the race.
A game of pinball – with no winners
The second race at the Avus circuit in Berlin in 1995 was a troublesome affair. Alfa Romeo team-mates Nannini and Giancarlo Fisichella collided while battling for second at the hairpin and Nannini’s car caught fire. The race was stopped. The restart resulted into a multi-car collision with Keke Rosberg’s Opel pinging through the field like a pinball, taking several other cars out as a result. The race was stopped once again and wasn’t restarted, resulting in no classification!
DTM stretches its legs
While the DTM had always had races outside of Germany, its international appeal reached a different level with the introduction of the International Touring Car series (ITC) alongside the German-based DTM series in 1995. Both series had identical regulations and the same participating manufacturers, teams and drivers.
The ITC rounds were held at Mugello in Italy, the Helsinki street circuit in Finland, Donington in the UK, Estoril in Portugal and Magny-Cours in France. In 1996, the FIA took control and renamed the series as the International Touring car Championship. With the final two rounds of the season held at Sao Paulo in Brazil and Suzuka in Japan, DTM-style races were held outside of Europe for the very first time.
Tech gets smart
“More sophisticated than F1,” was a phrase often heard about the Class 1 ITC cars in 1996; and, in many aspects, it was true. Opel and Alfa Romeo used elaborate electronics to make the best use of their four-wheel drive cars; Mercedes-Benz used active suspension, traction control and ABS, as well as moving weight within the car for its rear-wheel driven C-Class.
The ever-growing guest list…
In the Class 1 days, several prominent drivers made guest starts in the DTM. Finnish rally ace Markku Alén raced an Alfa 155 for his home race in the streets of Helsinki in 1995. Italian ex-F1 driver Gabriele Tarquini participated in the Diepholz and Silverstone rounds in ’96, making waves with a dramatic crash at the former. He then went on to win the second race at Silverstone.
Again in ’96, South American youngsters Juan Pablo Montoya and Ricardo Zonta raced for Mercedes at Silverstone and Nürburgring respectively, replacing the injured Jan Magnussen. For the penultimate round of the ’96 ITC season in Brazil, all three brands had local guest drivers. Christian Fittipaldi, the uncle of current DTM driver Pietro, raced for Mercedes; Max Wilson for Alfa Romeo, and Tony Kanaan for Opel. At Suzuka, Opel ran cars for Aguri Suzuki and Masonori Sekiya and Alfa Romeo had Noriaki Hattori as a guest driver.
A farewell but not a goodbye
The October 1996 round at Hockenheim was a sad affair as it was already known that Alfa Romeo and Opel would be pulling out at the end of the season, which meant the end of the series. All three manufacturers had produced banners for the traditional pre-race parade in the Motodrom section to thank the fans for their loyal support over the years. Many tears were shed by those who were present – a truly emotional affair.
Schneider and Mercedes bow out on top
With a total of 20 race wins, Bernd Schneider was the most successful driver of the first Class 1 era between 1993 and ’96, with Nicola Larini close behind on 18 wins and Alessandro Nannini with 14 =. Mercedes-Benz was the most successful brand (42 race wins), just one ahead of Alfa Romeo. Third-placed Opel took12 race wins.
Bernd Schneider clinched 20 wins and the first of five titles before the DTM three-year ‘shutdown’ in 1996