It wouldn’t be wrong to describe motorsport in Germany as a national obsession. The land of beer and sausage is also home to Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Porsche, can boast of arguably the world’s greatest circuit, the mighty Nürburgring Nordschleife, and has produced plenty of drivers worthy of legendary status. It should come as no surprise to discover that the German domestic racing scene is thriving. Unless you’ve lived on Mars, you’ll have a fairly rudimentary knowledge of the DTM, but in the ADAC GT Masters, Germany has something of a hidden gem. Here’s why it should be on your radar in 2016.
1. Top-class driving talent
In Laurens Vanthoor and Kevin Estre, GT Masters will feature two of the hottest properties in GT racing today, racing a kfzteile24 APR Motorsport Audi R8 LMS and Team75 Bernhard Porsche 911 GT3 R respectively. The duo raced together at Le Mans last year in an Oak Racing Ligier JS P2 so know each other’s strengths and weaknesses intimately. Estre won’t do all the rounds due to clashes with his IMSA commitments, and will be replaced by Chris van der Drift for the Oschersleben season opener this weekend, but when the pair are on track together it will make for a fascinating duel.
Test successfully completed – Back at Home! See you next Week. pic.twitter.com/6QZdh5tgBu
— APR Motorsport (@msracing_) April 5, 2016
There’s strength in depth throughout the field too, with Luca Ludwig and Sebastian Asch returning to defend their title with Zakspeed, inaugural series champion Christopher Haase returning with Car Collection and Markus Winkelhock turning out for Phoenix. Continuing the Audi presence at Land Motorsport, Christopher Mies and Connor de Philippi will hope to carry on where they left off in Dubai, while Norbert Siedler and Jaap van Lagen form an intriguing duo in a HB Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan, the crew hand-picked by Siedler himself.
The quickest of the M6 GT3 drivers at Daytona, beating the likes of Maxime Martin, Marco Wittman and Makus Palttala, BMW Junior Jesse Krohn could be set for a breakout year at Schubert Motorsport, while GT3 debutants Patrick Kujala – the runaway Lamborghini Super Trofeo champion – and ADAC F4 champ Marvin Deinst will also be ones to watch.
2. Picking a winner will be tricky
GT Masters has been unpredictable at the best of times over recent seasons, with six different winners from the first six races last year (11 total from just 16 races) and only one repeat champion, Sebastian Asch. Early indications suggest that 2016 will be no different, and with so many quality names to choose from, it should come as little surprise that just one second covered 21 cars in the final test session at Oschersleben, Mies pipping Audi colleague Vanthoor by five hundredths of a second.
3. New Corvette makes GT3 bow
Its unmistakable V8 rumble is a sound renowned the world over and it is in GT Masters that the greatly-anticipated C7 GT3-R will be given its first outing by the crack Callaway Competition team. Replacing the venerable Z06.R GT3, which has competed in GT Masters since 2007, the 600 BHP beast has undergone a rigorous testing programme and achieved the fifth fastest time in the pre-season test at Oschersleben.
— Corvette Motorsport (@corvettems) April 5, 2016
2013 champion Daniel Keilwitz is the series’ most successful driver and will share with 21-year-old Jules Gounon, son of ex-F1 racer Jean-Marc, who finished sixth in the French Carrera Cup last year. Patrick Assenheimer will partner Dominik Schwager in a second car, while Eric Curran and Boris Said (owner of perhaps the greatest afro in motorsport) will make sporadic appearances where their schedules permit.
4. ABT go British
ABT and Audi go together like salt and pepper, fish and chips and ITV golden boys Ant and Dec, but after HTP reverted back to Mercedes, Bentley were left without a partner team for the Nürburgring 24 Hours and negotiated a deal with Christian Abt’s highly successful squad, which took the GT Masters title in 2014 with Rene Rast and Kelvin van der Linde (now at Car Collection with Isaac Tutumlu). Factory driver Guy Smith comes as part of the deal and will get plenty of legs out of his Collins German dictionary alongside Fabian Hamprecht, while Formula E racer Daniel Abt will form an intriguing partnership with Dubai 24 Hour pole-sitter Christer Joens in a second car.
5. Girls Allowed
Susie Wolff’s Dare To Be Different initiative could do worse than to look at GT Masters for inspiration, which also features two promising female racers. Former DTM racer Rahel Frey won the final round of the 2015 GT Masters at Hockenheim, and once again be in the mix alongside Philip Geipel in the YACO Racing Audi R8 LMS.
The 2 official test days are over with this quick car⚡️ see you in 1,5 week again, then it’s race time! pic.twitter.com/dF9ufVMkKN
— Mikaela A-K (@MikaelaAhlinK) April 5, 2016
Series newcomer Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinksy may be Max Verstappen’s girlfriend, but the Swede is a handy racer in her own right too, having won in the DTM-supporting VW Scirocco R Cup on the unforgiving Norisring street circuit in 2014 before moving up to TT Cup last year. Ahlin-Kottulinksy will join Audi factory driver Marco Bonanomi in the pink Aust Motorsport R8, and could spring a surprise or two later in the year.