Opel have refocused their motorsport commitment in the DTM: A change in structures, more personnel, and the new OPC DTM Center all represent the company's concentration of forces on this particular series. "The crucial changes we have made...
Opel have refocused their motorsport commitment in the DTM: A change in structures, more personnel, and the new OPC DTM Center all represent the company's concentration of forces on this particular series.
"The crucial changes we have made create the basis for closer interface and communications between the individual departments," says Opel's motorsport director Volker Strycek. "We're determined to fight for podium positions as well as winning races during the course of the season. This is our stated goal. After all, the DTM with its international appeal, resounding spectator response and excellent TV coverage provides an ideal platform for Opel to demonstrate their technical prowess and promoting the brand's image."
OPC DTM Center: everything under one roof
At their newly established OPC DTM Center in Bobingen near Augsburg, Germany, Opel have consolidated all of the key functions supporting the company's commitment in the German Touring Car Masters series under one roof: from engineering design, research and development, production facilities for numerous vehicle components, quality control and logistics all the way to vehicle preparation and the independent OPC Test Team.
"Short distances between the various departments clearly improve the collaboration between the responsible individuals as well as notably reducing response times during new developments," Strycek adds. "In motorsport this is extremely important -- a definite advantage compared to our previous organisational structure."
Continuing to be outsourced, yet directed by OPC, are aerodynamic development, performed by Fondmetal Engineering in Italy, as well as engine development and preparation, handled by Opel's long-standing partner, Spiess in Ditzingen near Stuttgart, Germany.
Technical team: expanding previous capabilities
Parallel to creating the OPC DTM Center, OPC restructured the various special departments, along with hiring new engineers and realigning functional areas of responsibility.
One of the highlights of this effort was OPC's signing of Wiet Huidekoper as technical director. The 49-year-old Dutchman, who had previously been involved in various touring car, sportscar and formula racing projects, assumed overall responsibility for engineering design, development and vehicle preparation in mid-November. Wiet Huidekoper: "To me, the DTM with its tight set of technical regulations represents a challenge, as does the development and implementation of the new OPC structure and the achievement of our goal of seeing Opel return to the ranks of the winners."
The array of newly signed engineers includes the Belgian Jean-Claude Martens, who left the Toyota Formula One team to join OPC as the engineer responsible for the design of the new V8 Coupé. The research and development department is headed by Martin Richter, who came to the OPC DTM Center from Audi. Project management continues to be in the hands of Dr Ulrich Pfisterer.
"We have augmented our personnel, gaining a number of extremely competent experts," emphasises Volker Strycek, who, along with Berndt Wiesenhütter, is the managing director of Opel Performance Center GmbH (OPC), a fully owned subsidiary of Adam Opel AG headquartered in Rüsselsheim, Germany.
Opel Astra V8 Coupé: clearly defined development objectives
The development of the Opel Astra V8 Coupé for the 2003 DTM was preceded by an in-depth analysis of existing results, findings and experience factors. Cornerstones of the extensive design specifications derived from this analysis are improved driveability and higher performance of the four-litre V8 engine, optimised downforce and aerodynamic efficiency as well as a stronger focus on chassis development, particularly with regard to kinematics, steering geometry and an expanded range of tuning and set-up potential.
"We embarked on an extensive testing programme at an early stage. This has enabled us to test a number of basic configurations and individual new components. Then we implemented the findings gained in these tests in further development steps at the OPC DTM Center," Wiet Huidekoper reports. Opel began testing in Albacete, Spain, in October already, followed by four tests in Vallelunga, Italy, another test in Dijon, France, as well as two aerodynamic tests in Vairano, Italy. Subsequently, there were official DTM test drives at the Italian Adria Raceway, the A1-Ring in Austria and in Hockenheim.
Wiet Huidekoper: "Of course the time frame for developing the 2003 Astra is very short, but this is normal because you always try to incorporate new ideas and findings up to the last minute."
Drivers and teams: a highly promising mix
For the 2003 DTM season, Opel have signed a promising mix of experienced and young aspiring drivers. During three driver evaluation events -- one held in Albacete, two in Vallelunga -- the OPC team scrutinised a total of 14 drivers from various racing disciplines. Ultimately, Opel selected three of the candidates, who were then signed for the 2003 season.
Newcomers to Opel's DTM line-up are Scotsman Peter Dumbreck and Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen. The 29-year-old Dumbreck, who proved his talent back in the UK Formula Opel Championship, is fully familiar with the specialities of the DTM, having driven for Mercedes-Benz since 2000 as well as having made his mark as a winner in the DTM series. The 21-year-old Bleekemolen, on the other hand, who comes from a Dutch family of racers, is an absolute DTM rookie. The Dutchman, however, is seen as a highly promising talent and will be developed by Opel step by step. The third driver selected from the evaluation is Marcel Tiemann (29), a native of Hamburg, Germany. Tiemann was signed for OPC's planned participation in the 24-Hour-Race at the Nürburgring, as a DTM substitute driver as well as for PR and racing taxi commitments.
Long-standing regulars in Opel's line-up are the German drivers, Manuel Reuter (41) and Joachim Winkelhock (42), the Swiss Alain Menu (39), who lives in the UK, as well as the German Timo Scheider (24). With regard to the teams, Opel are banking on time-tested regulars as well, to wit: Euroteam (team chief: Gabriele Seresina, team base: Arese/Italy), Holzer (team chief: Günter Holzer, team base: Augsburg-Inningen, Germany) and Phoenix (team chief: Ernst Moser, team base: Meuspath/Nürburgring, Germany). The only change is that the teams will be contending the series under new names: OPC Euroteam, OPC Team Holzer and OPC Team Phoenix.
Opel have restructured the driver/team combinations, however: As such, Manuel Reuter (#7) und Alain Menu (#8) will be starting for OPC Team Holzer, Timo Scheider (#18) and Peter Dumbreck (#19) for OPC Team Phoenix, Joachim Winkelhock (#16) and Jeroen Bleekemolen (#17) for OPC Euroteam.
In order to prepare the drivers for the new DTM format, which requires them to race longer distances, OPC expanded their fitness training programme during the winter season. Two extended weekends at Tegernsee and the obligatory OPC Fitness Week in Saalfelden, Austria -- with instructions and supervision provided by sports scientists and medical experts -- were designed to improve the drivers' physical and mental stamina.
New format: one race with two stops
In the fourth season following its re-launch, the DTM will be even more attractive than before. Both, the qualification mode and the race format have seen decisive changes, as has the points system for the first through the eighth places.
For the first time, the starting grid positions will be determined in two stages. In the first stage, the drivers will be battling for positions during a 20-minute qualifying session, in which each driver is allowed to complete a maximum of nine laps. This qualifying session establishes the grid for those in position eleven and behind. After a ten-minute break, the ten quickest drivers will be competing in single timed laps to determine the grid for positions one through ten. "I remember single timed laps very well from the old DTM in the early nineteen-nineties," says Manuel Reuter. "Getting the maximum out of a single lap isn't easy, knowing that you won't have a second chance." And Joachim Winkelhock adds, "I'm convinced that the new qualification mode will result in a few surprises."
The new race format, as well, will be placing higher demands on the drivers: Instead of the previous sprint (35 km) and a main race (100 km), there will only be a single race over a distance of 160 to 170 kilometres in the 2003 DTM . "The race will thus last about one hour," says Peter Dumbreck. "Consequently, physical and mental fitness will be clearly more important than before."
Two mandatory pit stops (one stop in the previous format) will add even more suspense to the race. The teams are required to change the four Dunlop tyres during each stop, whilst refuelling is at their discretion. Due to the capacity of the DTM fuel tanks being limited to 70 litres, however, it is likely that all teams will make use of the permitted 20 litres of additional fuel, perhaps even twice, depending on the circuit.
This means that the pit crews and the race strategists along the pit wall will be playing a more crucial role in the race than ever. Opel motorsport director Volker Strycek harbours no doubt about this: "In future, the optimum strategy will be of central importance."