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DTM Hockenheimring

Are DTM restarts not safe? Drivers give their views after Hockenheim "mayhem"

DTM’s Indy-style restart format came under fire following an incident-packed race at Hockenheim last weekend, but the opinion in the paddock is split over the impact it has on the safety of drivers.

Dennis Olsen, SSR Performance Porsche 911 GT3-R after the crash

Saturday’s penultimate race of the season featured a series of horrifying crashes on the lap after the safety car restart, which led to some drivers being taken to hospital for precautionary check-ups.

Following the incidents, which prompted a long red flag period, many felt that double-file restarts are dangerous and were the primary reason behind the three incidents that followed on lap 6.

BMW’s Philipp Eng was the most critical of all and led calls to drop the Indy-style restart procedure, saying drivers are simply too desperate to take advantage of it after safety car periods.

“It was absolute mayhem and we should really get rid of the Indy restart,” said Eng. “Okay, it's the same start as we do as the normal race start but you are in a different mindset as a driver because you know that you're only going to make up places on the first lap after the restart. 

“If there was a vote I would vote for a single file restart because it doesn't take any action away, but we are racing and there were not as heavy incidents as we've seen on Saturday. I'm glad everybody is okay because it looked extremely bad. 

“Also happy for myself because I was involved in both accidents, Turn 1 when Nico Muller spun me around and I was right behind at the big shunt. It was the first time in my career that I was a little bit scared.” 

Rolf Ineichen, Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan EVO GT3, Marius Zug, Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3, crash

Rolf Ineichen, Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan EVO GT3, Marius Zug, Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3, crash

Photo by: DTM

The first major crash took place immediately after the race resumed on lap 6 as drivers navigated their way through Turn 1, leading to Rolf Ineichen slamming his Lamborghini into Marius Zug’s Audi before the two crashed into the barriers.

Later into Turn 8, David Schumacher and Thomas Preining were battling for position when they made contact, hitting the wall at significant speeds before bouncing back on track.

This created a chain reaction that ended with Ricardo Feller crashing into the back of Dennis Olsen, sending his car rear-first into the barriers. Such was the scale of the shunt that the engine got thrown out of his Porsche and caught fire, striking the side of Nick Cassidy’s Ferrari before falling back on track.

A total of seven drivers were ruled out from racing on Sunday due to the damage sustained to their cars, including Arjun Maini who had an unrelated crash at the original start. Preining and Dennis Olsen were also declared unfit by the doctors and wouldn't have been able to start the race even if they had a spare car.

BMW’s Sheldon van der Linde admitted that there are several risks associated with the two-by-two formation, but felt DTM also has to take the show under consideration while determining what is best for the series.

“I'm personally a fan of it in the sense that it is good for the fans and racing of course,” said van der Linde. 

“But I think from a safety point of view it's sometimes very risky. We can have thousands and thousands of euros of damage for each car to get repaired for tomorrow. 

“You have to look at both sides and I think the single-file restart clearly shows it is way more safe and people don't really get involved in so much scraps because you're not side by side. 

“I think it was special today because obviously it was for the title fight and people are taking a lot more risk. But in general, I don't know what the best way is but for sure we have to look at it in the future.”

Van der Linde’s BMW stablemate Marco Wittmann believes it would be wrong to say the second set of crashes were a direct consequence of the restart procedure as they took place much further in the lap.

Instead, he feels some of the 10 title contenders were too desperate to keep their faint championship hopes alive, while others were simply keen on making an impression in the final round of the season.

“If we look for where the crash happened they didn't happen immediately at the indy restart itself, or the start itself,” said two-time champion Wittmann. “They happened braking into T8, so obviously this is not really linked to the start or restart in my opinion. 

“I think the mess came mainly from [fact] that there were still 10 guys who could be still fighting for the championship.

“The rest of the field had nothing to lose, they obviously tried to shine and to show what they can deliver in the last two races and I think this kind of mix brings a bit of a risk as well in the last two races obviously.“

DTM’s view on the situation

The engine of Dennis Olsen, SSR Performance Porsche 911 GT3-R after the crash

The engine of Dennis Olsen, SSR Performance Porsche 911 GT3-R after the crash

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

In a long interview with media immediately after Saturday’s race, DTM race director Scot Elkins echoed Wittmann’s suggestion that the restart procedure wasn’t the primary cause of the chaos that ensued at Turn 8.

“The incident at Turn 8 had nothing to do with the double file restart. The incident at Turn 1, maybe," he said.

“For me the Turn 8 incident was pretty typical where something happened ahead and something else happened behind that and the guys were reacting. Olsen slammed on his brakes because he saw what was happening up there and got hit from behind. That is not anybody's fault. 

“I don't think [the double file restart] was the wrong thing to do because that's what we do. That's how we race and honestly, I had a lot of confidence in the double file restarts here because we did a bunch of practice runs in the [pre-season] test.”

Elkins was quick to shut down any suggestions that Indy-style restarts are not safe and added that DTM always has the option to use the single-file procedure depending upon the situation.

When the race resumed following a long red flag, the race control did choose the single-file alternative after a formation lap to allow drivers to have a good understanding of the track conditions.

“The double file restart is part of the DTM DNA, it's how we start,” he said. “I don't think the double file is unsafe. 

“It's part of what we do in DTM. I think it has always been part of what we do in DTM and I think it should stay. I don't think it is unsafe. 

“If conditions warrant us to do something different, we do something different, just like in Spa, it was raining so we do single file because that makes sense.”

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