I am writing these lines from the press box at Hockenheim, in Germany, and when you read them, the first round of the 2012 DTM championship will be history.
What is DTM, you ask? Well, it's a bit like the German equivalent of NASCAR, a prestigious racing series that involves near-production BMWs, Audis, and Mercedes-Benzes. With lots of carbon fibre, aggressive aero kits, and 500-horsepower V8 engines, not to mention phenomenal braking power, these ferocious cars shred road courses into pieces.
People are flooding the paddocks as early as Friday. I'm talking about spectators who bought a ticket to roam the pit lane and watch the drivers practice. The place is so crowded that I had a hard time getting from point A to B. Most tickets allow fans to admire the cars and drivers at close range. Meanwhile, journalists basically get an all-access pass – just ask and you shall receive (save for a few exceptions, of course). How exciting and refreshing is that?
|Photo: René Fagnan/Auto123.com
Two Canadians are competing in DTM this year including Quebec's Bruno Spengler
(now at BMW after years with Mercedes) and Toronto's Robert Wickens (Mercedes), who won the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 championship but inexplicably failed to land a spot in Formula 1 with Marussia Racing.
Spengler is a happy man. Instead of searching for a dozen million dollars that would allow him to drive one of F1's bottom feeders, he's a well-paid, well-treated factory driver for a promising DTM team. How many Canadians can say the same thing? Even Jacques Villeneuve is still short of cash to race in NASCAR.
I took this opportunity to visit Toyota Motorsport Group in Cologne. I will soon upload several videos to create a sort of virtual tour of these outstanding facilities, home of the Toyota F1 Team.
On Thursday, I drove 500 kilometres in my rental car, a small Opel Astra equipped with a 95-horsepower engine and 6-speed manual gearbox. It was awesome to hit the highway (the regular ones, not the famous autobahns) at 140 km/h with total peace of mind. Of course, I also saw a number of hot German cars fly by at more than 220 km/h – all legally!
The most amazing thing is that I only had to stop once at an intersection. Here, the rights of way, roundabouts and traffic lights do a wonderful job of controlling the flow. There is no mandatory stop at every street corner like in Canada. German drivers are ultra-disciplined and they know the entire highway safety code.
If a section of highway is limited at 100 km/h, all the brake lights will turn on and every driver will comply with the speed limit. No need for radars or patrol officers.
And one last thing: the sausage at lunch was absolutely delicious!